Sometimes our businesses don’t start out as businesses. They can be a slow burn born out of a need you wish to fill in your own life. They take on a life of their own and become something you never really imagined. Such is the story of Zoe Powell and The Mama Book.
The Mama Book, a special journal created to help mothers take time for themselves, was officially started just over a year ago. Zoe’s first round of preorders became available in July 2017, but the roots of The Mama Book run a little further back. “I have a degree in English Literature,” she begins, “which wasn’t so straightforward since my husband and I had our first daughter in the middle of my degree! I took a leave of absence for a year and continued where I had left off. A few weeks before the end of my degree our son was born, and that summer after graduation we moved down the county to Oxfordshire, so my husband could start his new job in London.” Unbeknownst to her, that move would set her on the path that would eventually lead her to creating The Mama Book.
“I vividly remember when I created the journal, going to find a blank notebook and filling it with page titles and prompts,” Zoe says. “It was something I really needed myself, after years of not giving myself enough breathing room to process motherhood and all its highs and lows. I really felt like my mind was becoming crowded and it was harder and harder to keep track of all the things, never mind contemplate the nature of motherhood. Initially I just felt compelled to make a physical space for myself to be able to write down all the things in my mind but I quickly realized that this was what I had needed to allow myself all along. Some breathing room, some intentional reflection and planning time, somewhere to focus on the joys and acknowledge challenges too.”
Creating that space for herself was the first step to getting where she is today. “I started slowly, because I knew from past experience that I am an ideas person, love new ideas but I needed to wait for all the puzzle pieces to fit together,” she explains. “I took it slow and steady, using my own handwritten version of the journal for a year before I started digitizing it, getting opinions from other mamas, and researching printing options. I had a clear idea of the kind of stock I wanted the cover to be made from and that was one of the hardest things, since I also wanted to try to keep it local and within the U.K.,avoiding outsourcing to other countries. I took part in the 100 day business goal challenge by The Business Bakery which helped me stay focused as I headed towards preorders and learned from articles and podcasts along the way, too.” That slow and steady mindset allowed her to really take her time and steer clear of the stress we often put ourselves under to get things done quicker. Her progress was “mostly done in odd evenings or nap times when my little ones were sleeping,” she says. “I tried to take away the pressure to rush for a certain date or anything, and instead focused on getting it tested by mamas from different backgrounds, different aged children and some who worked outside the home, inside, etc. Once I had the print file ready and I was happy that I had taken all the research into account, I was finally able to get a proof copy and start using the real life version!”
Her mission behind The Mama Book resonates with a lot of women. “So often in mothering we are reacting to situations, problems, or dealing with the myriad of everyday things that need to be done, feeding, playing, cleaning, tidying, feeding, washing,” Zoe says. “We can get lost in the smaller things and forget the bigger picture--to remember that it matters, it counts. We can also forget to see the joys in those mundane things, and forget to intentionally make time to do things that go above those quotidian occurrences. Writing it down is much more concrete and affects us in a different way than ideas we keep in our heads. I love having a written record of so many parts of each season to look back on.”
Her seasons have changed a lot over the years as she got her degree, started a business, and grew her family. She does all that she does while caring for her three kids. “We have a little girl, Phoebe, who is our oldest, a little boy, Simeon, and our youngest is Amelia,” she shares. “They each have different personalities but you can see that they are related! When The Mama Book website went live they were 5, 3, and 18 months but I had been using the journal in some form for about a year before that--when they were all underfoot and before my oldest had started at school.”
As anyone balancing motherhood with business knows, there are always challenges and problems to solve. “The hardest thing at the moment is mentally switching between the two,” she says. “On the whole I try to get things done when they are asleep or at nursery on my one day of childcare, but with the joys of smartphones it can be easy to find yourself stuck looking at something which could actually wait. I tend to lean towards spending time with them and the blog post or email I’m wanting to get to being pushed to the bottom of the pile--so content isn’t always as regular as I’d like but they will only ever be this young once!” One of the things that helps her is removing the temptation to do those other things. “I do try to keep apps off my phone,” Zoe says. “I deleted my email from it which has been so freeing and regularly log out of social media so that I’m not tempted to check in. Batching helps me a lot when I have enough time or brainpower to be able to do a lot of similar tasks at the same time. I do try to explain to them what I’m doing and include them though--Phoebe was gleeful when she watched the video I made explaining The Mama Book, and I have a precious memory of Simeon helping me to package up preorders.”
Another obstacle that she has overcome in her quest of balancing a family and a business is the dreaded and relatable imposter syndrome. “Honestly, I’m probably the one who doesn’t see it as a real job since imposter syndrome can be so hard,” she shares. “I’m the worst at fumbling over my words when people ask what I do, or if I work! My friends and family have all been supportive of The Mama Book, but I could be better at asking for what I need!” As so many of us can attest, those feelings can present themselves even outside of running a small business. “Feeling like I can’t do everything perfectly is something I find challenging in all areas of life,” Zoe says. “I’ve had to realize I can’t be a perfect mother, and housewife, and personal assistant, and writer, and business owner 100% of the time. Different things and people need more and less attention at different times so now I’m trying to aim for balance overall than perfect balance of each thing each day. We have to give ourselves grace and do the right things with those around us in mind.”
The Mama Book has evolved so much since Zoe first began. “It has been so fun to see the community grow and to send journals to all kinds of places,” she says. “We have started interviews on the blog to get to know some mamas better and to learn from each other which I love. With maternal mental health awareness week we started #mamatakesfive to encourage mothers to take five minutes each day for some breathing room and I’m hoping that will continue to grow. We are starting to venture into being stocked in real life shops and so I’m excited to see what will happen over the next year or so. One of my favourite things is getting to donate a portion from each journal sale to PANDAs and support mothers with mental illnesses that way, too.”
Despite her business being young she has done so much already for mothers with her work. We all deserve that time to do something that we enjoy--whether that is journaling, being part of a community, or even starting a business. Zoe leaves us with a bit of advice that everyone, regardless of what season you’re in, can take to heart-- “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you are human and you need to rest and breathe as much as anyone else. These are the good old days--look up and see them!”
Connect with Zoe:
On the web