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  • Cindy Zuniga is a full-time associate attorney at Venable LLP law firm and a personal-finance coach on the side. 
  • Zuniga’s Instagram account gradually turned into a prominent side hustle. She has more than 35,000 followers, a dozen clients a month, and a long wait list. 
  • She shared how she grew a side business in personal finance, and she attributed much of her success to building a social media presence. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

A successful side hustle can be inspired by personal experience. And in Cindy Zuniga’s case, her personal-finance-coaching business started right after she paid off $215,000 of student debt in merely four years.

Zuniga is a full-time associate attorney at Venable LLP, a business law firm based in Washington DC. But on the side, she is a social media influencer and founder of Zero-Based Budget Coaching, LLC. While she spends her 9-to-5 being a lawyer, her weeknights and weekends are dedicated to teaching people how to be better with their money-spending habits.  

“I juggle between these two jobs and it really depends on my days,” she told Business Insider. “I try to work on my social media either very early in the morning, really late at night, or during my commute. I’ll typically meet with my clients on the weekends. It’s a busy schedule, but I really love both jobs.”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, side hustles are becoming more popular. In fact, a recent survey at Harvard Business School Online found that 54% of people are considering starting a side gig. As more people are working remotely and quarantined at home, now might be the time to revisit a business idea and give entrepreneurship a test drive. 

Here’s Zuniga’s advice on how to grow your side hustle. 

How it started

Zuniga was raised by two immigrant parents in a low-income community in the Bronx, New York. She lacked the financial literacy to understand what having loans really meant when she graduated from law school in 2015.

She was originally enrolled into a 10-year repayment plan of $2,000 a month, but she didn’t want to be in debt for that long, she told Business Insider. Additionally, the 30-year-old didn’t have a clue about how to budget, save, and invest. 

“And that’s where the school system seems to have failed us,” Zuniga said. “Everyone is always talking about learning how to be an adult, but school doesn’t really equip us to confront these real issues that we need to know — that’s why I decided to start my platform.” 

She turned to Google for answers and self-educated herself on the basics of money management. Zuniga developed a meticulous budgeting strategy that allowed her to pay off more than $200,000 of loans in four years. She also created an Instagram account to document her debt-free journey and share her experience.

Zuniga’s online debt diary gradually turned into a prominent side hustle, in which she has more than 35,000 followers, a dozen clients a month, and a wait list. She charges $200 for individual sessions, $300 for couple of sessions, and $100 per person for group classes. She currently makes six-figures from her full-time job and an additional $15,000 to $20,000 from her side hustle.

Build your social media presence 

Zuniga’s demand correlated with the number of followers she has on Instagram, she told Business Insider. 

As her followers grow, so do her request for coaching sessions. The personal finance coach explained that she had three clients during her first month, but her demand grew when she started engaging with people online.

“I think it’s really important to just connect with people,” she told Business Insider. “Give them the opportunity to engage with you. My followers can comment on my posts, and I’ll reply. They can see that on the other side of their screen is an actual human excited to help educate them.”

Zuniga uses the hashtag, #mindfulmoneyweek, to share personal takes on topics like how much she spent that day, why she has five personal credit cards, and what she would never spend her money on. The side hustler also gives money crash courses every Tuesday on her Instagram. Topics discussed include understanding tax refunds, retirement savings, and stocks. 

A big contributor to Zuniga’s side hustle success is word-of-mouth marketing on social media. Her former clients were telling their friends and family members about her coaching sessions, and it helped spread the word for her business. 

“I think having a platform where I can create content for people and educate them on different topics is important,” Zuniga said. “That way, they’ll think, ‘Maybe I should work with her because hopefully she can help me make sense of the financial situation that I’m in.’ I’m not over-complicating issues. I’m a human just like them, and I’m not going to judge them for their expenses.” 

Make sure your business model fits your lifestyle

Zuniga currently has a dozen clients each month, and this workload makes her happy, she said. But juggling a full-time job and a side hustle can be a challenge. She recommends being realistic about what you can handle. 

The finance coach added that she typically meet with clients only once, because her goal is to leave them with a custom plan after a single session. 

“It’s not like I’m meeting with the same client every week or anything like that,” Zuniga said. “That’s not how my business model works. My clients will be good for the next couple of months after meeting with me. They’ll be able to start implementing the right budgets.”

But Zuniga does want to see her business grow in the future. She is brainstorming creative ways to meet customer demand without having to jeopardize her full-time job. 

Know and cater to your audience

The vast majority of Zuniga’s clients are women, and most are women of color, she told Business Insider. 

“I think the financial service industry was never made with us in mind,” Zuniga said. “It was really made for rich white men. And having a platform made by a woman that connects women is really important because you invite questions that you have otherwise been too embarrassed to ask.” 

She stresses that her business is a no-judgement zone. Her personal financing sessions are catered to specific needs — women’s needs. 

“I tell my clients that it should never just be about debt freedom,” Zuniga told Business Insider. “It should be financial freedom. It encompasses increasing your net worth and making sure that it’s going towards your overall financial goals in the long-term.”

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