Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama to two precocious toddlers 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.
Read on to see how this mom went from employee to freelancer, to a six-figure business owner in 21 months.
You started freelancing in 2014, tell us a little bit about yourself and your freelance journey.
Hi, I’m Gina [waving], a former financial services worker bee turned freelance writer and virtual assistant turned online business owner who helps others find or become a kickass virtual assistant.
My career prior to 2015 was working as a financial advisor and support person to a large financial planning practice for almost a decade. I liked my clients, co-workers, and some of my work, but it wasn’t “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Since I was only 30 (yet had already been working in “the biz” since age 21), I couldn’t imagine another 30 years doing something that I wasn’t really passionate about.
So I started looking into freelance writing in April 2014. I set up my website in May of that same year and got my first paying gig in June. I then added my first VA client in September and launched an online course in December of 2014. It was a busy year for my family, but by the end of it, I was able to quit my 9-5 and go full-time freelance!
Do you have any special training?
Yes and no.
I went to college and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. For my finance career, I had to study and pass really hard tests like the Series 7 and 66. I’ve also had loads of training when it comes to sales and marketing, personal finance, etc.
But that was all “on the job.”
I wasn’t a journalism major. And I don’t think I took one single marketing class in college (in hindsight, that would have been useful!).
So when it comes to freelance writing, working virtually and running an online business, I started from scratch. And learned a boatload along the way!
Give us an example of how you landed one of your first clients.
I landed my first writing client in a Facebook group that I was a part of. I don’t remember if I posted I was a freelance writer for hire or if she posted a need, but either way, the conversation was started and I jumped ALL over it!
The first virtual assistant client that I contracted with is a successful webpreneur. Through back-and-forth emails, I sensed he was having a little trouble keeping up with his inbox, but he seemed to really want to get back to me. We had a friendly banter going, I knew that I could help him, that he’d be fun to work with and that I might benefit in more ways than just earning a paycheck.
So I asked for the job and he said YES! Securing that one client is what gave me the confidence to turn in my notice since I now had a semi-predictable income to pay the bills.
How has your business evolved over the years?
I recently celebrated my third anniversary in online business and as a professional blogger. I still work with a carefully selected handful of writing and VA clients (and get paid really well to do it), but most of my income these days is derived on the products side – by teaching other aspiring writers and VAs how to break into the game and find success.
That may seem cliche that I’m now getting paid to teach online, but I do actually still make a full-time living on very part-time hours on the services side, so I probably know what I’m talking about. ;-) God’s also blessed me with the gifts of teaching, encouraging others and executing, which I’m continuously learning how to leverage!
One thing that probably won’t ever change is helping others find success. I.e. I spent an hour today coaching a peer that is launching a course on freelance writing. Many would consider that stupid as she’s my “competition,” but I consider her a friend and want to see her succeed. (And also because I know this pond is big enough for all of us and she has valuable insight to bring to the marketplace.)
I also love getting emails from students that have life-changing, light bulb moments or that just got hired for the first time. SO fun!
How did you get involved in teaching people how to escape the 9-to-5 hustle?
The funny thing is that I didn’t really consider myself qualified to write and teach a course before I started writing it.
An informal mentor told me I should launch a product and I thought, okay … why not? So I sat down at 4:30 am every morning during the month of November 2014 and wrote about how I found success as a freelance writer – just the facts, no fluff. And by the end of the month, I had 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success!
Super crazy when I think about it now, but I’ve learned SO much about online business by stepping into the products game. I’ve learned a ton about marketing (content, social, etc.), starting and growing an affiliate program, sales funnels, email list building and more!
The cool thing is that it’s enabled me to enroll more students, but it’s also made me a better freelance writer and virtual assistant. I understand the end games of the companies and business owners that I contract with and am so much more valuable because of it!
This ultimately makes me an even better teacher.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own freelance business?
Follow Nike’s advice and JUST DO IT!
Instead of asking “What’s the worst that can happen?” ask yourself “What’s the BEST possible outcome of trying?” And if that’s worth hard work, long hours, buckets of sweat and a few tears … go fo it!
Another of my favorite mantras is, “Why not ME, why not NOW?” Powerful, right?
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities? Do you outsource any parts of your business?
LOL, I’m just like any other mom that never feels like I do anything good enough. But I keep trying and that counts for something, right?
My husband is the first line of defense on our home front (or in other words, a stay-at-home dad) and my mom is my VA/personal assistant, plus I have a team of two other key peeps that help me do what I do. None are full-time, but we’re hopefully working in that direction.
Of course, that wasn’t always the way things were and there’s also quite a bit of pressure that comes with being the breadwinner, supporting your parents and promising to pay others. This is a question that I don’t feel like I have an answer “all figured out” for, but I’m learning, making mistakes and will hopefully get it down … about the time I die. ;-)
I mean that in the way of life’s a journey, never perfect and we all do the best we can. So don’t idolize anyone, comparison kills contentment, the grass always looks greener and all of that jazz.
Do you have any courses, mastermind groups, or books that have been helpful on your journey?
I’m CONSTANTLY immersing myself in books, courses, etc.
The first course I ever took was Paid to Blog by Tom Ewer. The second course I took was Charge What You’re Worth by Brennan Dunn. And the third was Elite Blog Academy.
I’ve read everything by Jon Acuff, Tim Ferriss and I super duper <3 Derek Siver’s book sharing his entrepreneurial journey (Anything You Want …). The 12 Week Year and Miracle Morning are two of my favs from this year too.
I’ve also always been a part of at least one mastermind group (currently including Ruth’s VIP EBA one). It’s beneficial to surround yourself with people from different industries, those further along than you, and people whose opinion you trust.
The most important components of a mastermind group are that your group meets regularly, everyone is committed, participates equally, and you feel safe enough to be vulnerable.
What do you believe has contributed to your success?
In all honesty, that’s probably it. I decided I wanted to build a successful business and come hell or high water I have/will.
(Side note: This is how I know that my four-year-old is going to be okay with boys when she gets older – her personality traits scarily mirror mine at that age …)
Thanks, Gina for sharing your story!
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Originally published July 6, 2015. Content updated July 10, 2017.