Inspirational Woman: Alison McDowall | Co-Founder, The Positive Planner

Alison McDowallAlison McDowall is the co-founder of The Positive Planner.

Head to the site for more information about the brand’s award-winning journals and to read about Alison’s journey.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the Co-Founder of The Positive Planner, my role within the company is to co-run with my Business partner Finn. But my expertise lies in the design and creation of  new products and workshops to help others look after their mental health and wellbeing. My background is in Theatre Design, However, I found it harder and harder to make my life as a Mother in the entertainment industry work. When I had my second child I experienced a period of PostNatal Depression which really highlighted to me the importance of journaling when looking after your Mental Health. This inspired me to start looking at products that had a focus on Self Care and so The Positive Planner was born.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I have always been lucky enough to follow what interested me, I started my career in Fashion at London College of Fashion and then began to realise my heart was in Storytelling so went on to go to Central Saint Martins studying Design for Performance. My career path has always been based on following my interests and using my creative skills more than anything. I always knew that I would suit the freelance life more, so lifestyle has been a big factor in the decisions I have made. I have never done a 5 year plan or anything like this, I sort of work on a year to year basis. I think it’s important to remain flexible as we grow and learn. It’s important to me that I believe in what I am doing. I find motivation much easier to find if there is a driving force behind everything I do.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

As mentioned my biggest hurdle was probably having children and looking at what the Theatre industry expected of me. Not being as flexible with time as well as having my first encounter with ill mental health changed the way I looked at things. Re-imagining my career after becoming a mother was led by my personal experience with mental health, So what started out as a passion project has now become my full time job. I am very lucky to have transitioned into the business world by accident, but I wouldn’t change things for the world now. I am also very lucky as I have a business partner who is skilled in the areas I am not, so we are able to navigate lots of things together. This has given me so much confidence and I feel that we are the Ying to each other’s Yang!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Last year we sold our 20,000th copy of our Book; The Positive Planner, this was a huge achievement as we originally could only afford 500 copies that were funded through family and friends on Crowdfunder.com. When you embark on a journey like this you dream of these things happening but it’s such a huge accomplishment to see that others like your products too. We also won the ‘Rising Star’ award with Not on The High Street in 2019 which was a huge achievement. Having recognition from outside sources is such a privilege and even more so with a Business like NOTHS as they have so many sellers on their platform. We felt this was a big turning point for our business.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

We are now stocked in Foyles and Waterstones which for us has been great for how we view the potential of our business. Having two of the best selling UK book shops recognise our journal as a shelf worthy was a great boost for us. We also started selling our products to Urban Outfitters in the USA which were stocked in 270 stores all over North America, organising this was an incredible learning curve. We had friends and followers sending us pictures of them on the shop floor there which was amazing. I think brand awareness like this has really helped us to grow our community and our business as a whole.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? 

We love a mentor at The Positive Planner, our experience with having a Business coach (she is like our Mentor too) has been phenomenal. It’s so great to have that level of accountability and then someone to help us overcome the obstacles we have faced over the last few years. We also work with an amazing business mentor who helps us stay on track for the bigger picture of the hopes and dreams of our company. We love working with people and hope that we offer a version of mentoring to others too. We are both Life-Coaches in training so hope that soon we can offer more of these services!

the biggest factor is the gender pay gap, which is utterly heartbreaking and totally unjust.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I  think we have made leaps and bounds in this over the past five years. But we aren’t there yet. I suppose the biggest factor is the gender pay gap, which is utterly heartbreaking and totally unjust. But in the world of entrepreneurs we haven’t really come up against anything just yet. As mothers especially, this is a key reason that we wanted to forge our own way, being flexible around our families and making our own decisions is high on the agenda! It would be nice if flexibility was something that was normal in business. Sadly I have experienced this inequality in my partners job, since the outbreak if coronavirus he has been expected to work with no question of what his partner’s job is like. It feels as though there is still very much a 1950s role expectation of how we work when we have a family to support. I find this the hardest thing to deal with. 

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Work hard but use your money to travel more! I think I didn’t see my twenties as time to explore and be curious about the world. I was intent on ‘making it’ and sadly this meant that I worked a lot for exposure, and also in the arts alot of this was for free.  I think it’s great to work hard and you learn so much but there is still a big part of me that wishes I had a ‘normal’ job that would have given me stability, money and the freedom to see more of the world. I am pleased I studied such a lot as I think it has made me the thinker that I am, so I don’t regret this. However I certainly learnt the most in the first few years of graduating. Having a sizable student loan is something I think about quite a lot and I think nowadays there are more ways of being successful in your field without this debt hanging over you.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

As mentioned we are Life Coaches in Training, I think trying to overcome my own limiting beliefs that surround this will be quite a big hurdle. Being a student has allowed me space to trial my abilities but I think taking on paying clients will be a whole other ball game. I hope that like with anything I will gain confidence with time, I think that it’s just diving into the unknown that is a bit daunting. As we say with anything though,  it’s all about taking it day by day and chunking down the end goal into manageable pieces, I just hope I can take my own advice!


WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

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