Abby Johnston – founder of The Meaning of Grace

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Abby is a new mum, just 6 months into the madness. She’s been freelancing as a Digital Strategist for the past few years, working on brands including Lend Lease, Breville, RTA, L’Oreal Paris, Kimberley Clarke, Commonwealth Bank, Nestle and Lion Nathan. Her most recent project for Lend Lease saw her travel to New York, London and Singapore to interview stakeholders for a website redevelopment project.

She had her moment of entrepreneurial realisation in the newborn insanity of sleep deprived twice-hourly feeding, and started working on what has now become The Meaning of Grace .

…being in business for yourself can be hectic sometimes, but it’s best to treat it like a big game – if you don’t take it too seriously you’ll think clearer and do better. Stress is counterproductive.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

The idea is all about nurturing nursing mothers. Anyone who has breastfed their kids, or attempted breastfeeding and had problems, will tell you what an overwhelming experience it can be – physically and emotionally.  The Meaning of Grace is just about acknowledging this.  We provide practical information, lifestyle content and curate beautiful gifts for this special little niche. It’s about helping nursing mums to feel a little bit more ‘themselves’ in all the chaos that come with that crazy hazy newborn phase.

The idea actually came about as a result of my personal experience struggling with nursing my own daughter. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t working flat out (I was a freelance Digital Strategist working in advertising agencies previously), and I had some head space to dream a little. I literally set up the website and sourced all the product while feeding! There wasn’t a real ‘taking the plunge’ moment, I just worked on auto-pilot for a couple of months then one day realised it was all coming together and started telling people. 

Can you please explain your business model?

We operate on a classic old-school retail model but have a unique approach to buying. Part of our goal is to help build local, philanthropic and ethical businesses, so we spent lot’s of time sourcing our products to make sure we are supporting real people that are doing the right thing.

The Journal (content) part of our website is really new, but we’re really excited about it. We’re tracking down all sorts of people  with interesting perspectives on breastfeeding – it’s a good resource for new mums with a Nursing 101 series, interviews and just some good reads on related topics.  It’s not monetised, but perhaps down the track we’ll think about it if we can work with brands that have the same core philosophies as us. 

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?

I’m super excited about The Journal. It wasn’t planned in the beginning and it’s just happening at lightning speed – lot’s of really interesting people are keen to be interviewed so we’ve got lot’s of great content in the pipeline. I’m also excited about some of the collaboration opportunities that are popping up – there are so many great bloggers and Instagram gurus out there that we are in chats with. I’d love to develop some actual products (there are some gaps in what I wanted and what we could source from ethical brands), so that’s something we might look into in the next 6 to 12 months.

Workspace_IdeasHoist (1)
Abby’s family friendly workspace

How do you make ideas happen?

I think having a baby has actually made me more willing to just get on and implement my ideas. Prior to that, I used to strategise till I had thought the life out of every idea. As a strategist, I’ve always been the thinker not the doer, so I’ve had to get out of that mentality. With a baby you only have short bursts of time in which you can be productive so you just make it happen, you don’t dwell on the detail so much. I think the perfectionist in me is dead, which is great because The Meaning of Grace would still be floating around in my head if the strategist in me had anything to do with it.

What role have mentors played in your business life?

A massive role. I haven’t really had any formal mentors, but in my early career my boss Rachael Maughan taught me everything I know about digital – and I’ve been super lucky since then to be around really interesting and skilled business people. My boss at my next job, Hannah Donovan was an amazing mentor to me – she’s got a real entrepreneurial attitude, is super fired up about life and has become one of my closest friends.

My job as a strategist saw me exposed to so many different types of businesses, large and small, and such a variety of business problems – every new project was a learning experience.  I’ve had new mentors once a month for the last 5 years!

What does your typical day look like?

At the moment my baby is only 6 months, so the day is pretty much based around her. I spend every morning in a cafe with her and my partner – they play while I answer emails, check our social accounts and check orders. Then I make a bit of a day plan from there. I work when bub is asleep, and often while she’s feeding. We do the post office run together in the afternoons (she’s friends with the lady at the post office now!). Then I usually get back into it when she goes to sleep at 7, if I have anything left to give. Otherwise, I chill out with my partner.

I learnt a lot about burnout working in high-pressure advertising agencies, so now I always choose happy, healthy and productive, over stressed out, tired and useless. 

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free? 

Life is short, so make sure you’re having fun along the way. Seriously though, being in business for yourself can be hectic sometimes, but it’s best to treat it like a big game – if you don’t take it too seriously you’ll think clearer and do better. Stress is counterproductive. This simple idea has made me happier, healthier and more effective in the last year or so. 

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

I don’t know of anyone in this niche space, but in general the gift business is just starting to get a shake-up in Australia.  It’s been so old school, and out of touch for a long time. I love the work of LVLY in Melbourne, set up by two good friends of mine. They are really shaking up the gift business down there, making gift giving cuter, more creative, faster and less overpriced than it has been traditionally.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

I think business has a massive role in driving social change – it’s at the centre of how our capitalist society operates. We aren’t aligned with a particular charity, but we made a big effort to source from suppliers that give back. For example, The Good Food Society (our meal delivery for nursing mums) donates a meal for every 10 purchased. Our intimates are ethically certified and the socks we stock, ‘Odd Pears’ donate a dollar to charity for every pair sold.

Speaking of affecting social change, Is there a particular charity youd like to support?

Eventually, I’d really like to align with a charity that helps nursing mother’s specifically, either in the third world or struggling mums in developed countries. There is this strange inherent understanding amongst mums, they really genuinely want to help each other, so it makes lot’s of sense to help facilitate that. 

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

We are always on the lookout for interesting people to interview for The Journal – health professionals, wellness experts and nursing mums willing to share their stories.

Always super keen to chat with anyone that has relevant product or collaboration ideas, or just wants to say hi. We are hoping to get some ambassadors on board in the next 6 months or so as well.

Whats your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

I’m going to say Glass Coffee House right now. Lovely people, great coffee and good vibes – we’re there almost every day. 🙂


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