6 Tips for Starting a Physician Side Gig

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ~ Dr. Seuss

Have you ever considered starting a new Physician Side Gig?  Maybe you are considering content production through a book, blog, or podcast? Perhaps you’ve considered creating an online course or starting a consulting or coaching business? Having done all of these things, I thought it would be helpful to outline the process I went through before any of these endeavors began to thrive. Before you read through the suggestions below, I want to remind you that the problems in medicine usually fall under a singular umbrella: a lack of autonomy.  There is nothing that has given me my autonomy back faster than running my own business.  It has produced additional income, time, and freedom. If you want that, too, here is how you can find the non-clinical income you want.

Should I Even Consider a Physician Side Gig?

One of my goals on The Physician Philosopher is to be transparent.  While my family will be financially independent in our mid-40s strictly from our W-2 income, it is my non-clinical income that has allowed me the leverage and opportunity at work to create my ideal schedule. I have carved out a schedule where I now work three days per week on my non-call weeks (i.e. when I am not working a week of nights or acute pain call).  In other words, I work three days per week – or less – 42 weeks of the year. The revenue on this site will be surpassing a six-figure number for the first time this year (though, I do not own the entirety of The Physician Philosopher). Given that my family and I focus much more on quality of life than earning a ton of money, the freedom this non-clinical income has provided is very real. With this extra time side gig income, I have had more time to create online courses, write books, create products, a podcast, and to start multiple businesses (including the Life Coach Doctor, a Physician Coaching Business). Here are some tips on starting your own source of non-clinical income.

1) The Three Key Ingredients to Physician Side Gig Success

There is a simple formula that I teach people when they ask me about starting a non-clincial business.  The phyiscian side gig formula involves three key ingredients. If any of the three are missing, the new business will fail. The three ingredients are need, passion, and potential profit.  By “need” I mean, is there a need in your niche?  In other words, do people need what you want to sell them? The second ingredient is passion.  In other words, is it something that you would get up at 5:00am on a non-working day to work on?  Seem like a specific time?  Well, that’s what time I woke up to write the post you are currently reading, and this blog has existed for 3 years as of November of 2020.  I am still plugging away.  Why? Because I am passionate about helping doctors find financial freedom. The third ingredient is potential profit. It is not enough to have passion for something that people need. If it cannot earn money, you will eventually give up on the effort.  Any business needs to be profitable. If I were to create a Venn Diagram to help you find the sweet spot, it would look like this:
starting a new business

Physician Side Gig Venn Diagram

2) Treat Side Gigs Like a Business

If you want to make substantial non-clinical income through your Physician Side Gig, you need to decide early on if your passion project is going to be a hobby or a business.  This isn’t just because the IRS requires you to do that (hint: you better make a profit if you want the tax benefits of owning a business). The other reason is that if you treat it like a hobby, then a hobby’s results – and lack of income – are what you will find. It is no surprise that The Physician Philosopher started earning money in the end.  I decided early on I was going to create three posts per week and put in 10-20 hours of work into this thing each week. How did I do that?  By sacrificing a bunch of TV and carving out intentional time to work on my business. As ESI money says, “If you want what I have, you have to do what I’ve done.” Yes.  It requires work.  Yes. It is worth it.

3) If It Quacks Like a Duck

If you are going to start a business, it should look like a business.  To help, think about your physician side gig like W-2 income.  Would you decide to randomly not show up for work?  Does your job have certain expectations? The same should apply to any non-clinical income you create. Go through the steps to create a business.  If it is a business, it should have a name.  This typically means creating an LLC with articles of organization, which sounds tough but is actually quite simple. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  Getting an EIN allows you to do the next step. Open a bank account.  If you want to earn money and deduct business expenses, you need a separate bank account. Create an online presence.  Even if your business is brick and mortar, having an online presence is key.  Find an available domain name, create a website, and upload wordpress.  Download a simple theme, and you are off to the races! Show up consistently. For example, if you are starting a podcast, you should consistently produce content that your listeners can depend on.  This means at least once per week. Provide Value.  If you provide value, your people will eventually find you.  Of course, you can speed up the time it takes for them to find you by promoting your content.

4) Learn to Self-Promote Your Side Gig

As a decisive “go-getter” the stuff above was never the hard part for me.  The hard part for me was self-promotion.  I actually HATE the limelight and anything to do with self-promotion. However, it is necessary to get over this when you become a business owner.  The reason might surprise you. While I still hate getting lots of attention, here is the simple truth.  If there is something you have that people NEED and are willing to pay you to provide… it is your JOB to make sure that they can find it. For example, the purpose of The Physician Philosopher has always been to help doctors find financial freedom so that they can reduce their burnout. If I fail to promote the content on this site, then somewhere out there is a doctor who may feel forever trapped in their burnout.  To me, this is an unacceptable outcome.  Therefore, I need to help them find this content so that they can find the financial freedom a doctor deserves. All of this requires self-promotion.  Not for selfish reasons either.  It is so that the Venn Diagram above can work.  If people need what you have to offer, you have to help them find it.

5) Running a Business Isn’t Free

Not only does a business require your time, dedication, and self-promotion.  It also requires money. Why this is the hardest part for people to swallow is beyond me.  We are willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to obtain a medical education.  Yet, we are unwilling to put $5,000 – $10,000 into a business. If you find the “sweet spot” in the Venn Diagram above, it WILL become successful.  It is just a matter of time and money. So, after you open that bank account listed above, put some money into it.  Then, get ready to spend that money as a business deduction to get it off the ground.  Over the years, this is what has allowed me to purchase the necessary software, equipment, online hosting fees, and much more.

6) Don’t Fall into a Scarcity Mindset

If all of the above hasn’t scared you away, the last piece that might is having a scarcity mindset.  What I mean by this is the idea that what you want to do has “already been done” or that the “market is over-saturated.” Don’t be silly. Regardless of your niche, there is always room.  Why? Because even if someone is already providing a service similar to what you want to provide… it has never been provided by YOU. For example, when I started this blog, there were over 75 physician finance blogs.  Do you know how may had ever been written by me?  None.  Not a single one. To this day, people comment about how my blog has provided value in ways others haven’t.  For example, I hold no punches about the fact that I have battled with Grave’s disease and its associated anxiety/depression.  I’ve discussed at length the fact that I have struggled with burnout, despite being a burnout blogger.  I’m also open and honest about my family’s net worth and investments. That kind of transparency hadn’t really found this space yet.  It took my personality to fill that void. Of course, there are other ways that The Physician Philosopher has provided value, but I mention this as an example of how the scarcity mindset could have stopped me from ever starting. As Dr. Seuss says,
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
There is always room for You.  Truthfully, there always has been.  And there always will be.

Remember the Reason

In the end, it is necessary to remember the reason for starting a Physician Side Gig.  It provides freedom.  This is a very real and tangible benefit. If you follow the steps above, don’t be surprised as your Physician Side Gig slowly becomes your main gig. However, the road is not easy.  It takes a ton of work.  Decide early and often to treat your non-clinical income as a business.  The rest will naturally follow.  Just like the freedom it provides.

Do you have sources of non-clinical income?  How have they impacted your freedom? What advice would you give to others who are considering starting a business on the side?  


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