I recently interviewed Gina Horkey. Gina has a pretty amazing story that I wanted to share with our Contena members. She recently transitioned from a 9-5 job to freelancing full time, making her a perfect fit for our first Contena interview! Gina blogs at Horkey HandBook, where she helps other writers to quit their day jobs and transition to full time freelancing.
Hey Gina! Great to have you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, what did you do in your previous life?
I’m a married, millennial mama to two toddlers from just north of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. My previous career was in finance as a personal financial advisor and support person to a large financial planning practice.
How did you first get into freelancing?
I had been an advisor for close to a decade and had a small book of business of my own, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d have liked (i.e. I didn’t want to do it for the next 30 years). So I started Googling around and came across freelance writing for the web and it piqued my interest.
I have always loved to write, I just never explored the non-fiction side before. Content marketing is such a huge field nowadays and there seems to be unlimited opportunity to get paid to write. So I thought I’d give it a shot!
I came across freelance writing on April 15, 2014, set up my website and took a course in May and landed my first paying gig in June. I continued to build my business on the side of my full-time job for the rest of 2014 and had my last day of work around Christmastime, 2014.
You were working a full time job while freelancing and raising your two children. That is pretty incredible – I’m sure it was tough to balance all of that. Can you give us some more insight into that?
Sure! It’s all about the hustle;-). I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning and work on my writing business for about two hours before my kiddos woke up and I needed to start getting ready for work.
I’d also work some evenings and since I worked a four day workweek, I also used Friday’s to work on my business too (as well as some weekends).
How you were able to juggle all of that and still grow your business?
My husband! He’s a stay-at-home dad to our now two and three year olds. He manages the household and I manage work. But now we’re both home and get to see eachother more than ever (I work in an outbuilding on our property, so we’re not together 24/7.)
We’re a true team and living out our own version of awesome – which just so happens to include trading lifestyle for time with our most precious gifts (our kids).
After leaving your full-time job was there ever a moment where you thought “What did I get myself into?”
Of course there were doubts, but I didn’t have time to worry about it too much. Instead, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and focused on growing my new business.
I’m the sole provider for our family, so if I don’t bring home money, then we’ve got issues. That’s a strong motivation for making things happen.
Of course, we have a contingency plan (and an emergency fund) to fall back on, but it’s always been about building a sustainable business, so I can work for myself and not Corporate America.
What is your favorite thing about writing or freelancing in general?
Control and flexibility. Although I don’t take advantage of it near enough, LOL!
I actually keep a pretty “strict” schedule, even though I’m self-employed. Typically I’ll work from 8-5, M-F and take a lunch break with the fam and lay the kiddos down for their naps. I work more now than I did at my day job, but I love it!
We’ve also been traveling quite a bit and since neither of us is tied to a day job (and the kids aren’t yet in school), we can. I love not having to ask off work to go out of town a day early, schedule a dr.’s appointment or run to Target!
I’ve found that a lot of freelancers who are just starting out don’t identify as entrepreneurs… but I think as time goes on you start to realize you’re building a very real business. Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
YES! For sure. I started a freelance writing business, but now I kind of have a “freelance empire.” LOL!
I still write, I have a couple of webpreneur (my preferred term) virtual assistance clients, I coach newer freelancers and also have a course that I sell.
One of the best compliments I got early on was from a peer, who was also a newer freelance writer. She told me that her husband described me as a “real businesswoman.” I still remember it and it makes me smile!
Was there a specific moment where you realized that you were building a real business?
Yes and no. That was my intent from the beginning.
I think when I put in my notice, it became a bit more real and when I went full-time it did again. Diversifying and branding out Horkey HandBook has been really fun.
I also wanted to mention is that you’re a Huffington Post contributor – for some of the writers out there who want to start writing for big name sites like Huffpo. Could you share a little bit about how you were able to get noticed by the editors? Is there a secret code word to get in?
I wrote a post about my experience, which you can read here. It’s really not that sexy of a story – I just applied to a job ad they put out looking for unpaid contributors. I pitched the editor an idea, she liked it, so I wrote it up and submitted it. They enjoyed the piece and gave me permission to post whenever I wanted.
I haven’t written for them in awhile, but it was probably my most influential sample early on. After all, everyone’s heard of HuffPo!
If there is one thing that you wish you knew when you first started freelancing, what would it be?
I actually got asked this question recently. Here was how I answered it:
“That I would be successful – it just takes time and help from others further along the path. I’m really glad that I decided to start, continued to pursue it, and allowed myself to be open-minded to other opportunities along the way.
That is, I started out as just a freelance writer and now I’ve got a diversified business that includes writing, being a virtual assistant, marketing a course I wrote, and coaching others.”
It looks like you’ve been pretty busy recently launching a new course for freelancers – can you tell us a bit more about that?
I’d love to! The short story is that I’m anal retentive and type-A, so I took a lot of notes as I was building my business. My goal was to not live out the definition of insanity – i.e. doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
As I started to gain momentum and my income continued to grow, I realized that I had a blueprint of sorts that others could use to launch their own successful freelance writing career. So I sat down every morning in the month of November, 2014 and wrote out a lesson. By the end of the month, I had a full course.
Again, since I’m so type-A (recovering perfectionist right here!), I’ve redone the content at least three full times (using the same template, but tweaking words and sentences and adding resources when applicable).
But each time I did, I also raised the price (since it was more robust and in theory more valuable). I just got done doing that for what I promised myself was the last time this year! (And I always provide updated content to earlier students.)
30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success is a self-paced, step-by-step course that is broken down into short, actionable lessons. The whole goal is that you bite off a small piece each day, every day and by the end of roughly a month, you’ve launched your new business writing for the web.
Since it’s self-paced, you could take it as quickly or slowly as you’d like. Your terms, your choice. It covers everything from formatting, to goal setting, to drafting your first pitch and where to look for clients, to much, much more! I hope you check it out!
What has been more difficult – writing for clients, or writing your own course?
Writing for clients for sure! You don’t always get to write in your “natural voice,” which means you need to work a little harder to adopt their ideal voice. It’s not a negative thing, it’s just much easier to write as “me.”