Parental Leave Planning for Entrepreneurs

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Steven and Lina Zussino, founders, Groceryalerts.ca | BCBusiness
Image by: Nik West
Steven and Lina Zussino and baby Eva.

It’s the one contingency that no business plan can fully prepare you for: how entrepreneurs can keep their business alive and thriving when a baby enters into the equation.

Every new parent has to make changes to baby-proof their life and home, but self-employed expectant moms and dads have to make sure their business can carry on after the stork visits their home office.

Unlike the wave of “mompreneurs” who set up family-friendly businesses after having a child, these are people who started their enterprises in the early throes of entrepreneurial spirit, when their business was their baby. Their businesses are probably time- and energy-intensive, often based on one or two people’s talent and expertise, and don’t fit in well with the demands of a small child.

Yet being self-employed is often seen as the best way to combine work with family life. A survey by the Women’s Enterprise Centre found that 42 per cent of entrepreneurs with expanding businesses in B.C. have children under the age of 18, and the top reasons for starting a business are passion, self-fulfillment, greater independence and autonomy. So how do self-employed expecting parents ensure their livelihood survives the arrival of children?

Maternity benefits – take them or leave them?

“I was on my laptop in the delivery room hours before I gave birth, sending emails so I could get at least a day off,” says Terri MacDonald, who was running a business consultancy in Slocan, B.C., when she had her baby in 2008. “I didn’t have a choice. There was no EI for self-employed people then, and there was no way I could have taken time off, because my business wouldn’t make any money without me.”

Under the January 2011 Fairness for the Self-Employed Act, entrepreneurs now have the same right as employees to take maternity or parental leave under the EI special benefits program. But nationally, only 0.38 per cent (10,156) of the 2.67 million self-employed Canadians have opted for the special benefits since they were introduced, in January 2011, according to the Government of Canada. That contrasts with statistics from the Women’s Enterprise Centre, showing that 42 per cent of owners of growing businesses in the province have children.


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