How I made Rs. 12 lakhs with a side-hustle since the lockdown

Published: October 22, 2021 at 8:25 am

In this episode of how I increased my income, we meet Zubin Ajmera who managed to make Rs. 12 lakhs with a side hustle since the lockdown. In this article, he explains the steps needed to start a side hustle and the mindset required to be successful in it.

About this series: We all appreciate the importance of a higher income but increasing our income is not easy. It requires time, effort, sacrifice, dedication and opportunities. In these articles, we showcase inspirational stories about people who have increased their income, their station in life via self-improvement, upskilling or side-hustles. If you would also like to increase your income, you can start your journey here: How to build a second income source that will last a lifetime

This idea started when I had asked members of Facebook, Asan Ideas for Wealth, to share real-life stories of how they or someone they knew increased their income by upskilling, self-growth (personal development), or side-hustles.

Many of the accounts were quite extraordinary. These are the stories published earlier:

We have similar stories lined in the coming weeks. If you have increased your income and changed your station in life, please share it with our community. It will inspire and motivate many. Contact us at freefincal {AT} Gmail {DOT} com with a short outline to take it forward. It can be published anonymously if you prefer.


About the author: After a 5-year stint in the USA, Zubin Ajmera returned back to India. He’s a marketer and founder of Progress and Win, where he shares free step-by-step articles to help working professionals start an online side-business from scratch.

Zubin Ajmera
Zubin Ajmera

The COVID pandemic challenged us to think about money in serious ways. What if you lose your job tomorrow? What if you don’t have a steady flow of income every month? How will you take care of monthly expenses?

I had the same questions back in April 2020 when we were stuck inside our house every day. So, I decided relying on one source of income is perhaps extremely risky. So, what if you could start a second source of income WHILE still working at your job? That way, you minimise your risk, allow yourself some flexibility, and give an option to quit your job someday in the future.

Fast forward 6 months, November 2020, I had four paying clients, and generated about two lakhs in revenue. Not a big amount, but a great deal of confidence. Fast forward 1.5 years, and I’ve earned more than 12 lakhs revenue so far. Not bad for someone who is doing a full-time job and started from scratch. Btw: I share everything on my blog here, for free — Progress and Win.

Challenging thing: This is a side-business I started while working at a regular day job, and this mini-profitable venture still brings in a consistent second source of income.
This post is not to bluster my grand slam victory, but I want to take you behind the scenes to show you how I did this, and how you can start an online side business too — even if you’re working at a 9 to 6-day job, or just starting to blog, or just don’t know how/where to begin.

Screenshot of an inspiring tweet by Anand Mahindra
One of the employees of Mahindra & Mahindra started her venture too. This inspiring tweet from Anand Mahindra, who offered to help in her business.

What You Need to Know First

This is something that nobody talks about. Most of the material I found when I was starting out focused on “tools” and tactics such as:

  • “The best business to start?” (That doesn’t help me)
  • “Top 5 tools to get traffic”, “how to get 32 per cent conversion rate” (I don’t care!)
  • “Company “[insert some eCommerce company name]” raised [insert X million] funding” (what’s in it for me?)

I’m sure if I start dishing out the fluff, you’ll probably lose interest after some time and close this article right away (let’s be honest.)

Very little material I found was for someone just starting out…someone who is a beginner…someone who wants to start something of his own.

Forget me, there are tons of other people whom I call micro-entrepreneurs who have started something of their own and are making a living out of it. Here, let me show you who they are.

list of micro-entrepreneurs who have started something of their own
list of micro-entrepreneurs who have started something of their own

Some strange, yet pretty insightful facts:

They never chased investors, or raised seed funding (not that I’m aware of), or had a huge valuation game

They didn’t have a multi-million magical idea or were the next Google or Flipkart.

Look closely. These ideas might seem weird off the bat. I mean, who would think of dog training as a potential business. But they solve a problem for their audience, and so these tiny looking businesses are running successfully.

Here’s a golden nugget: When you start out, you only need to find a small group of people who have a problem, and turn them into paying customers

Paying customers! (just say this out loud right now)

Getting your first 1-3 paying customers means you’ve got something — a solid foundation.

And here’s the fascinating part — once you get your first 1-3, you now know how to get the next 10 customers, or the next 100.

You know how to grow your business, your revenue. In short, you learn how to scale.

So, how exactly did I do this and how can you too start today? Let me show you the roadmap you need to achieve this. It really boils down to three basic steps:

Step 1: Find a Profitable Idea

Step 2: Validate it

Step 3: Get your First 1-3 Paying Clients/Customers

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing technical. In fact, some of the best businesses started out with this simple framework:

Amazon: The first book sold in a garage, now processes millions of orders every day.

Starbucks: The first store opened by three partners who met in college, now operates more than 22,000 coffee shops worldwide.

And there are plenty more.

So, let’s jump right into it.

Step 1: Find a Profitable Idea

Some of my learnings from a rigorous amount of research, testing and amalgamation of around more than 250 blogs, websites, books:

  • There won’t be any idea coming to you magically in your dreams. You need to find it, and finding ideas is a process, you just need a simple system to come up with it
  • Luckily, there are some proven techniques you can apply to come up with at least 10-15 profitable ideas in as little as 15 minutes

Look, it doesn’t have to be dreadful.

I remember when I first gave my laptop to my mom. She loves to shop for crockery dining sets, so I showed her some new collections on Amazon.

I said: “Here’s a new collection. Have a look and see which one you like.”

The minute I placed the laptop in her hands, she got scared! Her fingers on the keyboard, hovering. Her mouth agape, eyes tensed.

She was getting all anxious.

I asked “Relax. What happened?”

“Beta, I’ve never operated a laptop before in my life. What if I press the wrong key, or what if I mess up your work, or what if I break something?”

I wish I could cry in front of her. But I hugged her tightly.

I said “Ma, this is just a laptop. Do whatever you want, press anything you like, it’s OK even if something goes wrong. You’re not going to break anything. Just play!”

This is something I want to encourage you as well. A lot of us get crippled thinking of the “What-if”. Instead, just play. Stop the analysis-paralysis syndrome.

Once you adopt this mindset, you’ll realise how enjoyable the process is — of finding ideas, testing them, starting a business, or whatever else it may be.

My Idea

I was doing sales and marketing for a B2B company in Mumbai, and one of my core roles was doing email marketing. 

Email marketing helps in — getting new leads, booking new sales meetings, nurturing existing client relationships and ultimately driving more revenue to a business. So I thought I could offer the same exact service to other businesses that might need this. You can read more about the methods I use to identify useful expertise here – I call them Your Unbeatable Superpowers.

Step 2: Validate it

Do you know the #1 reason businesses fail? Fortune reported the TOP reason businesses to fail is because “they make products no one wants”.

Pie chart showing top reasons why businesses fail
The TOP reason businesses fail is because “they make something no one wants”

It’s because there is never a need for their product/service in the market. In other words, people DON’T want it.

Look, I get it. We all love our ideas, advice, clothes, etc. We’re self-obsessed as humans.

But when it comes to business, ask yourself — Do people actually care? Do they have a problem and trust you enough to pay for it?

The last thing you want is spending six to nine months on an idea, only to realise later NOBODY will ever pay you for it. A huge amount of opportunity, time, resources and above all your energy — wasted!

If you can, just do this now — open a blank sheet of paper, write down Validation, and stick it up on your wall. No validation and you’re allowing yourself to be doomed.

Frankly, it doesn’t have to be complicated with some fancy technology, or complex multivariate analysis. In the initial stages, you just need some lightweight testing to know your idea is feasible.

Like I mentioned above, for me, there were strong signs my idea had potential. I just needed the building blocks for it.

I can talk about validation, and how you validate your ideas all day, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll keep that for later.

Step 3: Get Your First 1-3 Paying Customers

Isn’t it funny how we dream of:

  • Getting a six-pack…when we haven’t even started going to the gym for 1 week.
  • Finding a dream job…when we haven’t even done research to find what our dream companies are.
  • Making 1,00,000 a month…when we haven’t earned the 10,000 figure first.

Bottom line: It all starts with ONE. 

I sent 50 personalized emails. 6 agreed to have a call/meeting to discuss. And 1 became my first paying client.

That’s the rough math. Did not over-complicate it. Did no complex analysis. Just kept it really simple.

Today, I have worked with 14 clients (humble brag:)

Too many people delude themselves and fall prey to “get-rich-quick” schemes. (You’d see a lot of scamsters promising you to make a million by next month.)

I’d rather be brutally honest and take a realistic approach, and the first step to it is to acknowledge that we all start somewhere, and it all starts with one.

Let me show you what I mean by the phrase “It all starts with one.”

Question: “How do I make Rs 1 lakh/month as a secondary income?”

Answer: Start with making 10k a month (it’ll be much easier to scale it 2x, 5x, or even 10x after that)

Question: “How do I get started with launching an online side business while working at my job?”

Answer: Start with generating 10-15 ideas, then test one idea for profitability. You can do it right now. Go check my list above if you need it.

Question: “How do I get 100 customers/clients for my business?”

Answer: Start with getting your first 1-3 paying customers.

Question: “How do I get traffic of 50,000 visitors to my website?”

Answer: You can’t for now. Start with getting 50-100 visitors a day.

Question: “I don’t have time. I’m already working 40 hours a week, how do I manage an additional 20 hours?”

Answer: I love this question because frankly, it’s not easy. Here’s one of my readers who recently sent me this.

screenshot of an email from a reader: Time is the real challenge
screenshot of an email from a reader: Time is the real challenge

The way to tackle this is the same we discussed above — start with five hours/week, or maybe work just a little on the weekend, or when you come home after office. In fact, put it now on your calendar.

Let’s be brutally honest guys. Do you think Jeff Bezos or Sachin Bansal have 27 hours in a day? NO!

Again, what we are doing here is simply breaking down the process into smaller, simpler steps rather than thinking of doing everything at once and feeling overwhelmed.

Before You Leave, and What You Can Do Starting Today: Maybe 14 paying customers isn’t a lot you’d think, but for a newbie rookie who had no idea of starting an online business, oh boy — that was purely MAGIC!

Honestly, the biggest win for me was not the revenue. Sure, it’s great to earn 12 lakhs. Yes, it’s an amazing feeling to be out with your friends — opening your phone — checking your emails — and watching payments coming in.

But to me, it was the mindset that mattered. The psychology that “Hey, I’ve something valuable to share with the world, and that people are HAPPY to pay me for it!”

Now that we covered some strategies and a basic roadmap laid in front of you, what are you going to do today? You have choices:

Choice 1: “My new year resolution is to start a side business” Awesome – I love you!

Choice 2: “This is good to read, but I don’t know, I don’t have time. I guess I’ll just eat some chips, watch Netflix and figure this out later?” (code for: You’re never going to take any action.)

My hope with this post is not to brag about me, but to push you to take action, even a small tiny one. If you know ONE person who might find this useful, share this with them.

Do share if you found this useful

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About the Author Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18), Gamechanger, Chinchu Gets a Superpower! and seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations based on money management. Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, Cognizant, Madras Atomic Power Station, Honeywell, Tamil Nadu Investors Association, IIST Alumni Association. For speaking engagements, write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com
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