In our spotlight interview series, we usually highlight our wonderful Virtual Excellence Academy members to share their incredible journeys, but this time, we’re doing something a bit different.
This interview was conducted by Alicia R. Thomas of Team DNK, talking to our founder Hannah Dixon.
It’s time to look at the woman behind it all, Hannah Dixon, who has trained over 30,000 people around the world on how to build careers that offer ultimate freedom and flexibility.
Now, Hannah is celebrating 10 amazing years in the VA space. Let’s dive into her story with this special interview where we talk about the highs, the lows, and significant adventures in between from the perspective of a trailblazer in the Virtual Assistant and digital nomad space.
When and how did you transition from being a VA yourself to coaching VAs?
The transition was pretty natural for me, despite never intending to move into coaching. While I was a VA, I started a community out of the need to see more diversity in the remote work/digital nomad space and to share my insights and journey. There was one very distinct demographic that stood out all those years ago, and I didn’t fit into it.
In my own business, I had gotten to a point where I was earning $5,000 to $10,000 a month and was working with industry giants of celebrity status. Our community members started asking for advice on how to replicate this kind of success for themselves. So I threw together a quick 5 Day challenge, I didn’t plan it much, I literally built it day by day and incorporated what I thought to be the most important building blocks for anyone just starting out. To my surprise, participants landed big wins from taking part, gaining clients left, right, and center. At the end of the 5 Day VA, they wanted more. I pulled together a more comprehensive program, The VA Starter Kit, which has over the years evolved into the much refined Virtual Excellence Academy. The VEA stands as one the best established and trusted resources for aspiring digital service providers, which I’m really quite proud of.
So I never planned it, it was a natural evolution rooted in a community-first approach.
Image description: Hannah smiling with Essy on her lap, Hannah is wearing a hat, Essy is wearing her leather harness and looking dopey.
The 5 Day VA Challenge is such a game-changer for so many to this day, it’s something you must be proud of. After 10 years, what are some of your proudest moments? Moments that make you say, “This is why I do what I do.”
My first in-person speech at DNX in front of over 500 people was absolutely terrifying as an introvert, but I’m really glad I did it. Overcoming that was a really huge moment and made me realize the power I had in pursuing my goals and being considered a leader in this space. I was honest in that moment too. I told the audience I was scared, but I still did it and rocked it, and I got the only standing ovation of the day, so that was pretty cool.
Most of all, meeting members of my community and seeing how DNK has been able to help their careers was awesome. Seeing how it’s taken them around the world and enabled them to design their own lifestyle is really inspiring and really special for me. I live for the moments when people reach out to tell me how they are now able to travel, spend time with their families, and in some cases, get out of domestic violence situations, or relocate due to wars. Having a career that’s not dependent on your location or a company doing well is so life-changing and will never not be reason to do what I do.
Image description: Hannah sitting on a rock in front of the Green Lake in Austria In the back you also see some mountains. Hannah is wearing sunglasses and has her hair in a bun.
What was one of your biggest learning experiences while you were working as a VA?
“It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and run the risk of under-delivering.”
Which I did in my early VA days. While doing a website project for a client, I promised more than I was capable of out of fear of disappointing them. In the end, the project got dropped entirely after a year and a half of stress for the two of us – and a lot of money involved both ways. The client was very nice about it when they could have been rightfully extremely angry, but even so, it stung us both badly. There was a lot of apologies and shame around that time.
It was probably the biggest “failure” of my VA career and a massive learning experience.
Could you tell us more about your personal experience as someone with neurodiversity and how you shaped your workflow to accommodate?
Having really clear days for different clients was a big help. I work on a Monday with Catherine, and on Tuesday, I work with Lucas, and so on. I allocated the days but left the time slots flexible. So I could stay up all night to work because I didn’t feel capable of working during the day and not beat myself up about that. I’ve been able to design my environment and work times to accommodate fluctuations in my specific moods and focus levels.
When it comes to DNK, I’ve worked to accommodate the unexpected by growing my business in a way that doesn’t require me to be present every single day. Plus, I use project management tools like Trello and Notion to keep things on track, A really good app is Todoist, which I use for my “Daily Dump” each morning.
With 15 years of continuous travel, have your needs and interests evolved over time as a nomad?
Yes, dramatically and multiple times. When I was younger, before even starting to work online, I did work exchanges (like WWOOFing), working on farms, bars, and even with husky dogs in Austria, in exchange for food and lodging. With age, I’ve become a little bit more discerning, if nothing but the fact that I’m more aware of my needs now.
Queer-friendliness has become prioritized over the years, spending my money in places that support my identity rather than actively oppress it, and now, I have some really clear non-negotiables. Like the fact that I need private apartments, I do not work nor survive well in shared accommodations or coworking arrangements. Being near international airports that are well-served, having dog parks, good healthcare, healthy vegan food options, and access to nature. These are all very important to me now.
On a very personal level, I refuse to carry backpacks anymore. They are often touted as a digital nomad essential – they aren’t btw. I have a herniated disc in my neck and carrying anything remotely weighty for a long period of time is a big no-no. Health concerns aside, I now cannot fathom the idea of hauling my life on my back like a donkey, I’m all about that spinner life these days. If I can pass on any wisdom, it’s this, prioritize your physical health, and don’t go cheap on your luggage setup!
On that note, in your own words, what is “Lifestyle Design” to you, and what are some of the highlighting moments of designing your personal lifestyle?
Lifestyle design, for me, is being extremely intentional about what we want. Gearing the things that matter in our lives to work in tandem so that we can fearlessly go for what we know is possible, regardless of what naysayers and other people think.
Other people’s limitations should not inform your own reality.
Conventional employment has historically consumed much of our personal time on Earth and to the detriment of our health and happiness. Adjusting how we work to play nicely with our own personal interests and in doing so lending to more peace, just makes sense to me.
Recognizing the world’s inherent inequalities and the systemic obstacles that can hinder individuals in their own pursuit of lifestyle design is key. Remote work offers a powerful solution to address some challenges, providing a way to overcome difficult circumstances and access a global network and workforce. Another reason I am invested in sharing the VA and freelancing career so ardently.
Taking action, even if it starts with small, seemingly insignificant steps, can have a profound impact on our surroundings, health, well-being, livelihood, and peace. Lifestyle design involves seizing control over the aspects of our lives that we can influence and actively engaging with a supportive community for both encouragement and accountability. I am all about doing in an intentional community. If I didn’t work online, I’d probably be running a permaculture farm with a bunch of like-minded humans, who knows, maybe I still will!
As for my own experience, I find moments of joy in the every day, not just in grand achievements. It’s in the gratitude I feel when I unexpectedly get caught in a morning traffic jam, knowing that I’ll never have to endure that daily grind again. It’s in the simple pleasures like Tuesday afternoon snuggles with my dog, knowing that I’m not bound by any obligations or schedules – just living in the present moment.
Where do you see yourself 10-20 years from now? What’s your vision for DNK, and do you have any side projects in mind that you’d like to see take shape?
Yes, as I’ve been in the remote workspace for 10 years now, I want to take ownership of the knowledge I’ve gained and start sharing that more widely outside the VA space as well.
For example, honing in on the power of communities and diversity to drive positive change. DNK wouldn’t be what is now without direct feedback from the amazing global community that we’ve nurtured from day one. So maybe moving towards consulting around these skills that I’ve developed. Then there are more business insights I’d like to share, things like media relations being a good example, and things that I have done to build DNK that have propelled us to the position we hold today. All these insights may form into future services or products – perhaps.
My top priority is to continuously update and improve our signature program and student community, The Virtual Excellency Academy, building up bright minds with life-changing businesses and providing more amazing talent to people who need it. I’d like as many people as possible, no matter their background or location, to learn the digital skills and self-leadership capabilities that I believe are essential to the workforce of today and tomorrow.
Finally, I see myself slowing down, having a homebase or two, and maybe a spot of beekeeping! 🐝
It’s no secret that you are happily married, but would you like to share your experience of working and collaborating with your wife? What advice would you give to couples working and traveling together?
The most important thing is eye-level communication, working together as partners without any hierarchy – especially in relation to our work in DNK. Recognizing and valuing there unique perspectives and skills we both bring to the tabled. Knowing when to switch off, separating work from personal, and checking in regularly to see how we feel about everything. No holding back because we’re worried about hurting the other person, just having regular, quiet moments of really open communication.
Thankfully, we’ve got the same headspace around what needs to get done and set clear expectations when it comes to work. I recognize that while my wife also has her own clients and business that she runs, she’s really invested in the success of DNK too, and she is very excited about the community.
Both of us view our careers as a combined effort toward our ideal life, so it’s important that everything works. We’re both invested in our lifestyle design. My advice is to make sure that your most important relationships are aligned in harmony in terms of your lifestyle desires, otherwise, it could get tricky quite fast – as it has for me in previous relationships!
Image description: Hannah and Kim making goofy faces and poses on a street in Austria on their wedding day.
QUESTIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY
Kim: What was your weirdest and most wonderful connection on a human level made either with a student or collaborator in the VA space?
I mean, Kim, obviously. We got married! Plus, I’ve become such good friends with TeamDNK and many of our VEA members, our connections have gone beyond teamwork and bled over into genuine heartfelt friendships around the world.
But it’s not just me, other people in the community are also connecting. We’ve had relationships born, and people have built amazing friendship groups that meet up once a year or accountability groups that are still talking years later. Again, the community aspect really shines through here because the connections made are more than just professional connections. I also find it funny that I keep bumping into some of our nomadic members on different continents – that’s always cool.
Ren: What verticals make the best clients in terms of being fun/easy-going, and which verticals spend the most on VA services?
It’s a very subjective answer, but I’d say successful business owners who are at a point where they’re not stressed about the success of their business. That can mean multiple industries.
Of course, it’s great to work with those clients who are building something up if you’re eager to be a part of it or if you’re just getting started. But for a skilled and seasoned VA who wants to go where the money’s at and have a client who is really hands-off, go for those businesses who are in the 6-figure to 8-figure range. They tend to be more relaxed because they know that their model works. You’re not being hired to make it work, you’re been hired to work it.
Image description: Hannah standing in a group of over 20 people during a community meetup in Lisbon. Everyone is smiling and hugging and some are raising their hands in celebration.
Ruth: In your expert opinion, what are the top 3 traits that directly influenced your success, and how can we adapt this knowledge to our own success journeys?
- Honesty. I’ve been very honest and open on my journey, the highs and lows. I didn’t do this alone and I feel this is a key insight VAs can adopt in their own businesses. Your success isn’t born in a void, take people on the journey.
- Not sacrificing who I am. I have been unapologetically myself, all quirks included. This allowed me to work with people who share my values and ideas about the world, lending to really fulfilling work. If you are starting an online business, let it be from a place of authenticity and joy, otherwise, there’s really no point. In other words, Embrace Your Weird!
- Perhaps tenacity. Recognizing that every ‘failure’ was just an opportunity to learn more, grow more, and do better. You can’t fail when you learn and adapt, you can only choose to give up.
Bonus point! Constantly releasing the idea of ‘competition.’ Staying in my lane and recognizing that people like what I’ve created, people get results from it. If I stay in my lane and do what I do well without even looking at what others are doing, I can create something authentic to who I am and stop feeling bad about myself.
Courtney: Outside the US, what’s one warm climate and one cool climate location that you would recommend a new digital nomad go first?
If they’re budget conscious at the beginning, Eastern Europe. Countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, and Croatia, are great places to get started. You have a wide range of cool climates – at least for some of the year, there are a lot of entrepreneurial communities and great access to modern amenities. I also am a big fan of mountain cities, like Mexico City, Guanajuato, and Medellin, where it’s spring all year round!
For warm temperatures, I’m a big fan of Southeast Asia, especially Bangkok, Thailand – that’s my fave city on Earth. Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, all are countries where the cost of living is relatively low while the quality of life is high, and the cultural experience, provided you make the effort to engage, is very rich and exciting.
Sybil: As a coach, have you witnessed generational differences among VAs? Are they relevant to work culture and general culture, or are they manufactured and not as big of a deal as we sometimes make them out to be? Do you think that Gen Alpha might overtake us all in terms of the vastness of cultural differences growing up with AI?
For generational differences, Millennial VAs are more likely to be digital nomads. 47% of digital nomads are Millennials, with Gen X coming in next at 23%. I have witnessed that Boomer and Gen X VAs sometimes work a lot more than younger generations. They have very strong work ethics which is awesome, however, I think they could take a bit more time off; a little more lifestyle design if you will, they’ve earned it. 🏖️
Differences in age in regard to work culture tend to be a bigger obstacle in the corporate world, but it’s far less of a thing in the VA space. Being a VA requires continuous learning. You’re interacting with tech, which is ever-evolving, on a daily basis, and if you keep learning and making an effort, you will not be replaced, not by AI or by the younger generations.
Here’s a blog post on VAs over 4o for some inspo!
Image description: Hannah standing between 2 typically red rocks in the desert of Arizona, wearing a “Teach Everything You Know” T-shirt and a hat.
Seema: How do you navigate traveling with your pet? What can we do to prepare for this?
We’re staying places longer and choosing locations with dog-friendly amenities around. City parks so that she (Essy our dog) can get her exercise and easily socialize with other dogs and people, vet clinics, and access to good food for her. Ensuring her comfort really is the main thing, so we try to keep flights to a minimum. We have discovered she does not travel too well so it has resulted in a forced slow-down, which has actually been a blessing in disguise. We now have a base and take lots of short trips and have gone from being house sitters to engaging them ourselves 🙂
In terms of logistics, rules and regulations can vary depending on the country. It’s not as hard as we thought, just recognize there’s a lot of bureaucracy, but it’s totally fine if you just make sure that you’re in compliance and go step by step. We had a live session with my friends Dee and Sue who have smaller animals on our Facebook page a few years back -there are still some great and relevant insights there.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview Hannah. I can say that from my own experience, joining the VEA and being part of this team has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I write this as I take flight for my next big adventure in Japan, this would not have been possible without your guidance, so from me, and from the whole team and community – cheers to you and cheers to another 10 years of intrepid entrepreneurship! – Alicia