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What will happen to the business if you take time off? Will your clients be prepared to wait around? Will a competitor seize the gap and grab your market share? Bev van Nijkerk, segment specialist for Sanlam Young Professional Market, looks at what you need to consider.

To start with, ‘momtrepreneurs’ should ensure they’ve considered all the facts and scenarios carefully. “You can’t make an informed decision without first speaking to your financial planner, your accountant, your business partner and your family about the potential impact of taking some time off. What’s going to happen to your cash flow if you aren’t there for a few months? Will your clients be understanding? You need to weigh up all the options and then decide what both you and your business can realistically afford,” says Van Nijkerk.

Next, Van Nijkerk suggests drawing up a proper maternity leave plan outlining a course of action for your business. The sooner you can do this, the better – ideally even before falling pregnant, when you still have lots of time to prepare. Things to include:

  • What your role will be in the business. Are you going to cut all ties (this is not advisable), or will you continue to do some work from home? Is there someone in the business who can take over from you, or are you going to employ a replacement? What will your level of involvement be, and what do you want to be told about?
  • Clear levels of responsibility and authority. Who is going to report to who when you are not there? Who is going to manage the finances, payments and general cash flow of the business?
  • How and when you will tell your clients. At some point, your clients will need to know that you may not be there for a few months. You need to reassure them that it will be business as usual while you are away. If someone is replacing you, you’ll have to do a proper handover and introduce this person to your key clients.

Besides a plan for your business, you’ll also need your own personal financial strategy – it’s best to draw this up in consultation with your financial adviser. Here, you’ll need to consider:

  • Whether or not you’ll be taking home a salary. If you have business partners, will they be happy if you take home your full monthly salary while you are not working?
  • Whether or not you qualify for unemployment insurance. Check with your accountant whether the way your business has been set up allows for claims from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) while you are on maternity leave.
  • Continued payment of policy premiums. Not keeping up your retirement annuity premiums is the worst thing you can do. Many retirement funds have penalty clauses if you stop or reduce payments, and over a longer term, the compound interest you’ll lose out on can be significant. With regards to your risk policies, ask your financial planner to check whether there may be any waivers on premiums while you are on leave. If there aren’t, you’ll need to make provision for your premium payments in your financial strategy.

“The bottom line is that you need to plan, plan, plan. Don’t rush into anything before you’ve made proper provision for both your business and yourself. Whether or not you can take time off and for how long, and taking care of the financial implications involve making informed decisions. You essentially have two ‘babies’ to consider – your business and your baby. Make sure they both receive the attention they deserve,” Van Nijkerk concludes.

Side bar 1: Real-life stories

Adri van der Westhuizen (30) runs a specialised media agency called Get Set Go Media, which does media bookings in Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana. She fell pregnant shortly after starting her business in 2010. Working from her home office in Stellenbosch, she employed a part-time assistant for eight months. However, she remained involved in her business, and ensured she still saw her key clients.

“I realised I had to design my own life to make sure I get to everything. It is very important to stay on top of what’s going on in your business and not to lose track of anything.”

Audrey Botha (37) started her business, Papillon Belle Butterfly Jewellery, in 2011. She sells her pieces to online shops, and most of her clients are international. She is expecting her first baby in September, and plans to take three months off afterwards. Her husband, James, is in the film industry, and as this industry down intil November, he will help with admin and some business processes. She also has an assistant who will run her studio under supervision. Her distributor in Australia and New Zealand will also continue to market the range in those countries.

“Some things will have to wait during my time off. I do expect some loss of income. My business relies on me to seek new channels for distribution and to do promotional work, so my time away may impact sales. But because I work from home, I will be able to handle any major crises that arise.”

Amanda Stergianos (41) of Cape Town started a digital social media business while still living in London in 2002. She was the co-founder of SAReunited.com, the biggest database of South Africans around the world, YesNoMayB.com (an online dating site) and SAPeople.com. Her second daughter was born shortly afterwards. During the time she spent with her baby, her business partner took over some of the management processes, and she employed the services of assistants who could work independently, on a retainer basis. She also automated certain business processes by using online tools, and held regular meetings with key stakeholders via Skype.

“For your own peace of mind when you can’t be as hands on as you’d like to be, you have to surround yourself with the right calibre of people. They must be able to take ownership, love what they do, have good interpersonal relationships, and want your business to succeed. You may need to give them a vested interest in your business, such as a share of your revenue.”

Side-bar 2: Top tips from Claire Minnaar (34) of momtrepreneur.co.za

Hermanus-based Claire Minnaar is the developer and owner of several online businesses, including the highly successful Momtrepreneur.co.za, a platform where working mothers can share ideas and business information. She is mom to Ethan (5) and Jake (2). She has the following tips for managing both your pregnancy and your business:

  1. Plan ahead. You’re pregnant and it’s exciting! But your business still needs looking after. Decide what processes can be automated, or handed over to someone else while you’re away. List daily tasks that need to continue. Draw up to-do lists for each week leading up to the birth.
  2. Inform your clients at least 3-5 months before your due date. Be prepared for any kind of response, and have answers ready if they have questions.
  3. Prepare for the unexpected. No pregnancy is the same. No matter how organised you are, your body may react differently to your pregnancy than you expected. You could go also into labour earlier or later than anticipated.
  4. Be gentle on yourself. Stressing won’t do you, your business or your baby any good – work through everything at your own pace. Keep in mind that you may become tired more easily than before.
  5. Be realistic. Your clients may need you while you are taking time off, so you’ll need to be flexible.
  6. Get some rest. If you are still going to have some involvement with your business, you will need to ensure you get some rest. Think about employing a nanny, an au pair or even a night nurse.
  7. Automate, outsource and delegate where you can. Take advantage of technology that can support your business, or outsource some work on a contract basis. Delegate certain tasks to employees.
  8. Prepare to feel guilty both during and after taking time off. Accept that guilt feelings about not being there for your baby all the time are normal. Remember – you can be a mom and run a business, and do both well.
  9. Don’t underestimate yourself. Some days will be fine, others less so. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t think that you are not a good mom. Remember that you are running your business so you can provide for your children.
  10. Ask for help. You can’t do everything. On days that you are struggling, ask for help from friends and family members. We all need help in tough times. It doesn’t mean you’re inadequate – it just means you need an extra hand.

Note: Claire’s other projects includes one of South Africa’s largest online wedding directories, Celebration.co.za, EventFocus.co.za (a South African event planning directory), WeddingFocus.co.za (a wedding photography directory for South African photographers), Greenminded.co.za and TrouInspirasie.co.za (Afrikaans wedding directory). She also runs an online course called G-School.

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