How to 10x your Productivity by Hiring a Virtual Assistant with Gina Horkey
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Discover how to 10x your Productivity by hiring a virtual assistant. Guest Gina Horkey, from The Horkey Handbook, covers the full spectrum of bringing on a new assistant: how to find them, what to look for, what to delegate, and how to cultivate and create a relationship that helps your business grow
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Kyle Gray: (00:37)
Hello and welcome to the Story Engine Podcast. My name is Kyle Gray, and today on the show we have Gina Horkey. Gina is the owner of the Horkey Handbook, which is an amazing guide for stay-at-home moms or dads or anybody wanting to get back into the workforce to learn how to create a career in freelance writing or being an amazing virtual assistant. She is going to share a lot of wisdom, not how to become a virtual assistant today, but how an entrepreneur can hire their first assistant, what to look for, what’s important, and how do you grow and cultivate that relationship from having some good boundaries in the beginning to really allowing both of you to thrive.
Kyle Gray: (01:19)
Right before we started recording, we both ran to grab water bottles and beverages to enjoy while we were going through the interview. So I catch her a little bit by surprise and make some water bottle comments, right, as we start this interview. So let’s hand it over to Gina.
Kyle Gray: (01:37)
All right, Gina Horkey, we have our water bottles. We are hydrated and we are ready for The Story Engine Podcast. Thank you so much for joining me.
Gina Horkey: (01:45)
That’s the quite the lead up. I’m very excited. Yes, I’m hydrated as well.
Kyle Gray: (01:51)
Yeah, thanks again for joining me. I’m really excited because I’ve had the opportunity to experience a lot of your brilliance over the last couple of weeks and to introduce you and share some of that with the audience. But I want to introduce you properly with the same question I ask everyone. Can you tell me about a moment in your life that has defined who you are and how you show up in the world today?
Gina Horkey: (02:17)
Yeah, that’s a great question, and it kind of leads back to the work we’ve recently been doing together because you’re helping me to really pinpoint these stories and use them in communicating with my target market, which is so important in my business. Really the biggest kind of defining moment in between my prior life and my life today was tax day of 2014. Primarily tax day is what, like April 15th, but it depends on what day of the week that it falls, so technically it could have been like the 18th. Here I was mid April and in Minnesota. It’s not a super great time of the year. It’s spring so there’s a lot of hope and brightness that comes with it, but it can also snow and going to blizzard at any given time so you’re always up on your toes a little bit. For the career that I was in, which is personal finance tax day, marked the end of just this long drawn out season in addition to lack of natural light and all of the things that come with living in Minnesota in the winter.
Gina Horkey: (03:24)
I just found starting that year that I didn’t know what was next or what I was doing was the right thing, so it really started a little bit earlier in 2014. I started to look into some different resources. I came across the Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, started listening to all of the podcasts and reading some entrepreneurial books and websites and blogs and things like that. It wasn’t until tax day that I finally gave myself permission to consider a different path when it came to my career.
Gina Horkey: (04:01)
I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature. I’m also somebody that when I commit to something, I have a hard time changing my mind, and especially if I’ve announced that rather publicly. When I got into personal finance, I had actually started my career pretty early. I got into college while I was in high school and so I graduated with my Bachelor’s when I was just 19 years old. I had to choose what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had no idea what that was. So I had a full-time job and I turned that into a career, hit a glass ceiling really quickly. I was in kind of sales and management for a weight-loss company and then came across personal finance and so at 21, I really started a career in that field. When you’re building a financial planning practice, a part of your marketing is letting all the people in your sphere of influence know what it is that you do and the business that you’re trying to build.
Gina Horkey: (04:59)
It was almost a decade that I was in personal finance and so eight years in or whenever I, 2014, eight, nine years into that journey, it was hard for me to think about going to all these people that I had told about this business and had seen me succeed in this business because I wasn’t failing by any means and-
Kyle Gray: (05:21)
Especially if you’ve been, so you had so much success and achievement building on all of this that yeah, yeah, you’ve always been a very high achiever. So the step away from something I think it would be really scary.
Gina Horkey: (05:34)
Yeah, and then add to that, I’ve had these two young children. My husband had quit his job the year before to become a stay-at-home dad, which isn’t abnormal today, but even 6 or 7 years ago it was lesser known. So there was a lot of compiling factors that added some stress to this decision of can I do something different? Is it really feasible as the sole-income earner of our family and having a 10-month old and a two-year old at home to really do something different? I decided that it was worth a shot of trying. I started to build a little side hustle doing freelance writing while I was still working at my career in finance, and that took off rather quickly. It became more and more likely that I could turn it full time and I could quit the day job that I had. I had a small practice that I was able to sell, and now the rest is a little bit history. It wasn’t necessarily the easiest or a least-fear path that I could’ve picked by any means.
Kyle Gray: (06:38)
It seemed a steady certain path, but there’s definitely I would be interested in the moment when you realized like, “Oh, it’s time. I’ve got to make this leap of faith,” because I’m a writer and I’ve freelanced articles before. It can be challenging to really build a reputation and create enough income from that, especially in the face of being a sole-income earner in a very high end. I think like personal finance is quite the opposite. It can be a very lucrative field if you’re getting good results for people.
Gina Horkey: (07:13)
Yeah, it can. Freelance writing from a writing niche is actually a really lucrative one as well, but I didn’t tap into that part of my background until I was actually already kind of leaving work behind. We have compliance hoops and things like that you have to be careful of when you’re in finance and have designations and stuff like that. So when I was building my business in the beginning, it was just, can I have this proof of concept? Can I sell my writing services to people? Will they pay me? Then once I had validated that and started to earn some income and put that into savings, then it was about how do I get recurring revenue where I’m walking into a month and I’m not panicking yet piecing together 20 or a hundred different writing assignments to try and make a living. So I really transformed into thinking about, “Okay, I want to land a certain number of clients with a certain amount of recurring work.”
Gina Horkey: (08:08)
Then I happened upon my first virtual assistant client. It was just somebody that I had been following and interacting with online. He seemed to have this really strong desire to offer really great customer support and want to be able to communicate with everybody that probably popped into his inbox. He wasn’t doing such a great job at it and so I sense that need in his business. I pitched myself, this is solution. That was the turning point for me because I was able to land him first on an hourly basis but then very quickly on a retainer model and a couple more clients like him. That allowed me to say, “Okay, I can do this,” like here’s enough coming in where I can quit my job and I can figure out the gap.
Kyle Gray: (08:51)
I love that, and now you’ve taken this process that you learned, that you developed in those times and now you’re helping hundreds if not thousands of others exactly the same thing. Will you tell us a little bit about the Horkey Handbook and how you serve people today?
Gina Horkey: (09:08)
Yeah. I think it’s kind of ironic because sometimes you can’t predict the path, right? So what I did really well was I kept to myself open and I took action. Working handbook.com was born in May of 2014 just as a place to house those writing samples because if you’re going to offer your services, you need some proof that you can do what it is that you say you could do. So here is this little portfolio, this budding portfolio on a website that I started. I started sharing about my journey of building my online business, and people start following along. I came across like, “Oh I should start a newsletter, email list sooner than later,” because I was really plugged into following different entrepreneurs online. That was probably one of the best things that I ever did.
Gina Horkey: (09:55)
Then one of my mentors in the fall had said, “So when are you going to come out with your first product?” I said, “What do you mean a product?” He means something like, “Well, you can’t trade your time for money forever,” like what can we get going that would be more passive. I was like, “Well, shoot.” I don’t know. So I thought about it, and I came out with 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success in December of 2014. Then about a year later, I added the virtual assistant side of things because they’re a little bit different. So 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success was born.
Gina Horkey: (10:28)
So I’ve been in the courses business now for five years, which that time has gone by so quickly. We have helped thousands of different students make their way through the material. Really it was fulfilling a need that I had in the past, which was that I wanted to change my circumstances. Some people that’s changing careers completely. Others it’s just finding a way to flexibly bring in extra income into their household. I have a heart for helping the remote work economy because it’s such a huge opportunity right now and it’s only going to build from here.
Kyle Gray: (11:06)
Huge opportunity, huge flexibility, and if you can manage to handle the responsibility of bringing in your clients and marketing and putting yourself out there. Businesses and entrepreneurship is challenging, but it would be hard to imagine going back and not living this kind of lifestyle these days.
Gina Horkey: (11:37)
I got stuck in traffic for like an hour today because they’re doing major road construction, and it brought me back to the days of when I had a real commute and I was like, “Never again. Never again.”
Kyle Gray: (11:47)
I had that same experience a couple of months back and I was driving up North around rush hour of Salt Lake City and lots and lots of traffic. And I actually felt a lot of gratitude because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I don’t have to do this most of the time.” I do a lot of my work from my office at home and I walk to a coffee shop in the mornings to be in a little bit of a different environment, and not having a commute is so nice for the state of mind, I think.
Gina Horkey: (12:17)
I had some appointments on my calendar but there was nothing that I was really in a hurry for and I was just like, “You need to learn patience. You’ve got it so good.” So there was a gratitude reminder there for me too.
Kyle Gray: (12:28)
Very cool. Well yeah, so, I think that you are providing an amazing service to the remote work economy. A lot of people, like myself for example, I’ve had lots of skills and talents that I’ve had to offer the world, but before I had my first virtual assistant actually, it was really difficult to be able to fully share my gifts or adequately share my gifts because I was so busy doing a lot of little things that just kind of add up to the busy-ness of everyday, but they were kind of keeping me down. I resisted getting a VA early because I thought, “You know, I’m not sure what they can do. I’m not sure if I’m going to have consistent work for them.”
Kyle Gray: (13:20)
I had the expectation that as soon as I hire somebody, I’m going to have to write out a very specific SOP for every single thing and they’re not going to be able to do anything until everything’s amazingly documented, so I’m going to have twice as much work to do. And then even when that happened, or even once I had them, then I would have to be making a lot of choices for them anyway.
Kyle Gray: (13:49)
But working and building a team and putting more people on there and finding the right assistant actually was the opposite of all of those things. They would find me and turn it and clean up my processes and get everything organized and documented. They took a lot of responsibility off me, so I was able to actually live in my zone of genius. And so I’d love to talk to you a little bit about maybe some of the, what it looks like when you need to hire your first virtual assistant and what you can do, and maybe some of the common myths, like what I just shared.
Gina Horkey: (14:23)
Yeah, I think you shared a really fun kind of case study success story of what you thought it was going to be like and what it actually was like. It seems hard, it seems overwhelming, but the other side of it can be very freeing and make your work so much more enjoyable. So, that’s very true.
Kyle Gray: (14:43)
Yeah. And it’s amazing. One of the things was that I thought I would have to have somebody for 40 hours a week.
Gina Horkey: (14:49)
Yeah, that’s a common myth.
Kyle Gray: (14:51)
I had one for just 10 hours a week. And the best thing was, I thought, “Okay, 10 hours a week. So they’re here on Monday, 5:00 to 8: 00 and then Tuesday morning.” Or something like that. But it was way better than that. I had a couple hours on Monday morning and then Wednesday came and I was like, “Oh no, the website’s messed up.” And she’s like, “I’m on it.” And it was like, you know, so 15 minutes here, and it was like having support throughout the whole week. I think that that’s a really, really powerful experience. But what are some of the ways we can delegate some of our first things, or how do we figure out what to delegate to an assistant?
Gina Horkey: (15:28)
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think this ties into when is the right time to hire somebody for the first time? If that’s you and you’re tuning in today and you’re like, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m worried about keeping someone busy for a certain period of time, or being able to afford somebody long-term.” Or whatever the case may be. For my previous career, they always told us to hire before you were ready, when it came to taking on an assistant. I think that’s completely true. You have to give herself the opportunity to prepare for growth, right? Sometimes we shrink or limit that opportunity by just staying in our zone.
Gina Horkey: (16:05)
There are some people that are a business of one, a true solopreneur and they want to do everything themselves, and more power to them. But for those of us that see the value in pairing additional skill sets… By the way, you don’t want to hire yourself. You don’t want to clone yourself and hire you. That’s not going to get you where you want to go. You need somebody that has complementary skill sets.
Kyle Gray: (16:26)
Gina Horkey: (16:31)
The things that you don’t know, that’s what’s going to make you successful, and again, your work more enjoyable. So, I always like to start with just a brain dump, a to-do list. A lot of us work from a to-do list that’s ever-changing. By the way, if your to-do list is empty, which we all, that’s the goal, right? Let’s cross everything off and then we’ll finally be able to relax and breathe. That means that your business is about to die. I’m sorry.
Kyle Gray: (16:58)
Oh, no. Oh, no.
Gina Horkey: (16:59)
But when you think about it, right? It’s always going to be changing and evolving and you want your to-do list to be manageable, but you don’t want it to be empty because then where’s the income coming from? Unless you’ve totally set yourself up automated and passive, and then we need to be learning from you. For the rest of us, start with your to-do list, and I like to apply Eisenhower’s Matrix, it’s the four core tile thing that you’ll see where you have an important and urgent things, you have important and non- urgent things, you have non-important, non-urgent things, and you have urgent but not important things.
Gina Horkey: (17:35)
The bottom half you can really kind of just delete from your to-do list. If it’s not urgent and it’s not important, then definitely delete it. If it seems to be urgent but it’s not really important, then usually it’s not something that you should be putting at the top of your priority list and it might be something that can be ignored altogether. The things that we tend to focus on are urgent and important, which is great.
Gina Horkey: (17:58)
The areas of our opportunity for our growth is the things that aren’t necessarily urgent, but they’re important. So we’re working on this webinar project together right now, right? You’re helping me to really utilize storytelling and be able to explain the opportunity that exists in the virtual assistant market. And you know, that’s something that honestly isn’t urgent for my business. It’s important because it’s really going to take us to the next level, really help with automation, make sure that I’m getting the money message across in a way that people might want to receive it, and get people to know, like, and trust me very easily from the video conveyance, and just having that authority and expert status and all of these different things.
Gina Horkey: (18:40)
But I need to put a focus on it and need to break it down into here’s what I need to do to bring it to fruition, in addition to all of the other things that I have to do on a day-to-day basis. So, that’s just a personal example of one of the projects that would fall in that not necessarily urgent but definitely important. It’s the thing that will help the business to grow and scale for years to come.
Kyle Gray: (19:03)
Well, that’s a great example and that’s what I’ve been experiencing a lot in my business as well, once I’ve had somebody who’s able to take care of the urgent and unimportant, or not urgent, not important things that can always just creep in. I think using your best talents being, you know, doing the urgent and important, or very important but not so urgent. Those really brilliant things come in times when it’s like, it’s like getting good sleep, you can’t get a good night’s sleep if you fall asleep and then every 15 minutes somebody is like, “Oh hey, quick question.” You know? And so you have to be focused. And so, having a team in place, having a great assistant is the first line and the last line of defense for you to be able to create those things.
Gina Horkey: (19:53)
And actually freeing yourself up from your own Inbox is one of the best services that you could ask for.
Kyle Gray: (20:00)
So good. So good. Just barely in this last month have I even like, I didn’t even, this was another limiting belief. I was like, “I don’t know how to organize my Inbox and I don’t know what to forward or how to do any of these things, so I’m not going to let somebody look through it.” And then all of a sudden they were like, “I’m going to do this.” And then they’re giving me instructions, and now things are taken care of. Oh my gosh. So much better.
Gina Horkey: (20:28)
Yeah, I mean it’s one of those tools that we like to live in because I think there’s just that excitement of an opportunity dropping into your Inbox at any given time. And the reality is that it is a place where other people can add to your to-do list. Have you heard that before? It’s one of my favorite sayings, that email is just a place where people can add to your to-do list without your permission. And so, when you think of it in that way instead, it can kind of free you up to maybe think about alternative options.
Gina Horkey: (21:01)
A lot of people are afraid of giving up control, whether it’s of their Inbox or anything else they do in their business, there is just this fear of loss, that somebody else is going to screw it up, or maybe you have some hidden dark secrets in that Inbox you don’t want anybody to know. Probably not the case, right? Or that your business will just crumble as a result of somebody really screwing something up. And you’re not going to trust those types of tasks to somebody that you just get started working with.
Gina Horkey: (21:27)
So, if we go back to your to-do list, like you said, you’re probably not going to pick the things that are your zone of brilliance. You’re going to pick things that need to get done, don’t necessarily need to get done by you, and you’re going to offload one or two things at a time. I think where people go wrong is they think that they need a full-time assistant and usually they don’t.
Gina Horkey: (22:00)
.I think it’s fascinating because I get to see firsthand what people are looking for and I’m not servicing clients myself. It’s just really interesting to see what people need. Are we right in the services that we think are the hottest and as needed in the marketplace today? What their budgets are or how much help they’re looking for, what tools and programs that they need assistance with, how it would impact their business, I think it’s really fascinating information.
Gina Horkey: (22:29)
The majority of people that fill that out are looking for less than 10 hours of support each week and honestly, I don’t know that they even know what that hourly amount is, but they do know that there’s a couple of key tasks that if they were to get started being able to delegate or offload, it would change their business immensely.
Gina Horkey: (22:49)
Because like you said, you are freeing yourself up to focus. You’re freeing yourself up to do what it is that you do best that should uniquely be done to your special sauce, to your business. I would choose a few things and not try and overload a new relationship and we can get into where to find a great person maybe next. But I would start small and that way, you get to develop some rapport and trust and you should start dating before you get married.
Gina Horkey: (23:19)
I’m a big fan of either a trial period of time that somebody may take over your inbox or a test project, so maybe they help you to clean up your inbox first or they write one article for you or something like that versus jumping into marriage, this humongous contract and agreement and project that you would have them get started on. Because maybe you’re not a match. It happens. It’s not that big of a deal.
Kyle Gray: (23:44)
I think that’s a great segue and I do want to talk about finding a good match for you. We’ve said some of the things. They don’t need to be a clone of us, but are there some things that are counterintuitive in what to look for and how you can determine a good fit for a virtual assistant for you?
Gina Horkey: (24:05)
I think everybody wants somebody that could just magically step into their business and take over. That would be utopia for all of us. They know all the tools that you use, they know exactly what your business is about. That’s probably a little bit more rare to find. If you look within your own community, if you find somebody that has been following your business or is in the same industry or something like that, then you could come closer to some of that. But I think somebody with an aptitude to learn and to figure things out is probably going to be at the top of my list of just personal characteristics to look for. There are a lot of people that are go-getters and they know how to research, they know how to make stuff happen, and bringing that energy and that knowledge of knowing how to figure something out.
Gina Horkey: (24:54)
Because if you think about the world we live in today, there are resources that are abundant, right? If you go on Google or YouTube, you can figure most things out in a pretty short period of time as everybody is teaching what they know. I would rather have somebody that knows how to utilize the internet well and find those resources and figure out how to do something and has a little bit of confidence in their ability to do something that they haven’t done before rather than somebody that’s skilled in one specific program or platform for example.
Kyle Gray: (25:29)
Definitely. Well, here’s the real magic behind that if it’s not immediately obvious already to everybody listening. But when you’re in your world, before you bring on this team member, certain things are possible. But once you get somebody on that can not only figure out how to solve problems for you, but maybe even do a little bit of extra critical thinking.
Kyle Gray: (25:52)
Maybe what you can offer as a service before is now service, plus this extra cool thing that they’ve come up with and they’ve been able to find extra value or add to it. All of a sudden, you’re capable of delivering more and making more and they’re already starting to really pay for themselves.
Gina Horkey: (26:14)
Yeah. That’s what we try to convey to our students is really having that business owner mentality themselves. You should have a heart for entrepreneurialism if you yourself want to be a small business owner and service clients. If you find that right person, they can bring that knowledge and that energy and that business savviness to the table for you too.
Gina Horkey: (26:34)
You wouldn’t want somebody to come in and critique everything that you do, but if you had somebody that can read people pretty well, they can come to the table with some opportunities, quick fixes, low hanging fruit that you might not see because you’re too close to your own business. Of course, they’re going to do that in a very polite way. They’re not going to tell you what it is that you’re doing wrong. They’re just going to offer up a few suggestions that you can take or leave for improvement.
Kyle Gray: (26:59)
I like that a lot. Are there certain ways that you would suggest cultivating more … Maybe we’ve found this person and now as a business owner, I want to create more opportunities for that. I want to allow this person to thrive and expand more. What can I do to further enhance this perspective and this skill in my assistants or my team?
Gina Horkey: (27:24)
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s just giving them that opportunity to succeed in that environment. When you start working with somebody, maybe you do have a certain task that you have perfected and is rather turnkey that you have a standard operating procedure for and they’re stepping in and they’re really just taking over the way that you already do things. Right?
Gina Horkey: (27:43)
There’s not necessarily a lot of room really to test that characteristic that we were just talking about. Maybe there’s a new project that you’re looking to bring to fruition that you haven’t had a lot of time to set aside to flesh out exactly what it looks like, what needs to be done, this, that, and the other thing. I think something like that would be a good opportunity where you’re giving them a piece of it to own.
Gina Horkey: (28:07)
There’s some different books and I won’t be able to quote a title right now, but they see their team as being their own little divisions. Right? When you give your team members, over time, after trust, and confirmation of their skills and all that good stuff, some responsibility to own what it is that they do in their own little department, then I think that’s where that can be cultivated quite naturally.
Gina Horkey: (28:35)
It’s the opposite of trying to tell somebody what to do, where to do it, all of the instructions. You’re giving them some freedom to really think for themselves and it’s more of sharing the goal or the objective. Here’s the vision, how are we going to get there?
Kyle Gray: (28:51)
Absolutely. That’s really powerful. Gina, we’ve explored the full spectrum of bringing on a new assistant; how to find them, what to look for, what to delegate, and how to cultivate and create that relationship. This is something that you help find that match every day. I’d love to invite you to share any closing thoughts with us and then let us know where we can go and connect with you and how you can help us find our first virtual assistant.
Gina Horkey: (29:22)
Yeah. For anybody that’s interested in scaling by bringing on a team member, I would challenge you to really think about your business and what it is that you enjoy doing and maybe a few things that are really pertinent that need to be done that you don’t enjoy or that could be done better if somebody owned them or had the time to put together towards it.
Gina Horkey: (29:45)
Figure out what key task or two that you could potentially offload. If it’s something that can be associated with a positive ROI in your business, a return on investment, even better. Because whenever you can either free yourself up to do more revenue producing activity or offload something that’s revenue producing, it becomes pretty much a no- brainer and an investment in your business.
Gina Horkey: (30:07)
Then it’s time to go and find a couple of candidates and you can put a call out to your own community. You can use a free service like the one that we have, which is working Horkeyhandbook.com/ or whatever the dash is. I guess not the slash. It’s on the home page. Find a VA. Pretty easy to find.
Kyle Gray: (30:30)
We’ll link to it in the show notes as well.
Gina Horkey: (30:30)
Yeah. You could go to a marketplace if you wanted to try out an Upwork or a Fiverr. Obviously, they have some benefits and drawbacks. You can go the agency route. Same deal there. The biggest thing is finding a couple of top candidates that you jive with and maybe you test out two on a certain project and you can compare the results as well.
Kyle Gray: (30:53)
That is brilliant. Yeah. Gina, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, sharing your story, and your wisdom. It’s been a pleasure.
Gina Horkey: (31:02)
Thank you for having me.
Thanks for listening to the Story Engine Podcast. Be sure to check out the show notes and resources mentioned on this episode and every other episode at thestoryengine.co.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to use storytelling to grow your business, then check out my new book, Selling With Story: How to Use Storytelling to Become an Authority, Boost Sales, and Win the Hearts and Minds of Your Audience. This book will equip you with actionable strategies and templates to help you share your unique value and build trust in presentations, sales, and conversations, both online and offline. Learn more at sellingwithstory.co.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.