Since our brand relaunch in Spring 2018, we have been busy beyond belief with a variety of exciting and interesting jobs in the world of digital marketing, writing and editing. Sometimes it is a good thing to take a step back and look at everything you have accomplished, especially in quantifiable terms so without further ado, here is a little list of (most) of the new work we have been up to:

  • Built and launched a freelance translator’s website, social media and blog
  • Built and launched (this week!) a highly complex website for a non-profit association that includes a dynamic searchable directory of site members and global content restriction based on a member’s subscription plan
  • Built and launched a new website for a different non-profit association that included brand development and a membership function
  • Wrote 80 articles for a new client in the Caribbean to begin populating their 2 blogs with content and have established an ongoing relationship to continue to fill their content in using inbound marketing techniques
  • Edited a 235-page master’s thesis on the Syrian civil war
  • Mailed 823 print marketing material packages for a non-profit association and sent to relevant
  • Edited 7 scholarly articles written by a Professor Emeritus in their area of historical research
  • Wrote 6 editions of a religio-cultural newsletter for print and web publication
  • Ghost-wrote two articles for a client
  • Published one major research study with The Tessellate Institute and IRGS
  • Wrote 8 new articles for The Drawing Board blog (with 4 more set to be up before November!)
  • Wrote 12,000+ words for Nakita’s non-fiction memoir project and patron blogs
  • Participated in 7 media interviews
  • Delivered 4 keynote addresses
  • Delivered 5 public anti-racism talks
  • Edited a memoir writing pitch for a global influencer
  • Took part in one 5-week intensive non-fiction writing course for Professional Development
  • Received one major community recognition award
  • Signed up for NaNoWriMo 2018 – add Nakita (nvalerio) if you are doing it too!

It has been an exceptionally busy time and we couldn’t be happier than to support writers, businesses and academics in everything they endeavor to do while serving our communities and making our own art too!

Bring on the rest of 2018 and in to 2019!

Much love,

Nakita

Whether you are managing a team in your company, a committee in a non-profit organization, a classroom, or an online space, we have all heard about how important it is to have safe spaces. There is, however, a common misconception that spaces are safe, just because we say that they are. While it is crucial that the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in any given space are announced, it is not enough to state the safety of a space alone to warrant it as such.

Safe spaces are, in fact, carefully and ruthlessly curated.

It might surprise some folks to hear this but I learned this fairly recently from a community member in a space I had built as part of an interfaith circle I co-facilitate. I think it is important for us to mark these turning points because too much of community organizing rhetoric is immersed in people just “needing to know” rather than reflecting the actual (often challenging) process of learning as we go.

At the beginning of the event, I proclaimed that this was a safe space for everyone to feel free to share their experiences, speak their minds, and be vulnerable – and I meant that. What I naively hadn’t taken into consideration was the other people in the space (it was a public event) and that they might not share my acceptance of others or the parameters of what I feel constitutes safety.

In fact, the community member who pointed this out to me made it very clear that her non-binary child would be unlikely to feel safe in a space dominated by members of conservative and orthodox religious communities who were fairly likely to shun them or worse. And she was right. Her kid would not have been safe there, because as soon as she said that, I looked around the room and I did note people who I remembered to be openly discriminatory and hateful towards such folks.

I was in a compassion bubble.

And it was, mercifully, popped. I suspect it has something to do with me never really having good boundaries as a kid and a tendency I have had my whole life to project myself and my worldview onto people around me. I thought I had gotten better at dealing with that but I was wrong.

Since that time, I have paid more attention to spaces I know are also considered “safe” and have taken note of how such a label came to be placed there. Several feminist groups on Facebook, in particular, have a long list of rules to follow and hurtful terms that are prohibited – and every new member of the group is supposed to read through this pinned post and then comment on it as acknowledgment of their having read and understood its terms. It is a social contract that is put front and center. When respected, the rules allow for authentic and vulnerable interactions to take place in a way that might otherwise be challenging or impossible.

It made me realize that not only was I assuming that everyone is as willing to accept other ways of being in the world as I do,  but I also had no safety plan in the event that something went wrong.

A safety plan is essentially a series of actions based on hazardous “what ifs” in any given scenario. This, of course, is based on what we deem to be unacceptable words or behaviours in a space, whether that be in person or online. And ultimately, the plan is in place in order to prescribe our reactions and, I would think, in order to overcome any fear paralysis or inability to act in the event that something very disturbing occurs.

I remember at the first Black Lives Matter – Edmonton town hall meeting, a young Black woman was voicing her opinion about the topic at hand and an old white man from the back of the room started yelling in a degrading manner that she ought to raise her voice and speak up when she’s talking to us. Everyone froze. You could feel how uncomfortable the room was. And without skipping a beat or a moment’s hesitation, one of the co-founders of what would become Black Women United YEG stood up and told that man to keep quiet or get out. She interrupted his very abusive tone and manner with such a fierceness, my mouth literally hung open. She then called out the folks who began apologizing for him, even as he showed zero remorse.

She knew what to do when the contract of the room was violated.

Why?

She had seen it countless times before. She could guess where this might be going and she knew that if she didn’t interrupt it, it might escalate. She knew that the first trespass is a violation of the sacred safety of a space. And she had zero tolerance for that.

I was in awe because I had grown up in a state of bewilderment that had gotten me into some pretty scary scenarios. I, like many others, had been socialized to diminish my intuitive voice, to ignore blatant red flags, and other such concerning self-permeability in the name of not making things awkward. The result was consent and boundary violations to my personhood, again and again. And I was never taught why this was happening or how to defend myself against it. I was confused and let down every time it happened.

Later, I was fortunate enough to take violence de-escalation training with the same amazing woman and one exercise in particular jumped out at me as memorable for the same reasons. We were instructed to put our hand on the leg of the person next to us and they were supposed to tell us to take it off in an assertive and vocal tone. As we went around the circle, all of us were laughing awkwardly and weren’t exactly as assertive as we should have been.

It was our social conditioning showing – the kind of conditioning that doesn’t keep people safe.

Rather than just doing the exercise as we were taught that it can be effective in stopping unwanted behaviour, we shrugged things off, unable to assert autonomy over our own bodies. That is, until it came to her turn. I put my hand on her knee and, again, without skipping a beat, she put the fear of God in me, growling for me to take my damn hand off her knee.

I wanted to applaud. I was in awe again.

But honestly, it just made me realize how let down we all are by what we have been taught and what has been deemed more important for the public school curriculum or for our households. Why isn’t it mandatory to teach folks about behavioural patterns of narcissistic predators and how they groom vulnerable people? Why aren’t we taught the typical behaviours of people with implicit bias or who are overtly racist? Why isn’t economic or labour exploitation taught in school so we can recognize it when it happens? Why aren’t we taught that our safety and that of our children and our colleagues and our community members is more important than anything else? More important than the customer always being right or the benefit of the doubt being awarded to one who just rubs us the wrong way. More important than the reputation of an organization in the event that it needs to cancel a meeting to keep its personnel safe. More important than the feelings of a sorry abuser whose behaviour never changes.

Why have we been taught to put our safety last? Everything comes before it: money, love, the feelings of the ones who harm us – even if they lack basic human empathy.

The answer to these questions is simple: systems that exploit are designed to be exploitative and they are upheld by those who benefit from them.

I have noticed, since drawing up rules and safety plans for the business I run and the committees I chair, that people tend to breathe a sigh of collective relief when the plans are brought out. They know how important these things are preemptively.

And the ones who huff and puff about them? I have my eye on you.

Next time, we will discuss practical steps to creating social safety plans, particularly in community organizing settings.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

The Drawing Board is back! Well, to be honest, we never really left but we did take a year-long break from blogging, vlogging and social media for many good reasons.

What have we been up to?

We have been busy working! Throughout the year,  we have continued to serve clients, letting some old friends go and making some new ones! We have also continued to serve our communities through our advocacy and educational work.

We have been busy convocating! The owner and editor-in-chief of The Drawing Board, Nakita Valerio, finished her Masters degree in history at the University of Alberta last year so believe it or not, we were busy thesising, defending and graduating!

We have been busy researching! In addition to regular work for The Drawing Board, Nakita also undertook a research fellowship on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Canada with the Tessellate Institute! Keep your eyes peeled for the resulting publications which should be out any day now!

We have been busy learning the Truth! While we have been off, two of our staff writers took the time to read all six volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports. We encourage everyone to do the same.

We have been busy birthing! In addition to keeping new clients happy and getting her parchment, Nakita also went through an incredible (and difficult) 9 months of pregnancy which ended in a spectacular birth. We welcome Baby Sujood to The Drawing Board family!

We have been busy recruiting! In addition to our fabulous team members and contributors of old, Elisabeth and Erin, we have also added another fabulous femme to The Drawing Board team, just in time for our brand relaunch! We will give Olga a proper welcome shortly!

We have been busy learning how to center accessibility! We have spent some time learning about how to make our vlogs more accessible with simple tools like transcriptions and Closed Captioning. We hope to apply what we have learned to everything we are doing!

We have been preparing to relaunch! We have been hard at work reconfiguring our website to better reflect the work that we do for you!


The Drawing Board is delighted to relaunch our website and our social media after much anticipation!

The new site clearly outlines the philosophy behind our company and the two streams of services we now offer: corporate/non-profit and academics/writers. Our main goal with our redevelopment was to offer as sleek and as simple a design as possible to reflect the professionalism of our company, center accessibility and to let our services speak for themselves in the manner we know best: through good, clean writing.

In addition to rebuilding the design and layout of our website, we are also committed to reinvigorating our blog, Youtube channel, Facebook feed and have finally joined the Instagram revolution. Be sure to follow us on all platforms and subscribe to our Youtube to keep up with us!

It might not seem like the most important thing in a CEO’s daily purview of company operations but writing has a surprisingly important place in building an organization’s legitimacy, marketing prowess, teaching capabilities, and legacy and online presence. Time and time again, we have seen companies spending thousands and thousands of hard-earned dollars on beautiful website designs only to find that they are not hitting the first page of search engines.

Why is this the case? The online reality is that if your site lacks timely, diversified, precise content writing and images, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is: no one will find you. And that is a recipe for business disaster – not only for those of us who conduct our business online, but for everyone else too.

These days, if a company does not have a solid website with essential content in an organized, intuitive fashion, people either won’t know you exist or, if they do, won’t trust you. A website might not obviously turn into dollars walking through your business’ door but just because you can’t see how something is directly working, doesn’t mean it isn’t.

A website functions like a safety blanket for potential customers who are using search engines to find businesses in their communities. They might look for particular services you offer by googling keywords. If your site lacks the appropriate content, despite the fact that your business is offering those services or products, your competitors will appear in the search results long before you do.

If you are on your content game, and your potential client comes to a beautiful, branded, navigable site, your online legitimacy immediately starts to build a trust relationship with them by communicating your standards for quality and professionalism. It doesn’t matter if you run your business out of a home office or a professional building centre downtown, your website may be the first impression that clients have of your company and the principles on which you run your organization.

Sloppy websites with dated content can hurt you just as much as excellent websites with timely content can help you succeed. And it all starts with developing adequate, targeted content on your site. Content comes in many forms and can include:

  • Blog articles
  • Static Content
  • Advertising
  • Embedded Video
  • Slideshows
  • Images

Trust your content development to someone who is professionally trained to do appropriate research and create high-quality writing for you on a consistent basis. For some of the most basic reasons to hire a professional – such as those from The Drawing Board – check out our top five reasons here.

 

In the last four months, I have become a full-time mom again. My daughter, who is two and a half, had been going to daycare for a year and a few months while I plugged away at University doing my masters and at home, growing my own business. We never had any issues in all this time, with my daughter regularly bounding into the daycare space, waving good-bye to me, and trotting off to hang out with her friends. There were never any tears from me or from her (though my mom shed a few).

My daughter loved her time at daycare, and so did I. I would go to class at the University or sit in a nearby coffeeshop cranking out blog articles for clients and papers for classes. I got to have “me” time and so did she, in a safe, caring environment where discipline means a time-out, playtime means make-believe and crafting sessions, and adventure means going to the park every day in the mammoth stroller used by the daycare owner and primary caregiver. I appreciated that she would be able to put all the kids into one big stroller with others strapped to her front and back, or (if things were busier) being pushed in a second stroller by the secondary caregiver. This second woman looks like and has the same gentle manner as my mother-in-law so I always felt comfortable bringing my daughter there and both women have become part of our family.

All of this came to a crashing halt in December when the daycare owner informed me that she had been visited by the regulatory office for childcare spaces and she would have to limit the number of kids cared for each day because she lacked an attached playground. Personally, I’ve never had an issue with this fact, and neither have any of the other parents. In fact, my daughter would often remark about how great it was that they got to go to the big park to play. Knowing how stir-crazy kids can get, I could imagine that it was also a welcome change in the routine daily to get them bundled up and outside in the fresh air. In other words, it has never been a problem.

But I suppose there are rules for these situations and a few bad experiences have ruined things for everyone. At first, we all thought it was a parent among us who had issued the complaint which meant that more than half of us suddenly found ourselves without childcare. As time has gone on though, the regulatory board has been regularly called to keep an eye on the location and the number of children being supervised. In the latest development, the daycare owner’s car was keyed and vandalized. I can’t say whether those two incidences are related, nor can I understand what kind of prejudice someone has against this woman who spends her days watching our children. There are rumours that it is someone who shares the office building and doesn’t like the noise, or wants to expand her office space. If this is the case, I have penned the following open letter to make it abundantly clear why attacking a childcare space unnecessarily is an attack on society…and by extension, I hope to show just how revolutionary these spaces and the people who run them are.

To the person who is targeting my childcare space,

I want to begin by saying that I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that your heart is in the right place and you wouldn’t unknowingly complicate the lives of half a dozen families on purpose. I want to believe that you are genuinely concerned about how many children are being watched in our childcare space and that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, you feel that these children really need an attached playground even though the previous arrangement of a daily park visit was more than optimal for all children in attendance – not to mention the satisfaction of their parents.

Since I am choosing to trust that you know what you are doing, I want to make a few things abundantly clear to you. By prioritizing the arbitrary playground space over the number of children that can be watched in the daycare (the regulatory board itself said the rule is ludicrous and would have turned a blind eye), you have unknowingly set off a negative chain reaction that affects the health of us parents, our relationships, our studies, our businesses, our ability to participate in society and the economy and much more.

My daughter attended this daycare only part time, for a few hours a day. In those few hours, what was possible for me to accomplish is nearly limitless. I could complete vast amounts of work for my home business, could complete research for school projects, could exercise, could have quiet social time with a friend (which is very rare in my neck of the woods) could do necessary readings, could plan crucial community events and social justice work, and could do interviews with newspapers or television channels to raise awareness about key causes. Yes, in just a few hours (out of 24), I could do all of this and much, much more.

This is nothing compared to what my daughter could do in that time. She can play with her friends, eat a nutritious meal, pretend to be a superhero, engineer an epic train loop, paint a mural, read books, twirl in circles, go for an outing to the park or take a nap. She could be social, stimulated, excited and independent. And for my kid, that’s important because no matter what I plan for us to do together, she is a social butterfly and thrives in the company of other children.

But that was taken away from us and it can’t be replaced. As a grad student and small business owner with two employees, I can’t afford to pay full-time for traditional daycare spaces when I only need part-time hours. And no, I don’t want her there for 8 hours a day anyway. The fact that I could pay for what I needed in 15 minute increments was incredibly liberating for me, and was lucrative for the daycare owner too. She had enough change-over in the day that the kids always had someone fresh to play with and she could accommodate moms and dads who just wanted to go to yoga for an hour or get their shopping done in peace.

But that was taken away from us. And what it was replaced with is far less optimal. She doesn’t get her much-needed routine anymore as she is zipping to and from appointments with me. She doesn’t get the important social contact that she needs and craves (I recognize every child is different). She doesn’t get her independent time away from Mommy. She doesn’t get to tell me all the things she did while I was away, accomplishments she was proud of and excited to recite to me in a list every day.

But that was taken away from us. I can nearly hear my hair turning grey as I struggle to figure out who can watch my child so I can peck away at a computer for an hour, or devise insanely complex schemes of child sitting just so I can get my picture taken by a reporter for ten minutes. I have been staying up until the wee hours of the morning and rising earlier than before in an effort to cram more and more into the times when she is sleeping so I’m not constantly multi-tasking during her waking hours – because that’s not fair to her or me. I am exhausted. And have a lingering cold because of sleep deprivation. I can feel that I’m operating at half my brain capacity most of the time.

And a lot of people would say: “but you do too much. You should slow down.” To which I respond: says who? I love everything I do, whether it is spending time with my child, being an advocate for women, being an academic or writing for other businesses in the city. I love it all, except maybe my dishes. At an appointment with my counsellor recently, I told her I felt guilty about having so many things I love doing in my life that are outside of my family time. She responded abruptly and sharply, stating that it is rare enough in this world for people to love their work, their school and their community initiatives so when you are someone who loves all three, you have to make the world adapt to you, not the other way around. You have to hold onto that happiness and make it work. Because it can work: it just takes more time management than you would think.

But it can’t work for me, or for my daughter’s needs if her childcare space is forced to reduce capacity leaving me and a whole lot of other parents scrambling. It means we participate less in our communities and our society. It means we participate less in the economy. We have less money to spend and we might be forced to pay more for other spaces.

This is not even to mention the fact that the owner of this space can now barely keep her head above the red line financially, where she is locked into a lease in this building but can barely make subsistence wages because of low attendance. Or that she had to lay off secondary caregiver during an economic recession – a woman who is a mother of five children herself. It also says nothing about the people in our families and friend circles who we now lean on to help pick up the slack.

Shutting down the capabilities of a childcare center for arbitrary reasons is not the same as targeting an office space or a retail business. Childcare spaces have deep roots in a society and even if our children only play and learn there for a couple hours a day, that time is essential for their growth and ours too.

The next time you are looking to complicate things for whatever reasons and motivations you may have, I suggest you think about how many people you will have a negative impact on, particularly when it comes to childcare spaces. These spaces are essential for feminism because they offer guardians (regardless of their gender) a choice that they might otherwise not have.

Sincerely,

One Tired Mama

thumb.php

Even though your marketing manager and graphic designers may be talented beyond your wildest dreams, the reality of the current state of the internet is this: without purposeful, brilliant content even the best-advertised and most beautiful websites will die. With 150,000 new websites and 7 million new pages added to the internet daily, how can you ensure that you and your business will be found? To be frank, if your marketing manager is not staying up at night worrying about the content on your website, you should be rethinking their position in your company. This is the Age of Information and those who don’t provide it are bound to be left by the wayside. The internet is a powerful business force that can render a company successful or bring giants to their knees. As with any powerful force, it should be approached responsibly and with great attention to detail. Content is one such place that can make or break an online presence.

content

What is “Online Content”?

Online content usually refers to regular posts added to an online blog that is part of your overall website. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase your rank on search engines (particularly with your target audience – people in your geographical location) but is often overlooked in the slough of other things that start-up entrepreneurs get weighed down with. Most start-ups are focusing on a business plan, building a product, mapping strategies, finding investors (if necessary) among a thousand other things. The last thing on their mind at the end of the day is settling down in front of their computer to write a blog article about any aspect of their business. Finding the time is difficult, but even harder is the actual writing. Business owners are rarely writers and since writing is a veritable, professional skill, not just anyone can do it well!

tumblr_n9uoprT2A31sxk4rno1_500

How can you make your mark?

The first step to building your online content is to hire a writer. In order to justify this, it needs to be recognized that this may very well be one of the best investmensts your company makes. Regular, timely content on a blog diversifies your content so dramatically that eventually, people who are combing the net for your business can find it by virtually any relevant search terms. Search engines no longer operate on optimized key words but rather go through your content after it has been published, incorporating it into their complex search algorithms. If you are a restaurant but you’ve never posted about the Top Five Local Farms Around Calgary or 18 Pictures of Food-Porn From Our Spring Menu, chances are most people are not going to find you. Writers are experienced in what works and what doesn’t – and we are highly trained in writing. It’s just what we do.

index

What does this achieve?

An effective blog will drive swarms of people back to your website, generate more buzz about your brand and company, develop a deeper sense of company legitimacy and community-awareness, generate more product sales, create an additional income stream through advertising, and it can become a great customer service tool for your clients to browse for more information. Blogs tend to lend themselves well to developing the “human” side of your company – with informal reflections and information presented in interesting way for netizens to devour. You can write blogs (or have them written by your writer!) in your own voice – this reassures current and prospective clients that there is a real person behind your website (something that marketing managers are often accused of not being!). A blog is also a fantastic content-management system with various archiving mechanisms available to help people find the information that they need in a timely fashion. With a well-written, regularly-updated blog, we have seen clients become the voice of their industry, building a following of thousands of loyal readers and growing exponentially every day.

tumblr_n3m30bLvHw1ttxb55o1_500

What are the Measurable Benefits?

While writers tend to be preoccupied with the value of writing for writing’s sake, business owners are definitely (and rightfully) more concerned with the bottom line. Blogs can fill the social media void by automatically updating all platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN and Pinterest with timely content. This increases your share-ability and exposure. Blogs also drive people back to your eCommerce website, if you have it. I have personally witnessed the very beginning of a blog turn into a lucrative online sales business which increased profitability because of lower overhead and low maintenance. Advertising sales on your blog can also generate additional income and increase your readership.

Don’t know where to find a writer? Fire us an email at The Drawing Board and we will get back to you with our service packages. In the meantime, read The Top 5 Reasons to Hire a Writer.