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As a mother herself, Suz O’Donnell knows plenty about trying to balance a new baby and a small business—arguably two of the toughest jobs in the world. She’s the president of Thrivatize, a business that focuses on helping ambitious career moms create a work-life balance that sets them up for success.
In a way, the two endeavors are similar:
They need almost undivided attention and commitment, as well as a nurturing sensibility. They also require help, which is the basis of O’Donnell’s mantra.
“It’s all about support, support, support, rather than location, location, location,” says O’Donnell. “I find a lot of women try to do everything all themselves.”
That’s understandable: entrepreneurs are often Type A people who want to take charge and have their hand in every aspect of their business. The same goes for their baby. So how can new parents strike a balance to be successful both as a parent and a business owner, not to mention keeping other aspects of their life from spiraling out of control?
Here are 5 tangible strategies new parents can use to tackle their new world order, with supporting evidence from other actual new parents.
O’Donnell notes that she tells new parents to be open to the concept of relying on their support network, as well as reaching out to people they might never expect to for help—including the clients they serve.
There are actually four areas that new parents should look for support, according to O’Donnell:
1. Support at home.
What can your spouse, your parents, or your family do for you at home?
2. Support at work.
Make sure you’re delegating—and you need to make sure you have a team you trust and can feel comfortable delegating to.
3. Client support.
Some women shy away from their telling clients that they have or are going to have kids.
But there are a lot of clients who have kids, and knowing the situation actually makes them more sensitive to your time, or if a task were to go wrong when you delegated something, they might understand why better than if you hid this crucial information from them. Transparency is key.
This one is the most often overlooked—but it’s incredibly important.
After having a new baby, parents are not sleeping and are overextended, but they still try to work the same work hours or check email messages while nursing their baby at 3 a.m. You need to take care of yourself so that you can be a logical business owner and a good parent.
Let’s face it: The reason some women prefer not to tell clients or customers that they’re expecting or recently had a baby is there can be a bias, unconscious or not, against women who do so. Maybe they’re not as dedicated to their job now, or they won’t be as focused. O’Donnell says the best way to approach this is to meet it head on.
“If you are planning to go on leave, you’ll want to talk to your client and say, ‘Here’s who’s going to be taking care of you, they’ve been highly trained, and do you have any questions?’ in order to help with the transition,” she says. “It’s about how you inject confidence into the solution and the change.”
And why is this important?
“If you’re trying to hide it, you’re going to get caught,” O’Donnell says. “Clients are going to lose trust in you if you’re not being honest about taking time off or delegating.”
So be upfront about the arrival of your baby and don’t be afraid to plan your business’s upcoming meetings and other big dates around it. Danielle Dy Buncio founded engineering consulting firm VIATechnik in Chicago with her husband four years ago, and a month later the couple found out they were expecting. They recently had a second child, and Dy Buncio moved things around to accommodate the new arrival.
“I prioritized important meetings, sales activities, interviews for prospective hires—all things I knew were critical to the success and sustainability of the business,” she says. “For example, two weeks before my due date, I had 16 important client meetings, many of them in person, so that I could make sure the wheels were in motion for my upcoming maternity leave.”
It’s tempting to try to be both a parent and a small business owner at the same time—literally. But as with most instances of multi-tasking, you’ll tend to do two things okay (at best) rather than one thing great, and then another.
“You cannot possibly work and also take care of an infant,” says O’Donnell. “Infants do sleep a lot, but when they’re newborns, you should be sleeping when they’re sleeping. I’ve seen people who keep their children in a swing next to them as they work, and they’re completely unfocused… Which leads to a poor product.”
So make sure you have child care when you’re working, regardless of whether you work from home or not. Some businesses might seem conducive to bringing a newborn in, but that rarely works out—as Jessica Rosen, the owner of One Dog Down yoga studio in Los Angeles quickly discovered after giving birth to her son.
“I originally thought, ‘I’ll set up a little nursery in my office and I’ll bring him with me,’” says Rosen.
“But yoga studios are loud, contrary to the expectation. Trying to get him to relax and sleep was out of the question. And then I wasn’t able to concentrate or focus—it felt like what could have taken me twenty minutes took me two hours.”
“Now that I have help at home, my time is better utilized and I feel like I’m better able to be a mother to him, because I can clear my head and be with him, and when I’m working, I’m working.”
One interesting consequence of having to delegate new tasks to employees and managers, or to make connections between clients and employees, is that you might find your business is actually better off for it in the long run.
“My business has definitely grown in a way in might not have,” says Rosen. “It’s opened up opportunities for my staff that I might not have had otherwise, because I have a tendency to want my hand in everything. This forced me to address that and to acknowledge that I have these people working for me for a reason, and they’re amazing and they know what they’re doing. On one hand, that means more positions are available and my staff earns higher pay. It also means we’re making a lot more because the reality is, one person can’t do it all. We are now able to do a lot more than if I had held on to everything.”
Dy Buncio feels the same way:
“Right now I’m delegating heavily, but at the same time I’m empowering my team to make good decisions and pushing them to give me yes or no questions, rather than having them rely on me for all the heavy lifting.”
This is a classic bit of advice for any new parent, whether they’re a small business owner or not. Having a baby is an enormous physical and emotional strain, so don’t push it.
“I’ve seen people try to go back too early or do too much too quickly. But when you have a baby, you literally went through a surgery—you can’t expect to all of a sudden work 40-50 hours the next week.”
As with multi-tasking, working while exhausted tends to not go well. Instead of sending messages that are rife with mistakes or don’t make sense, continue to delegate and take time. Your business’s image is more important than you getting back to work right away.
There’s no one perfect formula for juggling a new baby and a small business—everyone needs to strike their own balance. But having a support system in place, being honest about your new situation, keeping parenting and working at the same time to a minimum, allowing your business to flourish without you, and not rushing yourself back are all good places to start.
One final piece of advice, courtesy of Rosen:
Small business owners often identify as independent types, but being a parent means you are no longer independent. Be prepared to challenge your identity and create something new. It’s tough, but it’s normal, and it will help you roll with the punches easier when the time comes.