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Ever wonder how to ditch the 9 to 5 and start your own lucrative business? In this interview with Gina Horkey, entrepreneur and creator of Horkey HandBook, you will meet the mastermind behind a 6 figure business that was started almost accidentally.
Gina she shares how she went from being a struggling college student and nanny to building a business that gives her the freedom to move her family to the beach for several months out of the year. She shares some of her ups and her downs and even gives us a glimpse into some of the personal struggles she has bravely worked so hard on to overcome, all while maintaining and growing her business.
We loved having the privilege to interview her for our Stay the Course interview series. Thank you Gina!
Gina is a married, millennial mama to two precocious kiddos from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook, a website geared towards helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.
INTERVIEW WITH GINA HORKEY
PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK
Hi, I’m Gina [waving]. I started a freelance writing business on the side of my full-time job (in personal finance), in the spring of 2014 to “test the waters” for a potential career change.
At the time, I was (and still am) the sole breadwinner of our little family of four and my husband was (and still is) a SAHD to our two kiddos. Our youngest was less than a year old at the time!
That fall, I added virtual assistant services as a way to stabilize my income, make it more predictable and use some of my other skills to help small business owners. Landing my first VA client is what gave me the confidence to put in my notice and quit my day job.
I started sharing what I was learning from the very beginning on HorkeyHandBook.com and grew a community almost by accident. I’ve never really identified as a “blogger,” but ended up building a website chock-full of resources for new or aspiring freelance writers and virtual assistants.
We’re now known for helping people find or become a kickass virtual assistant.
WHAT MIGHT SOMEONE BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at age 19. I was actually the first one in my nuclear family to graduate college (including my parents, who never went), even though I was the youngest (we’re all two years apart) of three.
The state of Minnesota offers a PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) program where they’ll basically cover your college tuition if you attend while still in your junior or senior year of high school. We were poor, I was expected to go to college (and of course, I wanted to!) and I’d be responsible for paying my own way, so it made perfect sense to me!
There weren’t any colleges super close by, so I moved in with a friend of the family’s a good ~35 miles away, slept on an air mattress in the living room, nannied for her then 4-year-old son, worked part-time as a waitress and attended classes on a full-time basis.
I’m no ‘Doogie Howser,’ but I’m a little street smart at least.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU?
Honestly, the definition has changed throughout the years.
At the beginning (back in 2014), for example, it meant landing my first client and getting paid after delivering the contracted blog posts and sales copy. My next real milestone was earning enough revenue where I could think about quitting my full-time job – which I was able to do a mere eight months after looking into this whole freelance writing/virtual assistant thing in the first place.
From there it was developing online courses and defined by our student’s success in replicating (part of) my journey and getting results from taking action on the information and strategies we supplied them with. Student success I would say is still the driving factor for us. Sure we measure things like revenue, expenses, etc. but if our students are no longer getting results, we have a problem.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR BUSINESS AND HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE IT?
This is a tough one, as the milestones mentioned above all led to where we’re at right now (7-figures+).
This ties in with my biggest challenge, in that on May 4th, 2019 I checked myself into a rehab facility for addiction to alcohol. I’ve publicly shared my sobriety journey over the last year or so, but have no interest in becoming a “poster child” for addiction or sobriety.
I’m a fan of talking about the things that go on that no one else wants to talk about though, and my struggle with alcohol is one of them. I have a family history of this disease and developed my own unhealthy relationship with the stuff over time.
Most recently, I was using alcohol as a crutch – it was my go-to to cope with stress, boredom and even in conjunction with celebrations. Basically, over time it became too important in my life and last year I realized I had a problem and that I needed help fixing it.
I was away from home and my business for a solid three weeks. This allowed me the time and space I needed to detox properly and work on myself. I didn’t realize how broken I was and the healing that was available to me until that experience.
The reason it’s an accomplishment is that not only have I overcome my addiction (so far anyway!), but my team completely rose to the occasion and took over while I was away. The experience proved that I can step away from my business and it will survive, even flourish without me.
That’s kind of a big deal!
LOOKING BACK, WHAT ARE SOME FAILURES YOU HAVE HAD THAT YOU FEEL HAVE LED YOU TO SUCCESS?
Oh, the failures aren’t just in the past! They’ve happened recently, are happening now and will almost certainly happen again in the future.
I’m one of those weirdos that like to think of my failures as lessons though. And for good reason – I learn FAR more from things that don’t work out how I envision them to than those that do.
A few failures would be courses that I’ve launched that didn’t reach the potential/results I thought they would. Or marketing campaigns that flopped. And a ton of rejection in the beginning as I put myself out there for hire as an online service provider.
The list goes on…
HOW HAS STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND BEING YOUR OWN BOSS CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
This is a timely question as I sit here typing from the couch listening to the waves crash in the background.
We’re in southern Texas, just a few hundred feet from the ocean. This is our fifth year coming to the same place for a portion of the winter (Minnesotan winters are cold, yo!) and we’re in our “happy place.”
My husband hasn’t returned to “a real job,” even though the kids are both in school full-time now (first and second grade). He’s actually starting to work in the business more – we’re working on recording episodes down here for a podcast that we’ll be launching soon.
We pull the kiddos out of public school (by un-enrolling them), homeschool them while we’re here and then re-enroll them when we return. This year we’re spending two months in Texas, then following it with a trip to Disney and a podcasting conference in Orlando, finally returning home mid-March.
There’s no way we’d be able to be snowbirds (especially at 35/43) without the flexibility of self-employment. These are definitely the days that I count my blessings and thank God for this path that He has placed me on!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT ON A SIMILAR PATH?
You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you never try.
Don’t think about what the worst-case scenario could be – instead think about what’s the BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME that can come from trying something new?
Why not YOU, why not NOW?
WHY DO YOU THINK MOST PEOPLE FAIL TO GROW THEIR BUSINESSES? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER THEM TO KEEP GOING, DESPITE THE SETBACKS?
I think most people fail because they don’t set appropriate expectations from the beginning. I.e. Starting and growing a successful business takes time!
Can you find success in a short amount of time? Sure. But the success that comes overnight (it usually doesn’t though BTW), can leave overnight.
If you want to have a sustainable business that lasts, don’t expect it to be built at the drop of a hat!
WHAT TRENDS DO YOU SEE COMING UP IN YOUR FIELD? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO APPROACH THESE?
I think that the need for virtual assistants and remote workers is only going to increase.
We live in a global economy these days and due to the internet and technology, businesses can contract with individuals all across the world (and vice versa). Personally, I think it’s an exciting time to offer services online – it’s never been easier to find ideal clients and companies to work with!
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU HAVE AVAILABLE FOR OTHERS?
We have a bunch!
On the blog, you can find content geared towards breaking into both freelance writing and virtual assistant work. If you’re looking to hire help, you’ll also find a ton of relevant info on finding/hiring/working with a VA.
That’s all free of course and so is the pretty amazing workbook that you can find on our Horkey HandBook homepage. We put it together especially for those looking to dip their toes as a virtual assistant.
As I mentioned, student success is hugely important to us, so we regularly compile/publish case studies on our VAs – check em out here.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO CREATE YOUR HORKEY HANDBOOK COURSES?
A mentor of mine early on asked me when I was going to create/release my first product. In all honesty, I wondered if I was qualified to do so.
It turns out I was more than capable and qualified and I just did what I was already doing – chronicling my journey offering services online and teaching others how they could take action to get similar results.
“One of my favorite compliments is when a customer of ours tells us how engaging and entertaining our course material is. I’ve often heard that it’s like learning something new from your best friend.”
HOW DO YOUR COURSES AT HORKEY HANDBOOK STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD?
Besides our students getting massive results?
One of my favorite compliments is when a customer of ours tells us how engaging and entertaining our course material is. I’ve often heard that it’s like “learning something new from your best friend.”
I enjoy teaching in a conversational way – learning stuff doesn’t have to be boring!
Additionally, as I mentioned, we’re super motivated to see our students actually take action and get the results that they’re looking for. We’ve paired both of our flagship courses (one to become a virtual assistant and another to start a freelance writing business) with an online community that offers access to our team (including me!), their peers, unique client leads (paying as much as $4,000 per month!) and free website hosting.
We’re constantly updating/improving the material, which past students always gain access to for free!
CAN YOU GIVE US A TEASER FOR YOUR HORKEY HANDBOOK COURSES? WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR BEST TIPS THAT YOU TEACH?
Sure! I absolutely love marketing and we teach about a dozen strategies for finding and landing clients.
One of my favs is the old ‘informational interview.’ You basically sit down with successful business owners or business people you know to pick their brains. It gives you the opportunity to practice talking about what you do, ask for advice and sometimes even ends up in landing a new client or a referral to someone in need of help!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SUCCESS STORY FROM ONE OF YOUR HORKEY HANDBOOK STUDENTS?
Picking just one is really hard, so I’ll give you two. 😉
Hailey Thomas is featured on our sales page and she has such a great story. She read literally everything on our blog before jumping in and starting her VA biz.
She waited to enroll in our course until she had earned enough profit from starting with just the free content we offer to make the full investment. She’s wicked smart and has gone on to work with other super-smart tech entrepreneurs, coach newbie VAs and we’ve even partnered together on a couple of skill-specific courses, teaching project management and podcast production.
Mallory Underwood is another fun story to tell. Both her and Hailey have young kids by the way and were looking either for a career change or to bring additional income into their households.
Mallory was able to fill her client roster really quickly after launching her virtual assistant biz. She then took it upon herself to start a VA agency, hiring first one, then additional team members over time.
She figured out early on that you can only trade so much time for money (even if you charge premium rates!), so the next best thing is to scale a solopreneur business into that of an agency, profiting on trading someone else’s time instead.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST BUSINESS GROWTH STRATEGY YOU’VE USED?
My answer to this question is two-fold:
- Be authentic/be yourself. While not everyone will like you (hint: you don’t want to appeal to everyone, as you’ll then appeal to no one!) – there is a niche and an audience for even the weirdest of weird!
- Be generous – of your time, resources, etc. I 100% believe that a large part of my success is due to being generous with others and treating them like I’ve been treated (I had some awesome clients – one that even paid my way to Prague!) or would want to be treated.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR HANDLING CRITICISM?
I’ve mentioned before and I’ll mention it again, you’re not for everyone! And that’s totally okay – good, in fact!
I once heard that “a third of people are going to love you, a third will be indifferent and yet another third aren’t going to like you very much.”
Try to cater to the third of people that ‘get you’ and enjoy hearing from and being around you. You’ll have a much happier life as a result!
THANK YOU GINA!
Thank you so much Gina for taking the time to share your very honest story and your powerful insights with us. Your perspective on getting through the hard times, both personally and professionally, definitely bring encouragement and motivation to many.
MORE FOR YOU
I hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Gina Horkey. If so, please share it with others so they can also benefit from hearing Gina’s valuable insights. And see below to take a look at Gina’s quality Horkey HandBook resources. In addition to her 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success course, she also has courses that focus on teaching how to specialize in certain areas as a virtual assistant.
If you would like to hear firsthand from a student of Gina’s 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success course, please see Jessica’s interview and course review here.
If you would like to grab some of Gina’s free resources see the list below or sign up for Course Crave’s guide to 100+ free courses and resources. These courses will help you to further (or start) your business and you will be put on our mailing list where you will receive notice of more resources and free courses to help you move your business forward.
GINA’S COURSES AND RESOURCES
GINA’S FREE RESOURCES
- List of 200+ Freelance Writing Niches (and Sub-Niches)
- Breaking into Virtual Assistant Work Webinar
- Jumpstart Your Virtual Assistant Business Workbook
- How to Become a Virtual Assistant: Everything You Need to Know
- Podcast Assist Free Workbook
- How to Become a Pinterest Virtual Assistant Free Workshop
- 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success Course
- 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success Course
- Project Management for Virtual Assistants Course
- Email Management for Virtual Assistants Course
- Real Estate for Virtual Assistants Course
- Virtual Assistant Agency Course
- Podcast Assist Course
- Pinterest VA Course
- Horkey HandBook Shop
- Virtual Assistant Finder
HOW TO CONNECT WITH GINA