Working Your Way

How Pregnancy Forced Me to Make My Business Work For Me

Most pregnant women understand the urge to “nest” and get ready for their baby by preparing a nursery, attending childbirth classes and reading books on what to expect. In 2015, I was a pregnant entrepreneur and pushed myself to “nest” for my baby AND business all at once. More staff hirings ultimately helped me prepare for my new position: Mother & Business Owner. Although the push challenged my comfort zone and was time-consuming, it ultimately set the stage for me to have a maternity leave and come back to work in the capacity that I wanted.

I know not all of you will be pregnant, but this is an example of how you can empower yourself to change the structure of your business to make it work for you. Maybe you want to go on a 3-month yoga retreat, spend extended time with family, tend to an illness or disability, or you just want a different work/life balance.

I’m a pretty proactive person but I admit I got complacent. Ultimately, in order to grow and/or step back a bit from the business, I had to feel like my back was against the wall. Whenever I look at hiring more office staff, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not wanting to hire for fear that employees can’t handle the job/task as I would - i.e., won’t have the same detail, experience, knowledge, etc. In the past, I thought it was better for me to do it and do it right than pay for someone else to do it, maybe mess it up, and have to spend time cleaning it up. However, experience and data have shown me over time that when I hire office staff, the company improves - a lot.

Things to consider:

Tasks & Job Roles:
I started by looking at what tasks I was doing that I would no longer be able to do (or wanted to do) on my maternity leave and beyond. In my case, I didn’t want to be needed for certain daily tasks. I still wanted to help with certain weekly or monthly tasks (ex: invoicing clients, payroll, staff meetings).

One of the challenges I had was coming up with job roles that worked for office staff members whose roles sometimes had them out of the office. Prior to maternity leave, I was often “the back up” person for key exchanges if an office staff member was needed out in the field for an emergency but now it became clear that a different backup plan was needed. Therefore, a new role emerged and part of that role included regular office hours to ensure we’d always have someone in the office prior to walking routes starting. Keys were always a hassle and at times disorganized but ultimately with a staff member overseeing that as a core responsibility, the process became more organized and became smoother as a result, which benefited my entire staff.

The next task was to get everything down in writing for the processes being done by me and other team members so that I could create continuity when turnover occurred. We created manuals for all the tasks we could think of. We tried to make them as comprehensive as possible and included screenshots and help/support numbers. For a process like hiring dog walkers, a manual would contain:

● Strategies of where to post job ads (web-based and/or physical) along with passwords or screenshots.
● Templates of job posts for each position we’d hire for (dog walker, cat sitter, based on “X” location)
● What dates/times to post
● Templates for follow up responses to applicants with FAQs
● Templates for setting up phone and/or in-person interviews
● Questions to ask the applicant in the interview
● Templates for follow up steps with the applicant
● Instructions for submitting a background check and relevant screenshots.
● Instructions for reading a background check and relevant screenshots.
● Template for offering the job to a candidate

Candidate Consideration:
The next task was to think about who would be the ideal candidate to implement the processes and system I had laid out. Would a dog walker or cat sitter on my staff be a good fit for a promotion or would an outside candidate with different skills be preferred? Does the candidate need to be in the office daily, work from home or work in a different state? In my experience, there are some positions that could be remote- like a scheduler or receptionist - which opens up your pool of talent.

Emergency Plan:
In an ideal world, you also have an emergency plan. What happens if one of the office staff members or walkers quits or needs to reduce their hours during this time? Do you put another member in charge of hiring a replacement? What systems do you need for your team to be able to effectively communicate to get assistance in an organized and real-time manner? I empowered a staff member to take over all walker hirings in my absence. With the manuals I created and our specific training plan, I was able to still create continuity in the position. We also use tools like Skype and Trello for effective communication. By spending time proactively to increase my office staff and their respective responsibilities, I was able to achieve the balance that I needed. The shift became one of overseeing daily operations to one of overseeing a staff that runs the business. I still work very hard, but I’m more able to set my own schedule and be proactive with my time - rather than reacting to day-to-day issues.