Why you need strategy – not motivation


My friend David insisted that I read Playboy. Apparently, it has good articles. Specifically, he was referring to the recent Playboy interview with Tony Robbins. It’s definitely worth a read so if you have a chance, head on over to the site and check it out. Just be prepared for a few pictures of pneumatic blondes to flank the text.

One thing Tony mentions struck a chord with me. Tony is often pegged as a motivational speaker, but in the interview he says: “I’m a strategist, not a motivator. I’m obsessed with finding strategies that create real results in the shortest period of time.”

That’s something we all need to remember.

It lies at the heart of why we don’t take action.

You might have a great idea for a business. You talk to your mates about it over Friday night drinks. They love it too. But one year later you’re still talking about it. You haven’t taken any action.

Or perhaps you know you need to go to the next level in your business. But it’s such an overwhelming concept that you just don’t know where to start.… Read more ...

Take a risk – ask for the impossible. Here’s someone who did.

Billy Joel

I love this video of a university student Michael Pollack having the guts to ask Billy Joel if he could accompany the legendary singer on the piano. Joel was speaking at Vanderbilt University when Pollack used the Q&A session to ask what many would never dare.

It takes chutzpah and confidence to do this. But it achieved a great result. Not only did Pollack get to accompany his idol, he did it brilliantly. And the Youtube video has been viewed over 2.5 million times so far (the incident occurred in March 2013).

However, I also think it’s important to have a good balance of boldness backed up with the goods. Imagine if Pollack asked the big question, got on stage and did a terrible job. It would have been humiliating.

Sure, someone people might argue that the act of asking is kudos enough. But any idiot can put their hand up for a job.

If you’re going to do that, make sure you can deliver.

I know this seems to fly in the face of many articles and comments about the fact that men often ask even when they don’t necessarily have the goods to deliver.… Read more ...

So I couldn’t get to sleep …



Earlier this week, I couldn’t get to sleep. At all.

I had a productive day in the office brainstorming a tonne of ideas and, by the time I left, we had bedded down some pretty exciting plans, timelines and new projects.

That night, as I lay in bed, even more ideas swirled around my brain. It was as if someone has turned on an idea hose and I had no idea how to turn it off.

On one hand, I was so excited by this that I just wanted the calendar to fast forward so I could work on them all! On the other, I was annoyed they didn’t wait till a more reasonable hour to invade my mind.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep. This is an anathema to me because I’m the sort of person who can usually go to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow. I can sleep on planes, trains, automobiles, even at the opera while the soprano is hitting a high C. I am what you would call a Very Good Sleeper.

So being unable to doze off is a very frustrating experience.… Read more ...

TV shows finally give Asian-Australians the voice they’ve always had

Better Man

The cast of “Better Man”. Picture: Gina Milicia

This month, SBS is broadcasting Better Man, the mini-series about Van Nguyen, the 25 year old Australian who was executed in Singapore in 2005.

I won’t go into detail here about the tragic story because you should do yourself a favour and watch the show “on demand”. The cast is brilliant, the script by Khoa Do is gripping and the performances – especially by lead actor Remy Hii in the role of Van – are fantastic.

It’s also part of a new crop of Australian dramas where Asian-Australians are finally being allowed to sound authentic. Like the Australians they are. With Australian accents … because that’s how they actually speak.

Like the character Chai Li in the wonderful ABC drama Time of Our Lives (starring Claudia Karvan and William McInnes) also currently being broadcast on the small screen (catch it on iView). Michelle Vergara Moore plays Chai Li and she speaks with an Aussie accent. And – hallelujah – the scriptwriters treat this as the most normal thing in the world. Because.… Read more ...

Want to join me for two extraordinary days?

Wired for Wonder logo

Wired for Wonder is a unique two day event, supported by the Commonwealth Bank, that aims to bring together entrepreneurs, business owners and enterprises to ponder a world where anything is possible.

I am excited to be speaking at the event along with  impressive array of speakers including researcher and storyteller Dr. Brené Brown (USA), broadcaster and researcher Michelle Gielan (USA), as well as author and journalist Michelle Grattan (Australia), bestselling writer and journalist Ben Hammersley (UK), and dedicated collector, patron and supporter of contemporary art John Kaldor (Australia).

With conversation jams focused on five key topics:

  • Links between wellbeing and success
  • Women in technology
  • Where is science taking us?
  • Tapping creativity
  • Future of work and leadership

The aim of Wired for Wonder is to “nurture creativity, innovation and development throughout the Australian community.”

It promises to be an exciting event!

(image courtesy of TEDx, youtube.com)


When: Wednesday 31 July and Thursday 1 August 2013

Where: The beautiful NIDA Parade Theatres, 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington, Sydney

Cost: $1390 (2 day ticket)

For any other details, you can find out all you need to know here.… Read more ...

When your heroes fail you

(image courtesy Warner Bros)

(image courtesy Warner Bros)

We all have heroes. Role models. Or simply inspirational people who we learn from and look up to. But what happens when your heroes disappoint you so profoundly that it rocks you to your very core?

That happened to me recently. For some years I gained inspiration from the teaching, lifestyle and philosophy of a certain individual. We’ll call him Mike.

Mike is an entrepreneur, author, high achiever and considered by many to be a role model. I’ve admired him for years. We’ve met on several occasions and in those brief interactions he’s been courteous, warm and friendly.

Even as his star continued to rise on an international scale, we would exchange occasional emails and refer to each other as friends. I was not only inspired by his success, I was proud of the way he approached life with integrity.

He was what we Aussies would simply call “a top bloke”.

Until he wasn’t.

Some years after first getting to know him, I witnessed behaviour that made me question everything I thought was admirable about him. I won’t go into details here but, frankly, it traumatised me.… Read more ...

Breaking up is hard to do … but I’ve been doing it anyway

Breaking up is hard to do HERO

Breaking up is hard to do. But sometimes you need to take a deep breath, realise when something’s not working – and have the guts to make a clean break.

Anyone who’s initiated a break up will know that it’s tough thing to do. Sometimes, it can take years before you have the guts to separate. And, in the meantime, you live a life that can range from mild dissatisfaction to sheer misery. But sometimes, we crave familiarity and comfort more than the potentially liberating feeling of uncertainty and adventure.

The things we associate ourselves with – partners, associations, jobs, friends – often define us. But when we finally take the plunge to make the chop, we often wonder why we didn’t do it earlier.

I recently wrote about my realisation that I need to let go of many things in my life. And over the past couple of weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing.

1. It’s just not working for me anymore
I started with baby steps: unsubscribing from newsletters and online groups that I no longer get value from.… Read more ...

The stupidest tax in the world

The stupidest tax in the world HERO

Tax. The very word can send shivers down a business owner’s spine. And when it’s tax time, you can hear entrepreneurs – and accountants – all over the country curse, grump and throw their general ledgers out of the window. But I have to say, I understand the need for tax.

Roads, infrastructure, public spaces, education … I get it. They’re not going to happen without taxes being levied. So, in many ways, it can be a good thing.

When it comes to personal income tax, we all complain about how much we pay – but it makes sense. Ditto for company tax. They’re both tied to your level of income or profit. Broadly speaking, these taxes are only going to be levied if you actually generate the income needed to pay them.

But without a doubt, the stupidest tax in the history of mankind has to be payroll tax. Even when I first learnt about it in Year 8 in Miss Aurisch’s Commerce class at school, I thought to myself: “A moron invented this tax.” I may have been a mere 13 years old, but nothing about it made sense to me.… Read more ...

“French toast” versus “bacon and egg rolls”: a parable about business

French toast versus bacon and egg rolls a parable about business

I love French toast. It’s one of my weaknesses. And when I go out for brunch, it’s often the very thing that I order. Recently, my partner and I drove to the cafe in the next town because we know they do a great French toast. But when we got there, the ONLY thing on the menu for the day was “bacon and egg rolls”.

We were perplexed. We’ve been to this cafe many times and they’ve always had a huge array of breakfast and brunch options, many of which are delicious – especially the French toast.

The cook (yes the very genius who creates the delicious French toast) wandered out of the kitchen. We recognised each other so we started to chat. Here’s how the conversation went:


Me: Oh hi, how are you today?

Cook: Well thank you. How are you?

Me: Great. Can we order French toast?

Cook: No, sorry. Only bacon and egg rolls today.

Me: Oh. Why?

Cook: It’s my day off.

Me: Oh. Um. But … you’re … here.

Cook: I know. It’s meant to be my day off but the Tuesday cook is off sick.… Read more ...

Can a conference REALLY change your life?

Can a conference REALLY change your life HERO

Conferences are funny things. You get 200 or so people stuck in a room, often with no windows; and they’re all watching a bunch of other people on stage talk about their areas of expertise. These conferences can be life changing, inspirational events – or they can be the most boring two days of your life.

The trouble is that when you sign up, you’re never quite sure which one you’re going to get.

Last week I attended the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. And I’ll admit, the event itself was overwhelming. It was full of successful female entrepreneurs from around the world, the agenda was laden with interesting sessions; and it was peppered with impressive experiences such as cocktails and dinner in the Esma Sultan Mansion on the banks of the beautiful Bosphorus.

A conference like this has a jam-packed schedule. There were workshops, networking opportunities and the organisers even scheduled early morning Pilates sessions in case you were inclined to give your abs a workout before getting into the conference for the day (I didn’t feel the need to disturb my abs for this purpose).… Read more ...

My life in a minute: Istanbul, amazing women, and la dolce vita in Rome

MLIAM 14 JUne 2013 HERO

I’ll admit, it’s been an extraordinary couple of weeks. My life is not usually like this. If it was, I think I’d have cardiac arrest from sensory overload.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Amazing. More on that in a future post!

It was wonderful to connect with female entrepreneurs from around the globe – including our wonderful homegrown ones as well. Here I am with Cathie Reid (APHS Packaging), Tina Tower (Begin Bright) and Catriona Pollard (CP Communications and also presenter of the seminar “PR and Media Releases that Get Results” at the Australian Writers’ Centre.)

L-R: Valerie Khoo, Cathie Reid, Tina Tower, Catriona Pollard at cocktails at the Esma Sultan Mansion

I had never been to Istanbul before so it was wonderful to discover a new city.

An oasis in the middle of the Bosphorus, Istanbul

A visit to Turkey is not complete with some whirling dervishes

I discovered these gorgeous kittens in a fishing village and had to resist the temptation to bring then home!

Baby kittens in a fishing village near Istanbul

Then a few days in Rome with my fabulous friend Nicole, where we visited what seemed to be every ancient monument in existence, ate ridiculous amount of pasta and then shopped, shopped and shopped.… Read more ...

Australia named second best country in the world to be a female entrepreneur

Female Entrepreneurs in Australia HERO

It seems that female entrepreneurs living in Australia are in a pretty good position. Last week, Australia was named the second best country in the world to be a female entrepreneur, according to the new Gender-GEDI Index launched by the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network at its annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

This result even surprised the researchers.

Australia has been named the second best country in the world to be a female entrepreneur, according to a new global index.

The Gender-GEDI Index compares key metrics from 17 countries, measuring everything from business environment and ecosystems to the attitudes and social norms likely to impact entrepreneurship. It has a particular focus on “high potential women” who are “innovative, market expanding and export-oriented”.

The study by the US-based Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, was launched Tuesday by the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) at its annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

Ruta Aidis, the institute’s project director, said she was “surprised that Australia did so well, coming ahead of countries like France and Germany.”

You can read more of this article in smh.com.au.… Read more ...

Tear gas, riot police – and my attempt at channelling Liam Neeson

A much more peaceful shot of Istanbul at sunset

A much more peaceful shot of Istanbul at sunset

When you’re planning your first day in a foreign country, here are some tips:
1. Avoid mass protests where the crowd is peppered with tear gas.
2. Don’t go anywhere near riot police.
3. When you hear loud noises that sound like explosions, don’t just walk, run.

Yesterday, I managed to fail on all three counts on my first day in Istanbul and found myself stuck in what has been described as “the worst protest in years”. According to news reports that have since emerged, “an estimated 10,000 demonstrators again streamed into the area waving flags and calling on the government to resign.”

Now, I’m not the kind of girl that goes looking for trouble. I’m more of a “book a massage in the day spa, sip Bloody Marys in a groovy bar, then go shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue” sort of traveller.

So I didn’t quite believe it when I found myself in this street:

Yes, I was in this very street.

Crowd control using tear gas.

Riot police here in Istanbul.

Read more ...

The one where I got stuck with a hen’s party on a flight to Istanbul

The One Where I Got Stuck FEATURE

What’s worse than having a drunk, a smelly football team, or a flu-ridden passenger next to you on a flight? … A hen’s party!

Yes, it happened to me on my recent flight from Dubai to Istanbul.

Now I have to say … I didn’t mind them so much because it was actually like watching the cast of Footballers’ Wives act out an episode.

The entire hen’s party were from Manchester in England and they were heading to Istanbul to party hard with the bride-to-be before her big day.

If you’re not familiar with the masterpiece that is Footballers’ Wives, it was an over-the-top dramatisation soap opera about an English soccer team and their WAGs. It was so popular it even spun off the television series Footballers’ Wives: Extra Time, and featured bogan characters like Chardonnay, Mel, Tanya, Lucy and Bruno.

After boarding the plane, the hen and her party then tried to rearrange everyone in the cabin so they could all sit together. I prayed to the Upgrade Gods that the flight attendants would take pity on me, and offer me a seat in first class so that the hen and her hennettes could party on in Rows 9 to 11.… Read more ...

Would you like to work with me?

The view from the Australian Writers' Centre

The view from the Australian Writers’ Centre

Administration coordinator at the Australian Writers’ Centre

·           Part-time, leading to a full-time position
·           Milsons Point (North Sydney) close to train station
·           Winner in the Telstra Business Awards

Hi, my name is Valerie Khoo and I’m looking for a very special administration coordinator to help us with our constantly expanding writers’ centre.

Before you go further, please visit our current website: www.WritersCentre.com.au

There is a lot going on here. We’ve recently expanded to Melbourne and other states will follow. We are Australia’s fastest growing writers’ centre.

What does the role involve?
This is a part-time role in Sydney at the equivalent of around 3 days per week, with room to grow to 4 to 5 days.

You’ll be part of a team that has been a winner in the Telstra Business Awards and that has become the “go to” centre for writing courses – both in the classroom and online.

This role is for someone who is super organised, totally anal, and has the utmost attention to detail.… Read more ...

Working with bloggers to promote your business

Enterprise 23 May Sarah Hamilton HERO

Sarah Hamilton, bellabox

I’m a big believer in the power of bloggers. I know that, in some cases, I will trust the advice of a credible blogger and rely on their recommendations. And smart business owners are understanding that they can tap into this influential medium in order to reach new customers. This inspired this week’s Enterprise post.

When it comes to promoting your business, an increasing number of entrepreneurs are reaching out to bloggers to write about their products and services. In the past, there were few options available to business owners. You could pay for advertising, or hope that you would be given coverage in mainstream media. These opportunities were limited, often confined by the number of pages in a publication. However, the world of blogging has opened up new channels for business owners to reach their target audience.

Tram Tran started her online shopping site Koogal in February 2013. She focuses on selling fashion to 16 to 26 year old women. “When I was at university I started selling my old clothes on eBay,” says Tran. “It was a hobby but then I noticed that there was demand for certain types of tops and dresses, so I began sourcing them and selling on eBay.”

Tran says she realised that she could make a bigger margin if she opened an online store.

Read more ...

Going global: how one Melbourne start-up did it

Patrick Llewellyn

Patrick Llewellyn, 99Designs

Packing up your life, selling your house and moving your whole family to another hemisphere is a bold move. But that’s exactly what Patrick Llewellyn did when he was given the task of turning 99designs into a global business. He inspired this week’s Enterprise post.

Patrick Llewellyn was on a plane back to Australia from the US when a fellow passenger had a heart attack mid-flight. The plane was forced to turn back and stop in Hawaii so the passenger could get medical attention and Llewellyn found himself in a hotel room on an unexpected and extended stopover. “I was sitting there answering emails when I realised that I’d never been to Hawaii before,” says Llewellyn, who is the CEO of 99designs, a crowd-sourced marketplace for graphic design.

Llewellyn, 40, decided to make the most of it, venturing on to Waikiki Beach where he took his very first surfing lesson. “As soon as I stood up, I was hooked,” says Llewellyn. It’s was a rare moment of relaxation for the CEO of a fast growing company that now experiences $1.8 million in transactions each month and has over 200,000 registered designers.

Read more ...

My life in a minute: Shucking oysters, quad-biking and 3D printing

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

Loving: This week I was in Tasmania. I’ve had a soft spot for Tassie ever since I went there for my version of Schoolies at the end of Year 12 … decades ago! This trip, I visited Freycinet and it was stunning. Apart from sampling some amazing Tasmanian produce, here’s what else happened:

I did my best Stig impression when I went quad-biking.

David the activities coordinator showed us how to shuck oysters straight from the marine farm, then brought out some bubbles to go with them.

My favourite bridge in the world, Spiky Bridge, on the way to Freycinet. I go there every time I'm in Tassie because it's just so weird looking.

I'm wearing fly-fishing gear but I can't focus because I'm annoyed at the missing apostrophe (there should be one after the n).

Meeting: Wonderful writers in the Australian Writers’ Centre community in Brisbane and Perth. My travels have enabled me to connect with our students and they never cease to inspire me with what they achieve!

With Cassy Small in Brisbane

Marvelling at: 3D printing
I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these.… Read more ...

Masterminding a winning startup strategy

Masterminding a winning startup strategy HERO


I’m always interested when I hear stories of entrepreneurs who want to take over the world. This is often because I’m in awe of their sheer audacity and boldness to dream big. But I’m even more interested in the steps they plan to take to get there. When I heard serial entrepreneur Nick Cloete’s plan for his start-up Kounta, it inspired this week’s Enterprise post.

Building a successful business is like mastering a game of chess. As an entrepreneur, you not only need a strategy to win, your moves need to be timed perfectly to make the most of opportunities. Like chess, you need vision, persistence and the skill to coordinate all the players in your team to work together towards your goal.

That’s what serial entrepreneur Nick Cloete has done all his life. Apart from a one-year stint training to be a chef when he was 18, Cloete has always run his own businesses.

Masterminding a winning strategy
Cloete, now 30, is currently founder and CEO of Kounta, a point-of-sale software platform for the retail industry. The cloud-based platform is aimed at small to medium sized businesses and costs $50 per month per “cash register”.

Read more ...

A Very Famous Hollywood Actor – and me! (sort of)

One of the funky bars at The Abbotsford Convent where I might see the Very Famous Hollywood Actor

One of the funky bars at The Abbotsford Convent where I might see the Very Famous Hollywood Actor

This week, a Very Famous Hollywood Actor is filming for 10 days around the Australian Writers’ Centre in Melbourne. I’m pretty excited because I used to have a huge crush on this man. I’ve seen the production schedule – complete with details of all the buildings, steps and facades where he’ll be acting – and I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted to bring a foldable chair and set up camp next to the film crew just to watch.

I’ll call it research. Who knows? I might even blend in. Perhaps I can offer some suggestions on how they can improve the script!

Fortunately, I’ve managed to quell this kind of stalker fan-girl behaviour when I’ve interviewed celebrities as a journalist. Many people ask me who has been my most enjoyable person to interview.

To be honest, I actually find many entrepreneurs far more interesting to chat to than celebs. This is largely because when you interview a celebrity, they are usually on a gruelling schedule, have just finished a major project and have done nothing else but live and breathe that film, album or world tour for the past six months.… Read more ...