Writer, and Valerie Khoo fan, Mel Hearse talks to the founder and director of the Australian Writers’ Centre.
Valerie Khoo has been something of an icon to me since I first discovered her financial column in The Sydney Morning Herald at roughly the same time as I signed up for my first course at the Australian Writers’ Centre (of which, it turned out, Valerie is founder and director).
The Writers’ Centre offers courses to help people achieve their writing dreams, in both a practical and motivational sense. For me, it took the form of a ‘Writing for Children’ course, for others it’s freelance writing for magazines, blogging or business writing courses that take their fancy. Clearly there’s a market for what the centre offers, with branches now in Melbourne and Perth, and the online and Sydney courses continuing to flourish.
Valerie is a former accountant who always loved to write. She also has a long standing history as the go-to girl for friends and family in need of a push to follow their passions. Taking her own advice when she realised she was unhappy in her corporate role and that writing was where her heart lay, Valerie packed it all in and soon built a successful writing career. Her byline regularly appears in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times, The Canberra Times, BusinessDay, and WAtoday. She’s also worked at three major publishing houses: ACP Magazines (now Bauer Media), EMAP Australia, and Pacific Magazines. And if that wasn’t enough, Valerie also blogs about technology and enterprise, while her personal blog has been named a top 25 business blog.
… it gives me great pleasure to show people the tricks to breaking into the industry, with the right practical skills to make a success of it.
So how did the Australian Writers’ Centre evolve? It happened when Valerie decided to put her two loves together – writing and helping people achieve their goals. “I’ve always been the one my friends come to when they are dithering about chasing a dream. I strongly believe you should follow your interests and go for it – without procrastination. So through the Writers’ Centre, I’ve been able to provide both inspiration and practical know-how – there are ways and means of becoming successful with writing, and it gives me great pleasure to show people the tricks to breaking into the industry, with the right practical skills to make a success of it.”
The Centre now employs five full time staff in the Sydney offices, and has more than 40 teachers and lecturers – all well-known in their fields of freelance writing for magazines, authors of adult and children’s fiction, business writers, travel writers, and bloggers that make a living from their blogs. It offers more than 40 short courses including creative writing, travel writing, grammar and punctuation, business writing, web content and magazine writing, as well as helping thousands of students get published, score book deals and change careers.
In 2010, the Writers’ Centre won a NSW Telstra Business Award and was named by Dell as one of the ‘10 most innovative small businesses in Australia’. In something of a writing ‘khoo’, Valerie recently welcomed the centre’s 16,000th student. Any standout success stories?
“One of our most high profile successes would have to be Jessica Shirvington. She graduated in 2010 from our creative writing courses (she completed stages 1 and 2) and is now writing her sixth novel. Steven Spielberg is also making a TV show out of one of her novels.” It’s helping people achieve dreams like these that gives Valerie a real buzz, and reinforces her top business tip: do what you love.
Dare to dream big, and back those dreams up with as much practical help as you can get your hands on.
Yet, a business like the Australian Writers’ Centre doesn’t happen overnight or without help. “One of the students in our very first class signed her husband up, and he became a business coach to me. In the beginning, I think he had a much bigger idea of what this place could become than even I did. I would have still gotten to where we are now, but I think he’s responsible for speeding up the process.”
Speaking of business advice, the best Valerie has ever received was to create systems to help her business move along. “There is a lot of paperwork involved, and a lot of multitasking. I also factor in that I can be found working anywhere; at home, in the office, on the side of a road as I travel, or in airport lounges. So you need to have good systems in place to make it happen, to be able to find things and to meet all of your commitments.”
Valerie has a number of professional memberships, with some of her key associations including Business Chicks, Women’s Network Australia, the Australian Businesswomen’s Network, and the Society of Authors.
My takeaway advice from talking to Valerie? Dare to dream big, and back those dreams up with as much practical help as you can get your hands on. And while you’ll need to be prepared to work hard to be successful, as they say, if you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.
Visit Valerie Khoo
First published April 2014.