When people tell Brooke Miller they have not been sleeping since the coronavirus pandemic started, that they feel anxious and overwhelmed, she smiles and empathizes. To her, it sounds as if they are experiencing what mothers go through.
“I’m like, ‘See, we told you being a mom is hard,’ ” said Miller, who has two young daughters. “You’re changing who you were before, changing who you were supposed to be, changing expectations. And you don’t get any sleep.”
Before the pandemic, Miller, 40, ran Honey Space for Moms, a 3,800-square-foot wellness center that she opened in Ferndale, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, in 2016. She said she served nearly 500 mothers a month, offering them co-working space, child care, parenting classes and mental health services.
She started Honey Space because when she was a new mother, she struggled with feeling isolated while working from home. “I wanted to have conversations that were real and authentic and not mommy-blogged out,” said Miller, who is a licensed psychotherapist.
Her entrepreneurial spirit became vital after the pandemic hit, and she had to pivot fast. Miller was forced to close Honey Space at 3 p.m. March 16, and she started Honey online around midnight March 17, essentially becoming a digital company serving parents.
She used Facebook Live to offer programming: tarot card readings, book club, mothers’ groups, mediation and anything else Miller and her team of 20 could think of to keep customers from feeling isolated.
“Everyone was really intense, so I thought, let’s just have some fun,” Miller said.
At first, she asked for donations to help bring in revenue to help pay staff members while she waited to receive a loan from the Small Business Administration. Her plan was to build a membership site that would host her programming, for which she intended to charge $30 per month. But as the pandemic worsened, she realized she didn’t want to charge when so many were unemployed or struggling.
“Obviously, this was a crisis-based launch, so we’ve been trying to get our bearings,” Miller said. “It hasn’t made up for lost revenue; we’ve had a significant financial hit.”
Miller had to lay off a few staff members who ran the co-working and child care services. And she tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate her rent. When she received the SBA loan through its Paycheck Protection Program, it was enough to help her keep building Honey online and hold out until she can reopen the physical space.
The online version has helped bring some normalcy to Caitlin Hall of Royal Oak, Mich., who used the company’s co-working space before the pandemic. As a recruiter for Kohl’s department stores, she has long worked from home. When she gave birth to her daughter in 2019, she discovered how much she needed a community and workspace. Now she has to get that through Honey’s co-working Zoom link.
“Brooke has done awesome things with us and showed us how Honey supports everyone in this season,” Hall said.
And as the pandemic has worn on, Miller realized she would need to adapt again. Rather than entertaining members, she realized they needed more mental health support. So Miller refocused on individual and group therapy for new mothers by offering virtual sessions. She is also working with a developer to create an app that will house all of Honey’s digital content and classes.
Those changes paid off. Miller said there was enough demand for mental health services to keep all her therapists working.
Now, Miller wants to develop a new product that would help large companies bring mental- and emotional-health benefits to working parents.
“This crazy weird blessing in disguise is that now Honey is national,” she said. “I would have never had the time to dive into this had COVID not happened.”