Today on the podcast we’ll be looking deeper into physician side gigs and whether you’ve thought about leaving this side job due to the COVID-19 crisis.
There have been a lot of discussions online about this topic and many people’s stories have inspired me to dig a little deeper into the opportunities and stressors that are present with having a side business today.
In This Episode of The Career Rx We’ll Discuss:
- Five key questions you can ask yourself to help you decide what to do about your physician side gig.
- The reasons people are putting their businesses and career growth on hold.
- Why specific types of businesses are thriving while others are crashing.
- The importance of knowing your motivations and values, plus determining your why.
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TRANSCRIPT AND SHOW NOTES (Should You Leave Your Physician Side Gig During COVID-19?)
Hey there friends! Welcome to The Career Prescription podcast (aka The Career Rx). I’m your host Marjorie Stiegler.
Thanks, guys, for joining me today. This is going to be all about a question that I think is on a lot of people's minds, frankly, whether or not they should be dropping their side gig.
So if you're listening to this podcast, you are very likely a physician or other medical professional who also has a lot of other interests and are either very interested in growing your career as a thought leader or you have other businesses and others are things that you're doing on the side, perhaps as a creative.
So I've been asking around in my Facebook groups and other groups, How are my colleagues feeling?
I have already posted a bit about how people are feeling related to frontline clinical work.
Some people are really doing much more clinical work than they were before because they're in a specialty where they're uniquely poised to truly help with this pandemic. Then there are other physicians whose practices have slowed down quite a bit or who are finding themselves with more time on their hands.
Some of this, of course, is going to shift depending upon what parts of the country you live in and whether or not you're facing a current surge.
I've already talked about this a few times, so today I want to focus on something that might feel a little bit more lighthearted, but that I've come to realize it causes many people a lot of stress.
So, let's focus today on our fellow physicians who have side gigs.
It's increasingly common for people to have a physician side gig to supplement their income.
Many will also have a transitional side gig plan to replace their income or just to feed their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
While I do know a few doctors who make full time income this way, the vast majority of people do not – or at least they don't yet. Quite a few doctors are in the phase of investing and spending money to get things off the ground.
The vast majority of folks I know who are doing this are still practicing medicine. They still have other incomes, and they're all in various phases of trying to figure out what to do.
So, I've been asking around about how COVID-19 is impacting people.
For people who have a side gig public speaking, many have had a lot of events canceled.
Then there's a lot of other types of businesses that are really thriving and others that are not thriving.
People who are trying to get their business off the ground and are trying to grow their blog's, their podcasts and their thought leadership. There's quite a bit of effort involved in constantly putting content out there and when or where to do it.
It can be really hard to figure out what to do.
So, I have been asking around in my groups and other groups where I'm a member, and I came across a post that I thought captured what I’ve been thinking about.
The original poster asked a similar question that I have been asking and the kinds of comments that were coming in really echoed what I've been hearing all around. So I thought, let's discuss this. I'll be using part of that post as the backbone for this episode.
Along the way, I’ll offer 5 questions to ask yourself to help you decide what to do about your side gig.
For some who are listening and don't have anything going on, it might actually be the time to start a side gig!
We're going to talk about:
- The reasons people are putting their businesses and career growth on hold.
- Specific kinds of businesses that are thriving right now, while others are totally crashing and why that is.
- The importance of knowing your motivations and values, plus the why behind why we're even bothering to do any of this. Why is it that people have so many side gigs? That's a very personal question that will vary for people.
- It's very important to get clear on your why to guide your future moves.
- Then I'm going to share a few personal tidbits about how my own businesses are doing
- Finally, we'll talk about ways to move forward and face the changes that are really coming for all of us.
Okay, let me back up. I'm going to read the post that I thought captured all these conversations. I want to be clear that not everything I'm saying here in today's episode is taken from that thread.
I'm, of course, going to protect people's identities as well. Not all of this is coming from that thread, but because so many people are saying so much of the same thing it was helpful for me as an aha moment that this deserved its own episode.
I’ll kick it off by reading her comment specifically.
This is from a surgeon I know and she had asked the group…
“Has anyone else dropped their side gig during the pandemic? It's not because I don't have enough time. In fact, my clinical load has decreased, not increased. It just doesn't feel like the right time to focus on it. I want to focus on my kids, my family and my self care and finding meaning right here right now. Anyone else taking an entrepreneurial hiatus?”
A lot of people just simply said yes, I've stopped. Some indicated that they felt they were forced to and others said they wanted to.
Some individuals want to focus on other things right now, while others said they felt forced to because their clinical load had increased or other reasons we won’t get into here.
Many people said they realized the efforts they were putting in growing their side gig – trying to figure things out, becoming more profitable. This had been stressing them out so much more that they had they had not realized before.
Now, with this additional layer of stress and perhaps responsibility, it was a wake-up call that they felt like what they were doing was not working for them in some way.
It wasn't fun. It wasn't fulfilling. It was just stressing them out.
Often that's related to not having a clear plan or a good understanding of what to do right. Many people feel that stress when they're trying to figure things out on their own.
A lot of this stress can be avoided.
However, it is certainly a reality for many people, especially when you're bootstrapping, trying to do it without any formal coaching or training. That's the reality of entrepreneurship, and it can be stressful.
Some other responses I’ve seen in response to that question:
- Other people said their clinical duty had increased and they just didn't have time.
- One person had even mentioned they were glad their business wasn't doing that well as since they did have increased clinical duty, they didn't think they would have been able to serve their customers the right way – now that their day jobs were taken over in terms of priority.
- A lot of people expressed having a creativity block. Not sure what to write about, what to speak about or what courses/coaching would serve their customers.
- Many people expressed (what I know I am feeling right now), which is the logistical challenges of homeschooling and being challenged to produce content at home because there's so much added noise and distraction.
- Even as I'm recording this right now my kids are probably about to come bursting in here at any second on and the whole thing will be a wash.
- One person said… my side gig dropped me. I don't know what her side gig happened to be, but I am hearing a lot of people saying that no one's buying anymore. No one is showing up for their paid events. No one is hiring your services, no one's buying products.
- This is true for many businesses, obviously. It's true for many professionals. It's also true for physicians, whether you're an entrepreneur or whether you're just a straight-up employed Doctor. Volume is down right now. Their livelihoods are affected.
Those are all very valid reasons why people are pulling back. I think they're super important. It's important to be aware of these reasons and to see which one of these resonates for you if any.
Some of these challenges are things that you ought to listen to and others can be mitigated.
In thinking about all these challenges physicians with side gigs are facing right now, I've got five questions and I'm going to dig into. I will use some of the examples from within that thread and other threads to illustrate what I mean.
5 Questions To Determine Whether You Should Leave Your Physician Side Gig:
Question One: Do your customers need you more right now or less?
Will they feel served by you or will you be seen as a distraction, stressor or potentially even spam?
Do they want to hear from you?
Are you helping a problem that people are currently having?
One person was saying she did take a break, but she is back now in her side gig. She expressed it like this…
“I did take a break, but now I am busy working in my business again. I was being selfish, and I realized that my people need me just as much now as ever.”
Someone else said, “I struggled with it at first. I took a step back, but I'm starting to realize people are still looking for solutions. And me showing up from a place of love and genuine caring will go a long way.”
Those are comments from people that are realizing that the work they were doing, people still really did need or perhaps needed even more.
One person says. “It depends on what the business does. My business is to help physicians build profitable businesses. This problem is at an all-time high right now, so taking a hiatus will be evil.” (She may be being a little hard on herself.) “I've worked harder in the last few weeks than all year.?
To serve other physician entrepreneurs, businesses need to pivot, reinvent and position themselves for the post COVID-19 era. If they will survive and thrive, they need to be full speed ahead right now.”
That again is somebody else's comment, but I do feel like the sentiment there is right on.
I don't think people need to be full speed ahead right now. I disagree with that a little bit as I think it's a very personal decision, but there is absolutely an opportunity to pivot, reinvent and position oneself.
Also, it sounds like she is serving other people who are business builders. If they are trying to get their businesses off the ground right now, then they do indeed need her.
So that's question one. If you feel your customers need you more than ever, even if they aren't in buying mode, that might be an important reason to stay highly engaged in your side gig.
I have friends and colleagues who have their own businesses, and they are experiencing a dip in sales but a surge in interest.
If people are still looking to you for filling their needs, it's a good opportunity to continue moving your business forward a little bit, making connections in a way that is business-oriented because your people need you. They need that product or service you're offering.
Question Two: Are you feeling replaceable or vulnerable?
One of the popular themes I'm hearing right now is that people – physicians in particular – are feeling very replaceable.
They feel like they want more options.
They feel like they're a cog in the wheel. They don't feel valued and respected. They don't feel autonomous.
All of these negative feelings about going to work, either because they aren't in control of how their practices are run or as we’ve talked about before they're being asked to work in unsafe conditions with unacceptable levels of protection.
This is heightened right now and it's something I've been hearing loud and clear for a long time. It's one of the reasons my partner Jill and I started the TransforMD retreats for women physicians. This is very much about understanding people's feelings of being a nobody or just being a warm body rather than having a unique value.
One person summarized it like this…
“I've been working harder on my side gig now than ever because I think this pandemic has shown us we need other options in the event that we’re furloughed, laid off or we walk away because of abuse.”
This really struck me.
She's feeling physicians are being abused right now. We're taken advantage of, and this was one of the most liked and replied to comment in the thread.
This comment had a lot of engagement, so it's a little bit sad, but it's a dose of reality.
This is how a lot of doctors are feeling right now.
If you feel your current day job undervalues you and you don't have a sense of purpose or security – and you feel like having a profitable extra source of income or two would make the difference, that's an important reason to stick with it.
I will say, though, that for many people who are feeling stuck in medicine, a side gig is not necessarily the right solution.
Entrepreneurship is hard.
Making a profitable business is difficult. Many people will fail at it. More people will fail at it than succeed.
So, sometimes you need a different solution, this we dig into at the TransformMD retreat. For those who were thinking of attending, I don't even know if we'll be able to do it again this year because of travel restrictions (maybe we'll pivot and make it virtual).
This is the thing… figuring out the problems so you can address the right problem and find the right solution.
Sometimes it might be a side gig or passive income stream, but sometimes it's just a career change.
That could be a pivot within your career space working in a different capacity or a different practice model. Or, it could be a very different career change – something that's much more dramatic. It could be a pivot to serve in a non-clinical space, a non-patient facing space for maybe even something totally non-medical.
If you're interested, check out my mini-course called Industry Insider. It's a four-part webinar series about the health care business and industry.
A lot of physicians are very curious about non-clinical work. Sometimes that makes all the difference. People can contribute to medicine and health care on a macro scale, using the skills they have, but in a very different way.
It's worth spending the time getting this right.
Do that introspection. Understand whether a different main gig is a better solution for you than a different side gig.
Question 3: Do you get joy or other personal satisfaction from the work itself?
I want to emphasize the work itself.
What do I mean?
Whether or not you make any money, are you getting joy or personal satisfaction from doing the work, even if it is not profitable, even if you're not making money?
One person's comment said…
“I know that what I'm doing can help a lot of people to make extra money right now that I know a lot of people need to make money right now, so that pushes me.”
So that's part of her why. She knows her services are important.
We already talked about that already – that her customers need her more, but then she goes on to say… “It also serves as stress release for me, which is important.”
It’s very interesting that she has a two-fold why, but I want to focus on the second part, which is that doing this work serves as a stress release for her. This is a stark contrast to what a lot of people are feeling and facing when they're trying to grow certain businesses.
When you’re involved in a service that makes you feel really good, it can be very energizing.
People can feel jazzed up just from having had those interactions. They feel like they're doing something useful. They're making a positive difference, an important contribution, and that can feel good. It could be a big stress reliever, which is different than finding that your side gig feels like it's a stressor.
I've noticed that people who are coaches or offering services around career transitions or small business growth, they seem to be digging in and thriving. I don't know with certainty whether or not their companies are actually thriving, but I know that they feel like they're digging in.
Many people are reporting that their customers need them more than ever.
I can vouch for this on my side. I promised I'd give you guys some personal tidbits and I will say that interest in my online courses for business, branding and public speaking and also on are through the roof.
The success of these courses, I think is because of the nature of the work. It speaks to people who are having the problems we talked about in Question 2, which is whether people are feeling satisfied in their main gig or their day job.
Feel free to check out my courses.
I do find that it's energizing and rewarding to do this work and to connect with people around these topics.
So, my why is I'm still very engaged in wanting to help people and connect with people. The interest is way up because people do need this stuff right now.
So when you're thinking about question three, are you getting joy or personal satisfaction from the work itself, whether or not you're making money that can help you to know if you’re in the right side gig and if it connects deeply with your why.
I've heard from a lot of folks who primarily earn their side gig money by dropship models, or they sell on Amazon (FBA, or ‘fulfilled by Amazon’), with ads on their blog, or by affiliate income.
A lot of these, while they can make good money, they're generally not passion projects.
When you're doing a dropship company or Amazon these aren't products that you have made. You don't have any real stake in that game. It's not a company that you started. When you are promoting products or services for which you're an affiliate, you might like some of them, but it's not your baby.
So for most people, this is not really a passion project. This work primarily is often just not that sustaining.
For those people, if they're thinking about question three – whether or not they make money and are they getting personal satisfaction, I think the answer for many of them is ‘no’.
When they're not making money, this is not satisfying. And it does feel like an extra slog, and they want to get through it also. In some cases, those income streams have just completely evaporated with the COVID-19 situation. People aren't buying a lot of extraneous things.
So, the affiliate income may be down, the drop ship models are certainly down, so a lot of that stuff is down.
For me, I have a very narrow range of affiliate relationships, and I would say mine are thriving because they're all connected to my core purpose and business activities.
Affiliate Examples I Promote for my Physician Side Gig:
- People want to learn more about Kajabi, which is the online course platform that I use for my online courses.
- I also set up free content through Demio, which is my webinar software.
- For this podcast, I use Buzzsprout as my host. (If you sign up for a paid plan through my link, Buzzsprout will send you a $20 Amazon gift card as a reward)
I think this reflects that why. Physicians have a strong desire to grow their thought leadership, to be autonomous and to create something of value that they feel like is their own.
That's in part what drives the physician side gig movement and since this is the area in which my business is of service, that might be why those small niches are growing right now, whereas other things are crashing down.
As you're thinking about your work, are you getting personal satisfaction from doing it, or is it stressing you out?
You want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
If your side gig is more stressful than it's worth, this is something to pay attention to.
It might mean:
- Entrepreneurial stuff isn’t right for you in general (and that’s OK!!).
- It’s not the right kind of additional income stream or activity to be involved in.
- Maybe it’s just not the right time.
Either way, pay attention to whether you get personal satisfaction from your physician side gig. There are things that can be profitable and then they can dry up in a snap. If you don't enjoy them they aren't something you’d be pouring your heart and soul into during times like this.
Question 4: Is there an opportunity to pivot, evolve or showcase your skills in a new way?
While certain groups are thriving and in very high demand, as we've talked about, that's definitely not the case for everything.
I’m personally having a lot of my speaking engagements canceled or transitioning to virtual, which can be a business challenge.
That's why, as I've talked about in The Speaking Prescription, having a solid contract is important to protect both liability and income. It’s also the new reality that people aren't booking a lot of in-person speaking engagements.
It might be surprising that my own online course about how to get paid as a public speaker is actually getting even more traffic and enrollment than usual. So why is that?
While the likelihood of getting paid as a public speaker from the podium is diminished, for the time being and possibly into the future, it's a great opportunity to look at other ways you can make a good income as a speaker.
Most people think about speakers in a traditional sense – behind the podium in a big auditorium, but this is just a small part of the opportunity.
Some of you know that I am the coach for the Signature Speaker Series for the Association of Women Surgeons, a flagship program initiative from the Association of Women Surgeons intended to elevate the professional visibility of their mid career surgeons.
It's about professional speaking. People are doing good medical work and research but are not getting the speaker opportunities that they need – and that's where I come in.
The program runs all year long. It started with a longer in-person kickoff last fall, and it's followed by a series of webinar-style lessons. Many of the new gigs that my speaker students have landed for the year are now either virtual or canceled, so this is a great opportunity for us to focus on the set of skills related to digital presentation and virtual speaking.
You can also learn a lot more in The Speaking Prescription about how to use your speaking skills in a way that might involve doing things like online workshops, courses, or digital webinar series – so you can have a lucrative speaking career stream away from the podium.
How do you Pivot and Evolve?
Use simple solutions to take the same skills you have and serve your customers in a different way.
This is why companies that are in the business of facilitating delivery are killing it right now and they’ll probably continue as people are not going to go back to their old ways of doing things. The folks who are in the business of facilitating those deliveries are making money. I’m thinking of restaurant delivery, grocery delivery, curb-side pick up services, personal shoppers – that kind of thing.
People who already understand how to create virtual or digital products and services are continuing to thrive right now. That’s what everyone is scrambling to figure out, but if you’re already doing it, you’re in a great position.
This is true even of people who are already doing telemedicine or who were quickly able to pivot and do so. If someone very quickly was able to say “instead of closing my practice, I'm going to pivot to some telemedicine” – these people are in a great business position. It’s also not too late for everyone else to get on board.
However, I do think that hoping things go back to normal is not an effective business or career strategy. I don't think the new normal, post COVID-19, is going to look like the normal of late 2019.
So, when you're asking about whether or not you should hang on to that side gig or whether you should ditch it, think about whether there's an opportunity to pivot, evolve it or showcase your skills in a way that meets a different set of needs.
Question 5: Are there small steps you can take to stay engaged and relevant even if you are not going full force with your business?
One of the popular comments in this thread that I mentioned earlier is…
“I think there's a time in a season for everything. You may not make as much money or even any money right now, but try to show up, share what you're doing and what you are feeling, and you might connect with others you haven't connected with before.”
Then somebody said… “Doing small things daily really adds up. I've been building my business slow and steady for six years, sometimes busier than others, depending upon what I'm juggling. I've never been more thankful for my side gig, which is now my only gig, because I don't have to worry about work during the crisis.”
That's really powerful to me, as someone who's been at this for over 10 years myself. I know she’s right. Hearing from her that she's been building her business slow and steady for six years, but now has actually replaced her other job, which makes her feel that she has the security and doesn't have to worry.
A third comment that resonated with me is…
“I'm working like crazy, trying to learn more about email marketing, speaking and writing right now, because I actually have the time to think about it. Also trying to create content for later.”
Those were three comments that speak to the idea of whether there are small steps you can do to stay engaged and stay relevant, even if you aren't going full force.
- Making new connections (some of which may be future collaborators or customers)
- Having a slow and steady approach to your work (so you stay engaged but not stressed).
- Investing in important learning or creativity now (if you have more time on your hands)
These comments are spot on and I think it's a great time to build engagement and connections.
To connect and understand your customer more deeply and understand how you could be of service may be a very good time to build that engagement.
It is also a great time to learn some new skills.
One of the biggest frustrations I hear from my students (before they take my courses) is they are tired of wasting time and money trying to figure stuff out on their own. Or, they felt like they were burned by wasting money hiring the wrong kind of consultants who weren’t getting results.
They were trying to outsource, make their lives easier, but it wasn't being effective.
So if you happen to have extra time right now, if that's the case for you, this may be a good opportunity to get the right help for your businesses or to learn a set of skills so you will be more effective.
It may be doing some of these things yourself, but you'll also be much more effective at outsourcing them if you know what it is that you're talking about when it comes to some of these branding principles, marketing principles, content creation and connecting with the right customer.
Those are the five questions to consider if thinking about leaving your physician side gig.
I'm going to say them again:
- Do your people need you even more now, or less?
- Are you personally feeling replaceable or vulnerable? Is that part of your why?
- Do you get joy or other personal satisfaction from the work itself – regardless of whether it's making any money?
- Is there an opportunity for you to pivot, evolve, showcase your skills – serve your customers in a new way?
- Are there small steps you can take to stay engaged and relevant even if you're not going full force with your business?
I think those five questions will be very helpful to you in deciding whether to step back from your physician side gig right now.
With the COVID-19 crisis going on, for some, stepping back is absolutely going to be the right thing to do. For others, it's one of the best times to dig in and grow. And again, whether you have a side business or you're just talking about your professional growth and your career strategy – these principles are for everyone.
For anyone who's listening…
It's a great time to get clear on your values, goals and the why that underlines what you’re doing.
If you skip that part it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of invested time, money, effort, sweat equity while trying to build something or change something that won't address the true problem or conflict that you're facing.
Even if you are successful in getting the outcome you're working towards today… if it's not the right answer to the conflict behind your why, behind your values, you'll find yourself in a different world with the same set of problems.
Part of that is related to what we talked about at the beginning of this episode, which is…
Is a side gig really your thing, or is there something different for you to be doing with your main job?
It could look very different – it doesn't even need to necessarily be practicing as a physician.
I have an upcoming episode where we're going to talk about what it's like to be a non-clinical physician during the pandemic. I've got to tell you, I've been asking about this quite a bit from others. As you know, I have nonclinical career experience personally. Plus, the perspectives I'm hearing are so varied. I think this episode is going to be just so good. People's experiences are deep. They're strong emotionally, they're all over the map, and it's super intriguing.
Please be sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you don't miss it!
Thanks for joining me on this episode of The Career Rx.
Please be sure to subscribe and leave me a review on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or whatever podcast player you're using to listen today. Also, be sure to send me your questions so that I can answer them and give you a shout out on a future episode.
Bye for now,
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