This Mum Of 3 Kids Turned A Side Hustle Into A $588K/Year Online Courses Business

Gina Horkey
Founder, Horkey HandBook
$49K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
Horkey HandBook
from Wyoming, MN, USA
started May 2014
$48,969
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
96.3K
alexa rank
536
followers
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This Mum Of 3 Kids Turned A Side Hustle Into A $588K/Year Online Courses Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I’m Gina [waving]. I started a Virtual Assistant 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 (now five!) and my husband was (and still is) a SAHD to our three kiddos. Our middle child was less than a year old at the time.

I started sharing my journey on HorkeyHandBook.com and before I knew it I had grown a following of like-minded people looking to do something similar. In addition to answering the most popular questions via blog posts, I also decided to put together a 30-day email course towards the end of 2014.

That MVP (minimum viable product) has morphed into the #FullyBookedVA System over the last decade or so and we’ve been able to help thousands of students become fully booked Virtual Assistants as a result.

Our all-in-one system walks members through starting their new business, building a full client roster, and scaling their income through specialization. It’s perfect for newbies, but existing VAs have joined and moved their business to the next level as a result too.

Our VA Foundations courses cover everything from:

  • What services to offer and who to offer them to
  • How much to charge and where to find clients
  • How to effectively pitch clients, interview and onboard them
  • All things invoicing and contracts (including templates)
  • Working effectively with clients and efficiently in your business
  • Working on your business versus in your business

In addition to that, you also gain access to:

  • VA certification from Horkey HandBook
  • Weekly group coaching + community – access to our team and your peers
  • Proprietary and non-proprietary client leads
  • 6 skills courses to dip your toe into specialization
  • 5 specialization tracks to help you achieve expert stats and command top-tier rates
  • Monthly live training sessions focused on leveling up your skills and honing in on specialization

The program is ideal for side hustlers, career changers (like me!), stay-at-home parents, recent, tech-savvy retirees, and military spouses.

Sharing my journey starting back in 2014, building a following, and launching my first products started me on this incredible adventure that has evolved into a 7-figure business, including launching two podcasts and writing four books.

And, my most recent “win” has been being tapped to teach a course on becoming a Virtual Assistant in an accredited university program – something I’d never dreamed would be possible back in the day!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Let me back up a minute…

You know that career in personal finance I mentioned back in 2014? Well, “on paper” everything in my life looked amazing. Great job, good people to work with, beautiful family… And yet, I was miserable.

If I were to leave you with one (more) piece of advice, it would be to commit to yourself. Yes, that ultimately means committing to your business for the long haul.

I was leaving my kids every day to go to a job that just wasn’t delivering when it came to feeling like I was living up to my potential. I was plagued (or blessed, rather) by this constant thought, “There has to be something more than this.”

After spending time with my BFF Google and doing some research, I decided to see what I could do with an existing skill I had – writing. I started my side hustle with freelance writing and woke up at 4:30 every morning to write before nursing my baby, saying goodbye to the fam for the day, and heading off to my job.

And really, it all took off from there! I set the goal of leaving my full-time career behind in 12 months and did it in eight. I quickly realized that I could level up what I had to offer the marketplace by getting into Virtual Assistant work, and not long after, launched my first official online course— 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success (now one of the six skills courses included in my flagship product, The #FullyBookedVA System).

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I also realized that I could bring my existing business know-how, together with the success I was having with this whole freelance thing, and start teaching others to do the same—build successful businesses as Virtual Assistants. So, I then launched 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success (now the premier course in The #FullyBookedVA System after many updates and upgrades!).

Before I knew it, these two courses were taking off. I was seeing hundreds (now thousands!) of students building successful freelance writing and/or Virtual Assistant businesses. I knew I was on to something based on the success I was seeing my students have and the feedback that just kept pouring in.

Like this “oldie but goodie” email from a former student.

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Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Fast forward a few years. After seeing the success of my two initial courses and adding five skills courses to my offerings (courses like Email Management for Virtual Assistants and Social Media for Virtual Assistants, for example), I knew it was time to level up.

I became – well really, I always was and still am! – a student of the people’s journeys who were taking my courses. I also had my hands full with a thriving membership community I’d created for students and got to both observe and really “hear” their felt needs, pain points, and what was working for them.

I decided to create a program that would take people not only from the place of getting started—with zero experience—but through the entire process of building and scaling a successful Virtual Assistant business. It was my goal to put everything in one place, under “one roof” if you will, that someone would need to go from paying the bills with a side hustle to running a thriving, long-term, sustainable business.

It just so happens that I decided to do this major overhaul on my business model, going from an “a la carte” offering of my courses and membership community to a major rebrand. This overhaul also involved including everything in one program, all during my third pregnancy in 2020. Phew!

Early version:

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2018:

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Describe the process of launching the business.

I brought on a very savvy, experienced business coach, Stephanie Hayes, who shortly after became my Operations Manager. Together, and with a team of Virtual Assistants, we completely repackaged the courses and community into The #FullyBookedVA System using a new user platform, pricing structure, and payment processor.

To say that we rebuilt things from the ground up is a bit of an understatement! And oh ya, somewhere in there I had my third baby who I’ve had the absolute pleasure of being home with every day, for pretty much every moment.

One of the major shifts in this process was from the one-time purchase model to a subscription one. I had started dabbling with this model with my membership community and based on my research and what I was seeing happening in the marketplace, I knew this was the way to go for my entire business.

One of the strategies I employed was bringing in some beta members who were familiar with my courses to get some early feedback on the new program. Insight like this is priceless!

The beauty of this overhaul to my business model was that I had something that was already very successful. I won’t say that this gave me license to just throw caution to the wind, but it was freeing in a sense to know that I was taking something that had worked for thousands of people and improving on it based on my observations and experiences with my students over the years.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

One of the interesting dynamics I experienced was launching this new program to both a “new” audience (my subscriber list has been at a healthy 30K+ for a few years now and is currently growing) and existing students. The challenge with existing students was to help them understand why exactly they’d subscribe to a system when they had already purchased one or more of my courses.

One of the strategies I employed was bringing in some beta members who were familiar with my courses to get some early feedback on the new program. Insight like this is priceless!

I’m happy to say that at the initial launch of The #FullyBookedVA System in January 2021 we saw an influx of both existing and new students. The existing students were already “sold” on the value of my courses and community (which included client leads and still does, but at an even larger scale now).

New students were a mix of people who had been following me for a while and who were excited at the opportunity to be a part of this new, exciting system, and brand new folks who had responded to our launch strategies.

I employed a webinar funnel and marketed to my existing list as well as on my social media channels.

My biggest takeaways from this process? Listen to your audience. I mean listen. Listen to what their exact words are—not your interpretation of those words. Get in there and talk to them, ask questions and get to know them and their needs, wants, and yes, pain points.

My second biggest takeaway was the power of having an effective team in place. During the process of pulling together this overhaul, having an Operations Manager who could oversee the many moving parts was invaluable. As well, having a team of Virtual Assistants, who I consider my teammates, to execute those many moving parts helped the entire process come together beautifully.

Post-launch I was able to step away and take maternity leave to be with my family, and it was just another reminder of the value of being able to not only delegate, but let go and take time away. Not so easy for most of us entrepreneurs who have built our “babies” from the ground up!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Since the initial launch of The #FullyBookedVA System, we’ve made several adjustments and shifts, and many of these have been adding value to the program. The added value hasn’t been in response to what wasn’t working, but rather what is working and wanting to do more of that.

For example, students were LOVING our hands-on community forum, included in the learning platform. They have access to the team every day and cannot only get questions answered almost immediately but receive feedback on things like resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

So, since we were observing that the “hands-on” approach was resonating with people, we decided to level it up and add weekly group coaching.

We’ve rolled out other features of the system in a similar fashion, i.e. based directly on our observations and student feedback, all with excellent responses.

The takeaway here? Don’t expect to launch something “perfect” right out of the box. Launch something great, then make it even greater based on the response you’re getting, where you’re seeing your audience succeed, and where they’re getting stuck.

These days the system is doing consistently well, i.e. we’ve seen an increased retention rate and “stickiness” of the program. We’ve made adjustments to our pricing structure (not decreasing the price of the program but shifting to an initial investment/commitment followed by a monthly subscription) as well as our refund policy from seven days to a 90-day money-back guarantee policy.

My reason for doing so was to ensure that people who invested in the program were giving it enough time and doing the work to see results. In my experience, 90 days is about how long it takes to land an initial client or more (although it frequently happens much sooner than this). So, it was a logical move to require people to hang around that long, do the work including engaging with our coaching program, and then make a decision.

We’ve also employed some very focused strategies around reaching out to former students as well as new students as they’re progressing through the program. In keeping with my theme of being very “hands-on” (which doesn’t mean I’m doing all this myself, btw!), this has included new student onboarding calls, emailing students at certain milestones within the program, and soliciting feedback from individuals who decide to leave the program.

We relaunched the system again in June 2021 and had an excellent response with, again, a webinar funnel and marketing to our list and social media audiences. We also beefed up our social media marketing with Facebook ads, which was an effective move.

Pretty much all of my traffic for the last seven-plus years has been organic, so paid ads were an interesting “experiment” and I’m happy to say that it paid off with the number of new students we enrolled during that launch.

Another strategy I’ve employed has been bringing on an SEO expert. I have a lot of content on my website accrued over the years from my writing, guest posting, and that of contracted team members. And again, the traffic has been organic, consistent, and well, excellent.

So, similar to running Facebook ads, leveling up my content with extremely targeted SEO has already been highly effective with a significant increase in not only traffic but opt-ins as well. This has involved optimizing old content, as well as adding new targeted content.

Given that it’s already been an excellent way to level up what was already working well, I’m excited to see where this targeted strategy takes my business in the coming months and years.

I’ve used social media for marketing for several years, specifically Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and have recently also upped my presence on Instagram. Again, this has been primarily “organic” marketing and it’s been fruitful, however recently I’ve brought on social media specialists to focus on ads as well as increasing my reach on each platform.

Similar to SEO, this has been an effective way to improve on what was already producing great results.

At the time of writing this, we’re preparing for our third launch of the program. It’s an evergreen product, however, the culture of my subscriber list includes a mix of people who have been following me for years as well as a steady flow of new subscribers.

This consistent launch strategy seems to appeal to both of these audiences, for different reasons, and we’ll employ a similar approach this time around with a streamlined funnel.

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Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Throughout this process, a core belief that I hold and pass on, has been affirmed for me: Everything Is Figureoutable (an excellent book by Marie Forleo, btw!). Running a successful business involves peaks and valleys, and the “failures” aren’t failures at all. It’s all just information.

What’s important is to be a student of your business; gather data, make observations, and then apply that learning. If you’re looking to get your business to a place of “just running,” you run the risk of not staying relevant, or valuable, in this quickly changing digital age.

You have to be willing to pivot and not let it alter your ultimate focus on success. Embracing this “growth mindset,” i.e. being willing to try things with an open mind to what you’ll learn, difficult or not, is the difference between success and failure, in my opinion.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

These are some of the platforms/tools I use for my business:

  • 10XPro to house my flagship product – I like its “all in one” capability.
  • Drip as my email service provider – I find it fairly user-friendly as well as effective when it comes to segmenting my audience, workflows, etc.
  • Helpscout as my customer service email platform – similar to Drip, it’s user-friendly yet robust when it comes to managing customer service with its features and functionality.
  • Slack for communicating with my team – it’s a great tool for organizing communications, project teams, etc.
  • Monday.com for project management – it’s an excellent way to keep the team organized with tasks and timelines in a clear, concise way.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Some of my favorite personal development books include:

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

In conclusion, if I were to leave you with one (more) piece of advice, it would be to commit to yourself. Yes, that ultimately means committing to your business for the long-haul (really, you should give any endeavor at least two years!), but you’ve heard that before, I’m sure.

What I’m talking about is a deep commitment to yourself – your dreams, your goals, your ‘why’ for what you’re doing. It means constantly learning, honing your skills, and striving to be your best self. It means being willing to continuously self-evaluate and take a look at the “hard things” when necessary.

And most of all, it means never giving up on yourself, no matter how hard those things may be to look at. Trust yourself, trust the spark that ignited your vision in the first place. And even though it’s been said time and time again, it bears repeating – don’t ever, ever give up.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about me and my business here:

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Gina Horkey   Founder of Horkey HandBook
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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