My life in a minute: Chocolate, foot therapy and a brand new office

Life in a Minute 6 March POST
Excited: That we have got the keys to our new premises in Melbourne. I'm so thrilled that we're now one of the arts and culture organisations at The Abbotsford Convent. This precinct is a thriving creative and artistic community and our new neighbours include Drama Victoria, Illustrators Australia, Complete Works Theatre, The Creativity Institute and more.

The Abbotsford Convent is located right in the heart of inner city Melbourne (the nearest station is Collingwood). The grounds are beautiful, there are two bars, gallery spaces, a bakery, restaurants, 3MBSFM, stunning gardens and lots of training rooms where we’ll be holding our courses.

Loving: Best. Invitation. Ever. I love this clever invitation from Dell. It's the size of a computer, my photo is included on the top right, and the whole thing is MADE OUT OF CHOCOLATE. Did I mention that it's the size of a computer … that's a lot of eating …

Welcoming: Phoebe is the newest member to join our team. It's her first week at the Australian Writers' Centre and it's as if she's already been here for ages. Welcome Phoebe!

Honoured: To be included in Shopify's list of "30 books that will help you increase sales".

I'm so honoured that my book "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" is in the same company as books that I've admired for ages. These include Robert Cialdini's "Influence"; Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink"; and Anthony Robbins' "Unlimited Power". Catching up with: I love catching up with my writerly buddies Kerri Sackville and Allison Tait. There's nothing quite like a lunchtime discussion on agents, readers, and the writing process that's guaranteed to be full of everything from angst to inspiration. These talented women are a wonderful support and are full of sage advice.

Seven deadly sins of social media

Seven sins of social media POST
I'm often amazed at the comments I hear from small business owners who seem more afraid of social media than the plague. When social media was still relatively new, I completely understood this trepidation. But now that it's simpler and quicker to use than ever before, it's perplexing that some business owners stick their heads in the sand when it comes to learning about it. It's not rocket science. This inspired this week's Enterprise post.

Social media is either too hard, too scary or too ridiculous to waste time on. I hear these sentiments constantly from business owners of all ages. Of course, prolific users of social media probably find these attitudes archaic. But they are real – and more common that you'd expect.

For example, I recently met a business owner who runs a small nutrition practice. He told me that he studied Facebook for six months – researching what it does and how it works – before finally registering for an account. Six months! Seriously, Facebook is not akin to nuclear physics. It doesn't require this level of study.

Similarly, I recently did a video interview with a business owner, profiling her work and products. At the end of the interview, she told me that she didn't want it on YouTube. I was perplexed. She was happy for us to film, she saw us set up the cameras. I wondered if I had unwittingly offended her or if she was unhappy with the interview. It turns out that she thought the interview was just fine. "I just don't want it on YouTube."

Travelling with pets: flying in Australia

Travelling with pets: flying in Australia POST
Little doggie Rambo is somewhat of a frequent flyer. I only wish that he could earn points for all his travelling. I know that many people think it's a hassle to travel with pets but it can be a pretty seamless experience. A bit of planning means that your furry friend can enjoy your destination with you.

I've received so many emails and messages asking for tips on travelling with pets I figured it was high time I wrote them all down. Regular readers will know that I travel a lot between Sydney and Melbourne – and I usually bring some of all of my menagerie with me. So when it comes to flying with pets, what's the deal?

1. Booking your pets on the plane

While my furballs would dearly love their own Learjet, this is not going to happen any time soon. So we have to fly regular airlines like Qantas and Virgin. Fortunately, this is pretty easy (and a lot less expensive).

In fact, in some cases, it's free. For example, with Qantas, your pet carrier is considered a piece of luggage so it's just part of your regular luggage allowance. If you have an extra bag, you pay for the extra piece. On my most recent flight (yesterday), this extra piece was only $20.

You can't front up with your pet unannounced. When you book, you need to let the airline know. And unless you have a guide dog, your furry friend doesn't get to travel with you in the cabin. They go downstairs in the cargo. (This is unlike some airlines in the US which are more pet-friendly.)

A Silicon Valley state of mind

A Silicon Valley state of mind POST
This week I chatted to Tony Perkins, the founder and former editor-in-chief of Red Herring. I remember buying my first copy of Red Herring back in the nineties. I was mesmerised by the stories of these innovative companies in Silicon Valley and all the talk about this new-fangled thing called the information superhighway and the internet.

Tony grew up in Silicon Valley and is now focused on globalising the Valley culture by connecting key players with Australian startups. It was great to talk to him this week on Enterprise.

While the startup community in Australia is growing, it's still a far cry from the dynamic eco-system that is driving the tech epicentre of Silicon Valley. However, entrepreneur and Silicon Valley native Tony Perkins wants to change all that.

Perkins is the founder of AlwaysOn, a US-based media company that has its sights set on the Australian startup scene.

Connecting the players

This week, Perkins is in Sydney to promote what he hopes will be a leading event for startups in Australia, AlwaysOn Australia, which will be held on 11-12 April 2013. While tech events are not new in Australia, Perkins plans to combine this event with a trade mission where he plans to bring 30 CEOs of US tech companies and representatives of US-based venture capital firms to Australia to explore the startup scene.

Perkins hopes that his trade mission will create awareness among US firms about the opportunities available in Australia. "This way they can get the lay of the land and move into this 21 million-person market more rapidly," he says. "In addition, a lot of these folks are looking at the possibility of establishing in Australia to use it as an outpost to the Asia-Pacific region."

My life in a minute: Writing, dining, stage-mothering and lots of driving

My Life in a Minute 15 Feb 2013 POST
Melbourne Writers' Club: It was great to connect with fabulous people in the writing community at Melbourne Writers' Club last week, which is a monthly networking event organised by Sandi Sieger, editor-in-chief on Onya Magazine. I was honoured to speak at the event at the The Honey Bar in South Melbourne.

Oscar's Table: While we're on all things writing, I do love restaurants with a literary theme. I had dinner at Oscar's Table at Docklands in Melbourne. It is full of Oscar Wilde quotes, lampshades are made from pages from books and there's a giant original painting of the man himself adorning the walls.

Getting ready for his closeup My little doggie Rambo had a photo session with celebrity photographer Gina Milicia last week. He also stars in Gina's latest book "Making the Shot" which is full of her pro tips on taking portraits.

A very pretty high tea It was great to check out high tea at Christine Re Tea Rooms in Collingwood in Melbourne. This was the venue of Rhiannon Colarossi's WellbeingWeb event. Check out how gorgeous it is!

Are you still in love with your business?

Are you still in love with your business
It's Valentine's Day! While you are busy making goo goo eyes at your beloved, consider whether you need to stoke the fires of passion for your business. This auspicious day inspired this week's Enterprise post.

Happy Valentine's Day! As couples all over the country celebrate with romantic dinners, bouquets of roses and the odd proposal, it might be a good time to consider if you’re actually still in love with your business.

Whether you’re a new business owner still flush with the excitement of first love, or a seasoned veteran in a long-term relationship, it can be worthwhile to think about whether you’re doing enough to stoke the fires of passion in your business.

This depends on what stage you're at in your relationship.

Stage 1: Flirting and courting

Before you even start your business, you’ve probably been thinking about it for a while. You might do some research, check out the competition and determine if your potential new love could be the right fit for you.

You toy with the idea, flirt with the concept of whether this business could be The One and daydream about the possibilities.

Live your entrepreneurial dream

In Style Audi scholarship POST
I have been following my entrepreneurial dreams for quite some time now, first with the Australian Writers' Centre, and lately with socialcallout.com, but I haven't forgotten what the hunger to further your career aspirations feels like.

But I also remember how tough it can be starting out, and how you are grateful for any assistance, material or otherwise, that helps get you on your way.

Which is why I am excited by Instyle and Audi's launch of the 2013 Style Scholarship, which is focused, in their words, on "celebrating innovative ideas and helping to foster the talent of future Women of Style".

They're offering a $10,000 bursary to help one woman take another step towards her career goals - it doesn't matter whether you're starting out or already on your way - and all you have to do is tell them in 150 words or less you should be awarded the business scholarship.

Does your small business give back?

Does your small business give back
Recently, I was thrilled to hear that Suzi Dafnis, Community Director of the Australian Businesswomen's Network had partnered with Australian Scholarships Foundation to provide $20,000 worth of online training and mentoring to not-for-profits and charities. I think it's great when small businesses integrate structured giving programs into their operations. This in fact inspired this week's Enterprise post.

You don't have to be a billionaire like Bill Gates to play a part in alleviating poverty. You don't need to wait till you're rich to set up a foundation like Richard Branson.

Some small business owners are making a difference to charities and not-for-profit organisations with "giving" initiatives that range from one-off donations to structured programs. In many cases, the "donation" is the provision of pro bono services, which can sometimes be out of reach for cash-strapped charities.

Suzi Dafnis, community director at the Australian Businesswomen's Network (ABN) recently announced a partnership with the Australian Scholarships Foundation (ASF) to contribute $20,000 in online training workshops and courses over the next 12 months. The ABN has become known for its accessible online training focusing on business skills and strategy, marketing and social media. It also runs a popular mentoring program for business owners and is a previous winner in the "education and training" category of the City of Sydney Business Awards.

Dafnis says: "I realised that like small businesses, many not-for-profits struggle to master business skills – like marketing, accounting, social media and so on – and that there was an opportunity for ABN to become a part of the great work that ASF does to provide scholarships to not-for-profits. We approached ASF and offered to make a contribution through our courses."

What happens when someone copies your business?

What happens when someone copies your business
I've recently come across some horror stories about businesses copying other businesses. If you've built a strong reputation in your industry, you want to protect this very important asset. This inspired this week's Enterprise post.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but what happens when another business starts copying your name, products or processes?

This happened to Nicole Kersh, founder of 4Cabling.com.au, a wholesaler, manufacturer and distributor of cables. She founded the business seven years ago and says it is now turning over about $8 million a year. At only 28, she's built the business is a male-dominated industry and says she has developed her reputation in the industry.

Cashing in on your name "It's something we've worked hard to grow and we're very proud of it," she says. "Like most entrepreneurs, my company's brand is intimately tied to my own personal brand. People know Virgin for Richard Branson, they know Aussie Home Loans for John Symond, Janine Allis for Boost Juice. And in my industry, my customers know me as the young female founder of 4Cabling.

"That's why we stood up and took notice when, a few years ago, a guy started up a competing business, using a company name that made it sound like he was a woman. It seemed a little strange at the time but it wasn't until he started using our trademarked name 4Cabling as a Google AdWord, in what seemed like an obvious attempt to direct traffic to his website, that we began to guess at his motivations. The company appeared to be using our good name and my own hard-fought reputation in order to steal our customers."

Where in the world is Valerie Khoo?

acagamic (Lennart Nacke) via photopin cc
When I was little, I used to play a game called "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?" (Did anyone else used to play this?). You had to follow Carmen around the world as she pulled off clever heists and other crimes in exotic locations. It was a great way to learn geography!

These days, I feel a little bit like Carmen (minus the crime). I've been away from Sydney so much that it's a case of "Where in the world is Valerie Khoo?"

Regular readers will know that I've been doing a lot of work in Melbourne as the Australian Writers' Centre has launched there. I've been loving every minute of it and I can't wait to meet everyone who has enrolled in our upcoming February courses.

So here's a peek into what's coming up. If you're going to the same events, come say HI and connect.

MELBOURNE WellbeingWeb event - Sunday 3 February

WelbeingWeb is the brainchild of the talented Rhiannon Colarossi. When I first met Rhiannon, her business hadn't even started yet. So I'm thrilled that her passion for empowering women has become a reality. One of her first events is detailed below and features bespoke stationery creator Christina Re. (And you know that I'm a sucker for stationery!)

The underbelly of entrepreneurship – what they don’t tell you when you sign up

The underbelly of entrepreneurship POST
So you've come back from holidays and you're wondering what to do with 2013. You may have even succumbed to an entrepreneurial seizure and think that you want to start your own business.

Before you chuck in your job and sell your first born to fund the new idea that's going to make you richer than Mark Zuckerberg, here's my guide to the underbelly of entrepreneurship.

1. You'll work harder than you ever did in your "regular" job If you think that being your own boss means you can swan around having long lunches and leading the good life, think again. You'll probably work longer hours than ever before. But the long hours aren't even the tough part. The most challenging thing you need to deal with is the stress. Your livelihood is on the line. So is your reputation. And that kind of pressure can cause more than a few sleepless nights.

When you work for someone else, you can be assured that you're getting that paycheque every single week. You don't have to worry that a team of employees, suppliers and customers are all relying on you. But when you run your own business, the buck stops with you. If business isn't going well, it's YOUR mortgage that's at stake.

On the plus side, while you may work darn hard, this also means that you're creating your own destiny. The stress might be palpable at times but the sky is also the limit. Focus on moving forward and growing your business.

2. You'll meet people who will try to take advantage of you

It sometimes amazes me when people want my products – but simply don't want to pay for them. Some have actually said: "Well, I don't expect to pay for it." I kid you not.

And I'm not referring to some tiny little promotional product that costs next to nothing to produce. I mean real products where each unit can only be created with considerable time, effort and significant costs involved.

I have no explanation for the logic behind this kind of thinking and I find it utterly confounding. But it happens. More often than you think.

Fortunately, you also come across wonderful people in business who are a pleasure to deal with. When I started my business seven years ago I didn't expect to become such good friends with so many of my customers and suppliers. I feel truly blessed that my business brought them into my life.

What I did in a fit of new year delusion

VK Boxing - Fri 18 January 2013
Some of you know that around 1 January last year, I decided to write a book. That became Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business. This year, for something completely different (and in a fit of new year delusion), I decided to wanted to train in kickboxing with a national champion. Yes, you read that correctly. It's safe to say that when you meet me for the first time, chances are that you won't immediately think "cage fighting machine" or even "kickboxing demon". Even I can't quite explain the attraction to this activity. But possibly the names of my pets provide some hints to my penchant … Kitty Rocky secured his name because he came into my life the year Rocky Balboa (the sixth in the series) was released, and little doggie Rambo was named the year Rambo (fourth in the series) hit the big screens. But kickboxing? Perhaps the heatwave that was passing through the Yarra Valley around the new year touched my brain (in all the wrong ways) as I'm still not entirely sure what possessed me … But somehow I found myself placing a call with the aforementioned champ and, before I knew it, I was booked into a session with her (yes, her). I've had several one-on-one sessions with the trainer now – set against a visually appropriate backdrop of a well-used fighting ring in a tin shed that sometimes feels like its 30 degrees – and the conversations have gone something like this:

Finalist in Smarter Business Ideas Top Blogger competition

Smarter business ideas logo
This week, I received the news that I'm a finalist in the Smarter Business Ideas Top Blogger competition. Needless to say, I'm thrilled at being included as one of the top 25 small business bloggers in Australia. I've been reading the blogs of some of the finalists for years - is it's wonderful to be in such great company. There are 2 categories: 1. People's Choice (determined by votes) and 2. Overall Winner (as nominated by the magazine and online editors). I just love blogging about small business and startup life. It's an area I've been passionate about forever. I know this may be hard to believe - but it's the truth. And I know that this may reveal unparalleled levels of geekdom but ... I guess that's just me! When I was little, my mother used to bring The Daily Mirror (a Sydney newspaper that was around at the time) home on the train.

And my theme for 2013 is …

VK Post Power Stories Rambo
I've decided on my theme for 2013. And it can be summarised in one word: kaizen. No I haven't decided to learn a new language. I'm not about to move to a new country. In fact, I'm actually not going to do a lot that's "new". This might sound a tad boring, considering that the new year is usually filled in new resolutions, new visions – and bold statements about achieving them. I should know. That was what happened to be exactly one year ago. In the first week of 2012, I made big plans for the year ahead. I decided that it was time to: * writing and publish a book * expand my business nationally * rebrand the entire company * invest in a technology startup The consequences of dreaming big On the plus side, these goals were achieved. However, getting there took an effort of epic proportions. I'm talking the kind of effort that means:

My life in a minute: It’s been a big year!

Life in a Minute Christmas
Well, 2012 has been a big year and it looks like next year will be even bigger. So what are the highlights? SXSW: South by South West in Austin, Texas is always a mind trip and this year was no different. It's five days of ideas, ideas and then some more ideas. If you want to go somewhere with great speakers, lots of food trucks, HEAPS of parties, and the opportunity to make connections with some amazing people, this is the place to be. Let's Talk Business seminar series: I love working with the City of Sydney on the Let's Talk Business seminar series for entrepreneurs. The City of Sydney and the team from The Events Agency are a pleasure to deal with and I get the chance to help so many innovative entrepreneurs tell their stories to the crowd. I'm thrilled to say that I'm coming back next year for another round. See you there! Inspired by: Our students at the Australian Writers' Centre. They continue to kick goals, get book deals, and make huge strides in their writing goals. One of the biggest wins this year was Jessica Shirvington's news that Steven Spielberg's production company is turning her books into a TV series next year. When I get news like this, it's makes all the hard work we put into the Centre and our students worthwhile. But Jessica is just one of our success stories. Thank you to all our students in the community – you truly inspire me every day!

The four biggest challenges in business

Four biggest challenges POST
This year has been one of highs, lows, challenges and triumphs. I've spoken to A LOT of business owners throughout the year and have heard stories ranging from heartbreak to victory. While some aspects of business never change, the world is evolving at a fast pace. That includes customer expectations, technology and so on. That inspired this week's Enterprise post. It's that time of year again - the silly season. The time when everything cranks up because every man and their respective dogs need to have all their projects "done before Christmas". Where your team is tired, hanging for the holidays and your customers freely tell you they're not going to purchase right now because they're waiting until your products go on sale in the new year. 'Tis the season when you close your doors on Christmas Eve, brave the crowds for some last minute gift shopping, and head home to eat too much ham and turkey. Then you collapse for a short break and attempt to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You swear that you're not going to work so hard next year and decide to use the break to get on top of your ever-growing "to do" list. And you commit to never letting your cash flow get to a state where you're forced to cut your salary to the point where you are the lowest paid person in the business. Sound familiar? Every year, I have the same conversations with small business owners. And I expect that these themes are still going to be prevalent this year. While many businesses have thrived in 2012, I've also been speaking to many business owners who have found the year nothing short of challenging. What have been the biggest challenges I've seen this year and how can you overcome them?

3 business books that changed my life: Collis Ta’eed, co-founder and CEO of Envato

Collis Ta'eed POST
Establishing and successfully running a business takes a great deal of effort, and in the early years at least, doesn't leave a whole lot of time for much else. But Collis Ta'eed, co-founder (along with his wife Cyan) and CEO of Envato, which is one of the world's most successful digital marketplaces and creative educational networks, firmly believes it's important to devote some of that leftover time to learning from other entrepreneurs who have gone before you. He credits reading these business books as being instrumental, at least in part, in his business success, and we're delighted he's chosen to share the three business books that changed his life with us. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink As Envato has grown over the years from a couple of people working from home, to an office stacked with people, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand how people work. Before Envato I'd only ever worked in very small businesses. So learning about people stuff has been one of the biggest learning curves I've had as an entrepreneur. I originally came across Dan Pink through an amazing TED talk (are there any other kind?) he had given in 2009. So when one of my team handed me a copy of Drive, my curiosity was already piqued. Pink's main thesis is that businesses should pay attention to, and encourage basic motivators for people to succeed at their jobs such as the need to achieve mastery over their roles, to have work that has purpose and to be given as much autonomy as possible. These ideas are intuitive in many ways, but contrary to a lot of conventional thinking. The book has been very influential for me, particularly as we've worked to create a great work culture at Envato.

Are you playing The Email Game?

Email Game POST
So I've been playing a little game with myself. It's been going on for a while and I thought it was time I shared it with you. It's called The Email Game. This isn't a euphemism for anything. It's an actual game. About email. That you play with yourself. If you have an inbox of exploding proportions like mine, any help to slay it is most welcome. Until now, I've tried a range of strategies ranging from setting rules, only checking at certain times of day, being ruthless about deleting and so on. But none of these have ever left me feeling anything less than overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails I receive. I'll admit, I don't answer them all. That would be impossible. Within those gazillion emails are legitimate queries that require legitimate responses. But trying to conquer them can sometimes feel like trying to climb Everest. Until The Email Game came along.

Big goals, big numbers, Bigcommerce

Enterprise 13 December 2012 POST
As you know, I love hearing about (and telling) stories about the challenges and triumphs faced by entrepreneurs. Whether you're starting a business from your shed, or trying to conquer the universe with a team of 200 people, I find it fascinating to hear about these journeys. This week, I chatted to Eddie Machaalani and Mitch Harper, who first met in an internet chat room before launching their business Bigcommerce. They inspired this week's post on Enterprise. A chance meeting in an online chat room may lead to what Eddie Machaalani and Mitchell Harper both hope will one day become a billion dollar company. The pair are co-founders and co-CEOs of Bigcommerce, an online platform that helps small businesses create online stores. It was 2002 when Machaalani and Harper met in a chat room about computer programming. Ten years later they are business partners of an organisation that powers nearly 30,000 online stores and has processed more than $1.2 billion worth of sales in its first two-and-a-half years. For Machaalani, 34 and Harper, 30, the chat room meeting was serendipitous. Discovering they had common interests and similar desires to be their own boss, the pair founded Interspire in 2003. It offered different products for small businesses to create an online presence. According to Machaalani, they were able to double their revenue every year. By 2009, they had 15 staff. But this success came at a price. Both co-founders were working 14 to 15-hour days, often seven days a week. They achieved this growth not only through sheer hard work but also by bootstrapping the business. However, they knew they wanted to grow bigger. Much bigger.

New name, new look – welcome to the Australian Writers’ Centre

Welcome to the Australian Writers' Centre POST VK
Changing your name is no easy task. But that's exactly what we did this week. And let me tell you … it's freaking exhausting. In case you missed it, we changed our name to Australian Writers' Centre. For the past seven years, we've been building the Sydney Writers' Centre brand and business. Through lots of hard work and, yes, some sleepless nights, it's a brand that has gained recognition, established a good reputation and become a favourite among many students who learn with us. So the decision to evolve our name hasn't been easy. Over the past couple of years I've wrestled with the idea of changing our name. Canvassing the possibility resulted in a range of responses: "But you'll lose your SEO." "Oh I like the word 'Sydney'." "That's a really bad idea." "Go for it!" "Have you bought your new URL yet?" For some time, I almost convinced myself that keeping the word "Sydney" could work. We could run the "Sydney Writers' Centre" in Melbourne, right? Ummmm, no. Well, not without a great deal of difficulty and ensuing confusion anyway. I knew in my heart that the name had to change. And once I made the decision to rebrand to the Australian Writers' Centre, I just knew it was the the right thing to do.