An Office of One’s Own…and One Own’s Dog

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Boris (my Great Dane) and I spent most mornings the same way these days. My husband gets up to start his job in carpentry bright and early. Boris and I make lazy attempts at getting rubs and cuddles from him, but soon enough Boris plops onto the warm space where my husband was sleeping and the two of us drift off for another hour.

Once Boris has been for his morning walk and I’ve made my cup of coffee tea (I’m trying) I go back upstairs, where on the other side of the bedroom I have set-up a cozy little workspace. I will usually start building my weekly schedule on Monday mornings. Now don’t get me wrong, Mondays are not my favourite part of the week, but I love this part of it because I do exactly what I did in all my years at a Montessori elementary/middle school.
Let me first tell you a little about my time there.
We used to get all our work for the week assigned on a Monday and then it was up to us how we wished to complete it. During the week we’d have lectures, art classes, music classes, and other once-off activities as well. We were many grades in one class so we all had the benefit of listening to the same “lectures” – we just had different projects to complete at the end of it.  We were even allowed to try an older grades project if we wanted a challenge. But before I gush my way to a novel-sized memoir of my Montessori days, let’s get back to scheduling.
As boring as it sounds (it’s not!), this entire post is will probably end up being about scheduling.

“I am my own boss” means I make my own week.  On Mondays I sit with about 15 little sticky notes on my fingers and rearrange them on the side of my bookcase under titles that indicate the day of the week. Stickies include: research and development for workshops; video editing; bookkeeping; current clients; new clients; and my favourite – blogging. Now, as good as Montessori was at teaching me how to schedule, I found these lessons quickly evaporating in a conventional work environment. When I started my own business I found myself wanting to adhere to those conventional rules and frankly it was a completely demotivating exercise.  For a while I didn’t understand that I was doing this. I actually thought I was living by my own rules. Then I stumbled upon Braid Creative.

A creativity consulting and design company, they wield strong weapons against falling into traps of being anything except yourself. So naturally when I saw that they offered an e-course in “Personal Branding” I jumped – hard. One of the exercises I completed was to map out all the traditional rules or norms associated with being a professional. I thought back to my jobs in corporate marketing and started to uncover the expectations – what they refer to as “the optics” – of what a professional is. These were things like: work hours; when to take lunch; how to dress; how not to dress; what language to use; when to take personal leave; what an appropriate stress level. Ironically, if your answer to elevator small talk didn’t at least reference being stressed or “over-capacity”, the general assumption was that you weren’t serious enough about your job. It took writing out these “rules” to realize just how this had impacted my perception of a ‘professional’.
As I was taking stock of my workweek, I started rewriting these rules. In doing so, my definition of a professional began to shift.

I love Fridays. I’m energized and stimulated from the week and full of restless energy. I love the energy of the 9-5ers downtown as they ramp up for the weekend by taking a slightly longer lunch to grab a beer with a pal, or walk in the denims they only get to wear on Fridays. It feels like everyone is giggling at the same joke on the inside. So a little while ago I decided – no work on Fridays. By Sunday I’ve usually had my fill of domestic chores and family BBQs so I like jumping into some of the more free-flowing creative work on a Sunday afternoon. This means that when I wake up on Mondays I’ve already started, though I still hate Mondays.
But now, I love Sundays.
They are not that bitter reminder of a Monday.
They are their own special day where work blends with BBQ and white wine. Fridays are my very own day. Most of the time I’m out and about in one of my favourite Ottawa hoods – Hintonburg. When I’m there you’re likely to find me perusing the sales items at St. Vincent De Paul, then going next door to Flock to longingly stare at each and every beautiful creation in there. Then I walk to The Hintonburg Public House where I treat myself to a glass of wine and something to eat. Dessert is ALWAYS Suzy Q donuts and I ALWAYS buy half a dozen. They make a lovely snack later when husband and I are watching Netflix.

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Now before you think  – well of course YOU can do that, YOU work from home. Let me just say that you are completely right. I chose to build my life in a way where my personal life and work life, my personal self and work self all blend together. In order to help people tell stories, I have to have stories of my own. In order to help local businesses brand and create unique content, I have to understand the Ottawa appeal. It is my job to love my work as much as it is to do my work. And – if I have to be honest – I think we all need to change our thinking to be a little more in line with that. You will be better at your job if you love it – even if what you love about it is that it gives you time or money for something great in your personal life. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Work to live. Don’t live to work.

Any other “dad style” advice-sayings you can all throw at me?

I’m lovin’ it. So should you.

 

Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan

At the risk of whacking you over the head with yet another preachy article about why women are awesome (side note: women are awesome), I want to spend a quick minute putting my two cents in the ceramic pig.

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Diversity is not just about visually representing everyone equally. That is a crucial aspect of course, but I want to talk about the importance of diversification in emotional thinking.

Women are trained to be vulnerable. Not all women are and certainly a lot of men are as well but hear me out. Women are often very good at communicating the greyer, messier, much harder to track and measure aspects of life. Maybe it is because society has bashed it into us that its okay for women to be vulnerable, talk about feelings, and have every step of their journey publicly scrutinized. So let’s think about a recent work situation where it would have been useful to bring some of these elements to the table.

An example I see a lot is a company making a blunder. Some companies will immediately jump to re-positioning or rationalizing their way out of failure. But this is a real opportunity to demonstrate reflective thinking to those who feel betrayed by your brand. Start by saying “we made this mistake” “we grew too much, too fast” “we missed a key step when developing this product” and change the conversation to a chance for learning. Give your customers the opportunity to rationalize for themselves. This will generate a much more authentic sympathy. A great example is one in our very own Ottawa. I won’t disclose any details but I think this example will still serve well.

Last year a local business was on the path to launch early 2015. The launch date was set, the press was buzzing, and the people were ready to engage in the business. Then a crisis struck. Red tape and permit restrictions put the business in a position of not only having to delay its launch date, but suspend it indefinitely. Then they did something very clever – they started the conversation about failure. They went to the media and talked openly about the difficulty in the current process for getting these permits and how it’s been a huge learning experience for them. These articles were full of feelings! Frustration, anger, confusion, disappointment, hope, passion, etc… – but it was coming from the company. Once the ball got rolling again they posted updates every step of the way and instead of seeing a drop off in interest, the opposite happened. People were now invested in the success of this business. They wanted a win for passionate people looking to break through the red tape and do something interesting. They demonstrated immense emotional resilience as a company.

So why women? No, it’s not because they are very good at saying sorry and still making you feel at fault. It is because they are good at feelings. Being vulnerable is something we are faced with whether we want it or not. Every time we post a selfie we are judged, every time we assert ourselves we are scrutinized harshly . So a good number of us have developed some level of comfort with being vulnerable even if it is just out of survival. So a lot of women have naturally learned to be emotionally resilient in the workplace. Of course, this can be achieved without women but with diversification of employees comes a diverse set of emotional traumas, failures, and successes. Women just happen to be at the front lines of scrutiny so trust us when we tell you that it is better to be the first one to tell the story, even if its difficult to tell, than to let others tell it for you.

Vulnerability can be a real strength in business and I am by no means the first person to see this. There are tons of amazing people out there talking about just this. So below I have shared one of my favourite teachings around this marvelous subject:

Feelings are awesome. Thanks for reading!

Toni

 

 

Talking to Others

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I recently did another Brown Bag Lunch at HUB Impact Ottawa. This one was around crowdfunding videos but what it was really about was storytelling with your values. What I love most about the opportunity to speak at the BBL is that it also gives me a chance to work through some of my own ideas.  It’s like throwing spaghetti on the ceiling to see if it’s cooked properly. So here are some things that stuck and stayed:

I’m Sorry for Asking

Think about how often in the day you use apologetic language. “I’m sorry for bugging you but…” “Sorry to ask but…” “You don’t have to but I’d really appreciate it if you…”. Why do we do this? Guilt, the fear of rejection, the fear of overstepping or asking too much? While her reputation is a mixed bag of insult and awe, Amanda Palmer did break the record for the largest amount of money crowdfunded for a music project. The TEDTalk that followed her success tells us just how she did it – by learning the ‘Art of Asking’. Listen carefully to how she describes asking as a gift to be given. What she is really telling you – is have strong values which you can share with others in a meaningful way.

 

How Do We Make Friends?

There are a number of ways we make friends of varying degrees, but some of the more common ways we connect for the first time are as follows:

– Asking someone a favour

– Telling someone a secret or something that makes you vulnerable

– Sharing an interest or activity

– Being part of something larger (HUB network, Christian Youth Group, Burlesque Dance Troupe)

All of these have one thing in common – they rely on an exchange. I give you something and in return I trust you with it. It is for you. In crowdfunding it is essential to remember that people are not just buying into your product or idea but they are buying into you. They want to cheer for you and your success. So before you do anything you have to have a very clear vision of what your success looks like and what all the steps leading up to look like so that you can communicate this to your backers.

The way that people buy into your vision is through the expression of your values. For example:

My vision is a space where people can come together and grow vegetables. My values are education through mentoring, sustainable living, and getting vitamin D everyday.

So when I begin to shape my story for the video I think about how to represent those values in order to tell the story of a community garden. Perhaps I will choose a moment of a mother showing her son how to plant something. While it shows the daily application of this project, it also demonstrates that my project values meaningful human connection.

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There are countless statistics proving that crowdfunding campaigns with video make at least 1.5x more money than those without. This is for a number of reasons but in storytelling when we need to deliver a decisive and meaningful message we use symbols. A flower wilting tells us about the futility of life. So when you are planning your next campaign video whether for crowdfunding or just plain crowd pleasing think about your core values and ultimate vision. Think about meaningful symbols or visual moments which demonstrate your values. But mostly – don’t be afraid to ask for help. People like feeling valuable and if you reward them with the experience and story they are buying into, you are not overstepping one bit.

Keep creating…

Toni

 

 

 

Four endings and a beginning

I am my own boss. I am my own boss. I am my own boss. No, I still cannot believe it. Not because I am so in awe of myself. Quite the opposite. December 2014 – I found myself in a bind. Not the good kinky kind either. After submerging myself into the corporate marketing world for almost a year in what appeared to be the perfect job for the perfect future – life threw me yet another, all-too-predictable curve-ball. “You think you like stability, security, a nice clean suit with a nice clean salary? Think again”.
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I had it all – a wonderful job with a great team, visions of future leadership, and husband to spoil with my very first adult-sized salary. Then. Boom. A small group of contract workers including myself were told that no contracts would be renewed for 2015. As I’m sure many of you know, especially if you are under 30, job security is a dusty top shelf dream. Most of us don’t even have the luxury to think about things like retirement, pension, mortgage payments. My coping mechanism for this lifestyle of being in and out of jobs, was to worry less about my longevity at a company and to instead focus on the impact I was making while I was there. I wanted to let my various experiences shape my career. But this time was different. I believed this one had taken. So when the door closed on yet another path to job happiness, I was defeated. Anxiety and depression for the last two years left me exhausted. Worst of all – I felt like nothing could recharge my once self-charging batteries.
Essentially, I had spent so much energy investing in what I believed would bring me happiness that I accidentally unlearned how to be happy myself. So I slept. A lot. I let the defeat saturate my whole. Then, one cold and dull day, I went to my church. I should explain that this is not an actual church but it is my spiritual getaway; the place where I seem to flock when I need to understand something. A tattoo shop where I spent one summer working as a receptionist. I was in need of money and the owner, a big-hearted animal-loving lady, to my great surprise and despite my inklessness hired me. So one dreary afternoon I wondered over there to visit one of the artists who is now a dear friend. I told her the news. I had lost my job. Her reaction was unexpected – at best. “Toni this is the best news. Now you can just do your own thing”. Then the choir chimed in. It wasn’t just her. Other people reacted the same way. When I went back to my tattooed spiritual guide and told her about this she gave me one heck of a talking to. She believed wholeheartedly that it was time for me to build something of my own. I felt it. That urge to detach my ambitions from the bureaucracy that seemed to control it for the past 10 years of my life.
So one Saturday afternoon I sat in this chair (my comfy office chair at home) and came up with a business name – RedBrick Rooster Creative. So now, this is what I am building. This time without worrying that it has to be this impenetrable fortress designed to create future happiness and kick out all anxiety and depression.  To be honest, it isn’t much of anything yet. I wake up every morning (never at exactly the same time) and think – today I will build and play. I am less scared about taking things apart and rebuilding them because it’s just for me. My happiness. I have learned that my happiness relies on my personal and professional life being a big blurry grey line. One does not help defeat the evils in the other. They work together. I thought I knew this already. So as you can imagine I was quite shocked when I found out that I did not.