WHEN ALIZA FREUD of Maplewood, N.J., had her first daughter in May 2005, she was a vice president of global marketing at American Express, and took 12 weeks off for maternity leave. By the time her second daughter was born this past July, Freud had left corporate America, started her own market-research company, SheSpeaks.com, and could set her own rules when it came to taking time off. Her maternity leave this time? Zero.
“When you have your own business, if I stopped, the business would stop,” Freud says. When she went into labor a week ahead of schedule, the day before an important client meeting, “I was frantically emailing my team” — even, it turns out, from the hospital shortly before the baby’s delivery, she says. “My husband came over to me and said, ‘The doctor has said your wireless BlackBerry is interfering with the equipment’ and I was like, ‘just one more email!'”
The stories of business owners who simultaneously give birth to a start-up and a newborn are filled with many a dramatic tale. But many new moms and dads who are also entrepreneurs report a surprising discovery: The arrival of a real baby forces them to be more efficient, more reliant on trusted staff and ultimately more mindful of their personal lives — all of which are good business practices they should be following anyhow. And in general, while maternity/paternity leave might be nil, and their lives become more stressful and complicated, many say they’re still happier running their own businesses than working for someone else.
“If you look at people who own their own business, they tend to have more demands on them — they’re the difference between make it or break it,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit in New York that conducts work-parenting research. “But they also have more control and more autonomy.”
And when it comes to having children, many business owners find it easier to juggle work and parenting because they’ve created “a culture of flexibility” that often doesn’t exist in larger companies, she says. Small-business owners can change their starting and quitting times, take breaks when they want to, and delegate tasks at their choosing to employees — all of which makes caring for a family and tending to work possible, she says.
Some new parents are surprised by their own abilities to tackle parenting and entrepreneurship. About a year ago, Ben Chestnut, co-founder of Atlanta software company MailChimp.com, was stunned to find out his business partner’s wife was pregnant. “I remember thinking, this guy is insane…how is he going to help run the business?” Chestnut recalls. Then, in January, Chestnut found out his own wife was expecting. “I was shocked for about six months,” he says.
And then, reality mode took over. First, Chestnut looked at what he did for the company, and decided to focus on his strengths — managing day-to-day operations, planning budgets and marketing — and delegate customer service (a self-described weakness) to someone else. “I took a lot off of my plate that should have been taken off my plate anyhow,” he says.
Then, Chestnut wrote down thorough instructions for the company’s project-management system “so if my wife called and said, ‘now’s the time’ I could just leave and someone else could take over.” He adjusted his daily work schedule to start and finish earlier. Since his son’s birth in October, he arrives home in the early evening to take over “the night shift” from his wife. And now, he’s found parenthood has motivated him to work harder. “I want a bigger house now, so I want to really ramp up sales,” he says.
Other business owners say technology has helped them manage the workload and baby. “With a combination of a BlackBerry and a laptop, you can afford to take some time away,” says Jason Manasse, co-founder and chief executive of AccuScore, a sports-forecasting site in Los Angeles. Since his son was born eight months ago, he’s found that he spends less time, physically, in the office, and that overall, he’s more productive when he’s there, keeping the focus on managing and selling. “I always thought I was very efficient — I find now that I am even more efficient,” he says.
For entrepreneur Jen Groover, who launched her Philadelpia purse company Butler Bag when her twin daughters, now 3, were nine-months old, says it helps that she has control over her schedule — but the fact that 15 employees count on her to grow the business makes her feel overwhelmed at times. “What keeps me sane is list-making, and learning how to delegate,” she says.
Groover keeps strict hours — “everybody knows I walk out of my business at 5 p.m.” — so that she can spend quality time in the evening with her twins (an au pair cares for them during the day). When they go to bed, it’s often back to work, finishing anything she didn’t get done earlier in the day or making a list for the next day.
Freud, who had her first daughter while working at AmEx and her second while running her own business, says it’s a “very different experience” running the show. “I work longer hours now, and it’s insanely more stressful,” she says. But thanks to a home-based office and a flexible schedule, she can check in on the girls (cared for by a nanny during the day) and take time out for the occasional play date. “You work more hours as a business owner, but I find I get more time with my girls,” she says.
(“Balancing Work & Life,” a weekly column written by Colleen DeBaise for smSmallBiz.com, advises entrepreneurs on how to better balance their lives. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
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