Succession Planning for Women Entrepreneurs

Succession Planning for Women Entrepreneurs 

How to set your short- or long-term leave up for success

Starting and running a small or medium-sized business takes an incredible amount of passion, energy, and time. And while our culture and the media tend to reward women entrepreneurs for their hustle, grit, and dedication, one topic that doesn’t get nearly enough air time is the challenge of taking short- or long-term leave as a female business owner. 

Whether we’re retiring, taking maternity leave, planning a mental health sabbatical, or stepping away to pursue an education or start another business, the idea of removing ourselves—even temporarily—from the company we’ve poured ourselves into can feel inconceivable, if not flat-out frightening.

With the right approach, however, it is possible to create the space you need to successfully take a break from your business.

Here are four key succession planning points to help get you started.

Succession Planning for Women Entrepreneurs 
1. Drop the guilt

Given the number of hours and the relentless effort most entrepreneurs put into growing their business, it’s not surprising we sometimes feel guilty when the opportunity to delegate finally arrives. The more staff we bring on in fact, and the faster our task lists shrink, the more uncomfortable many women entrepreneurs feel about freeing up their time.

It’s because so many business owners spend their lives doing, achieving, and being generally productive that they tend to panic when they find extra time on their hands—and start looking for ways to fill it.

So, while taking an extended leave can seem appealing on the surface, it’s important to feel comfortable with the idea of not working (or working less) before that leave happens. 

The first step to letting go of the guilt that can sabotage leave-taking is to be honest with yourself: Do you feel ready to enjoy extended time away from your business—even if you’re just moving into a position requiring fewer hours of effort?

If the thought of working less makes you uneasy, it could be time to examine the beliefs you hold about work and productivity. By evaluating and reframing these core beliefs, you may find it easier to feel good about the time you’re taking off.

2. Make time to plan

Our team recently had the opportunity to support one small business owner taking leave after the birth of her son—and another who was transitioning her day-to-day business operations to a new president. 

What did these two women have in common? 

They both began laying the foundation for a successful leadership change some years in advance. 

That didn’t necessarily mean they had just the right people lined up to succeed them. But it did include investing in great people management and the right strategic HR initiatives to support growth and change in the future. 

Given that the need to take leave is expected in many cases, the earlier you enlist help getting your succession planning in place, the more successful your transition will be. 

3. Practice trusting others

One of the biggest hurdles we face as entrepreneurs is trusting in the ability of others to perform to our own personal standards. 

Let’s face it: as owner of your business, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to work as hard as you do, or who’s capable of delivering the same results. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t trust and rely on others to get the work done. 

As you plan your leave, try to accept that different people approach work in different ways—and do your best to stay focused on outcomes; not on the methods by which results are achieved. 

Remember: The best way to build trust is to extend it. And as a business owner, you have the perfect opportunity to practice trusting others every day. 

Succession Planning for Women Entrepreneurs
4. Invest in your team

While it’s reasonable to assume investing in a team takes a lot of money, this isn’t necessarily the case. 

Getting the most from your team, in fact, can simply mean:

  • Spending the time to build relationships and deepen trust
  • Giving people tools they need to be successful
  • Thinking about your employees’ future development
  • Ensuring they have access to great managers to help guide their work

Sure, you can throw a lot of money at people to help build your team. But giving of your time and prioritizing your team are equally, if not more important. 

Not only is this kind of investment known to yield far greater rewards than a high base salary in many cases, it will prove especially beneficial when the time comes to take your leave with confidence.  

Final thoughts

Whatever their reason for taking short- or long-term leave, many of the women entrepreneurs we work with struggle to see themselves stepping back and having their businesses run without them.

In truth however, whether you employ five people or fifty, the option to engage in succession planning is always open to you. The key is to own your desires around how your business operates—and not rely on the limiting narratives those around you may be sharing. 

Yes. You can have a successful business and take leave too.

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