How to Build a Side Gig Without Giving Up Your Clinical Career with Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez

by Jen Barna MD | Financial Independence, For Your Kids, Life Journey, Money and Finance, Physician Hobby, Physician Job Change, Physician Side Gig, Podcast, Work Life Balance

Utilize Your Experience to Build A Side Gig As A Healthcare Entrepreneur

“1. Be consistent, stick to the plan. And 2. Look at the data and don’t compare your data with somebody else’s. Compare your data for the day, with your data from last week, with your data from last month. And as long as you’re making progress, it’s all good.”

– Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez

In today’s episode, Dr. Jen Barna speaks with side gig expert Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez, aka Dr. E. As an owner of his own development agency and podcast production company, Dr. Gutierrez shares why he encourages all physicians to start their own side gig. From his prior experience and knowledge, he breaks down the steps as to how you can build your own successful side business at your own pace, in an area that utilizes your expertise. Throughout the episode, listen to how Dr. E was able to build his businesses, increase his financial options, and find more joy in practicing medicine.  

Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez, MD is a former practicing physician, soon to be practicing again, a lifelong entrepreneur and a full-time dad and husband. Dr. E runs a done-for-you business development agency for healthcare professionals, owns a podcast production company, is a business coach for doctors, builds digital products for healthcare entrepreneurs and is a consultant for biotech, medtech, pharma and other industries wanting to reach and influence doctors and healthcare professionals. 

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Please enjoy the full transcript below


Dr. Ernesto: One, be consistent, stick to the plan and two, look at the data and don’t compare your data with somebody else’s. Compare your data from today with your data from last week, with your data from last month, and as long as you’re making progress, it’s all good.

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Jen: Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Dr. Jen Barna, cohost of the podcast, and founder and CEO of DocWorking. Thank you so much for being with us here today. I am very excited to talk with you about a topic that I find extremely interesting and I hope that you do too, which is the concept of increasing your options as a physician by having a side gig and how making that side gig potentially align with your expertise or some specific part of your expertise can be a huge benefit to you both in your clinical career and in your options as you negotiate your clinical career.

I’m thrilled to have with me today a guest who is an expert on this topic, Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez, a former practicing physician soon to be practicing again as you’ll hear in the episode. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur, and full-time dad and husband, Dr. E runs a done-for-you business development agency for healthcare professionals, he owns a podcast production company, and is a coach for physicians. He builds digital products for healthcare entrepreneurs and is a consultant for biotech, medtech, pharma, and other industries wanting to reach and influence doctors and healthcare professionals. Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez, welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.

Dr. Ernesto: Hey, Dr. Jen, thank you for having me. Super excited.

Jen: I’m so excited that you’re here. I’m really interested in hearing about your story and I know our listeners are going to be very excited to hear your advice about physicians, and side gigs, and how physicians can create a side gig while they’re practicing clinical medicine, something that you have expertise in, and I have a ton of questions for you.

Dr. Ernesto: Sounds good, sounds good. Perfect. So, you lead the way, and I’ll be happy to answer.

Jen: Well, first of all, I really want to hear about just what your experience is, what your journey has been to bring you to this expertise. So, can you tell me just a little bit about yourself and how you came to know this area so well?

Dr. Ernesto: Yeah, of course. I obviously went to medical school, but my journey has been quite atypical. My first gig as a practicing physician was onboard cruise ships. Now, I was not part of the medical team there. I was working for the company that operated the spas. I was doing Botox and fillers on cruise ships back in 2007, 2008, when the project started, and I was ready to start practicing in. This was a great gig. I traveled the world, I met a bunch of very interesting people, but the most important thing – which I only learned when I looked back at the experience – was that it taught me very early on how to sell, and how to engage with patients, and how to understand the difference between what is convenient, and the way that I coach it to doctors now is, what is the difference between what they need and what they want. And so, that was incredibly valuable to me. 

Once I finished that, that was for about four years, so 2011, I came back, and somebody put me in touch with the founder of a stem cell clinic in Cancun. I’m originally from Mexico. That’s where I’m licensed. And so, I went down there. I’ve been in the stem cell field and regular medicine field since then and somehow, I found myself in charge of this practice. After a little bit, sure, I had learned how to sell, but I didn’t know anything about marketing, because that’s the thing. When you were on the ship, you literally just had to wake up and show up to the little clinic we have there and patients would show up, because they were on a ship. They had nothing else to do except explore the things, and they saw ads here and there.

But once I was running my own practice, I realized that I needed to market, I needed to sell. That’s when I decided, “Well, I’m just going to learn it.” I’m just going to figure out how are other doctors doing it, how are other people doing it, and that’s how I found my mentor, Darren Hardy, and I learned about business, and I completely, and absolutely, and utterly fell in love with it, because of its potential, because of its ability to impact people, to serve, physicians, or in this case physicians, to live our best life. Really, because when you own your own business or when you own your own side gig, you actually decide your lifestyle, you design your lifestyle, and then you build your business around it as opposed to the opposite, which is what most people do. Like, “Well, I’m going to go get a job and then try to fit my life around it.” So, that’s the part that I was completely in love with and that I’ve been doing ever since. Like I said, it’s been quite atypical.

Jen: Where are you located now and tell me about, are you practicing clinical medicine and doing a side gig or are you 100% what you would consider a side gig?

Dr. Ernesto: Right. That’s actually [laughs] another funny story. 2018, I was invited to a different project outside of Mexico. I’ve moved over to California. That meant that I had to put my clinical career on hold and I was okay with that. I knew it right off the start, and I went over there, and then realized that it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting right? And then after that, my wife is from Spain, which is another benefit of my time on the ships. I met her there. We moved to Spain. We said, “Listen, let’s just go back to Spain. We had sold everything in Mexico before moving to California. So, let’s just go to Spain, spend some time near your family, that way they can see the kids and whatnot, and we’ll figure our next move.”

A couple of weeks turned into a couple of months turned into three years that we’re still here. And so, logically, my side gig became my only gig because with COVID and everything that’s happened in between, my licensing papers are still pending here. I still am not able to practice clinically. We are going back to Mexico very soon and I’m going to resume my clinical career in stem cell medicine. But currently, I’m not and I have not been directly clinically practicing for a couple of years. 

Jen: For a physician who’s listening, who might be interested in developing a side gig, first question is, I guess by definition, a side gig means it’s on the side, so you’re still practicing clinical medicine. If you’re interested in doing that, what would you recommend as the first step in even choosing a side gig? There are so many out there. 

Dr. Ernesto: That’s a very common question. People go like, “Okay, what should I do?” The thing is you need to start just figuring out who would your ideal audience is right? and why do I say this? Because it’s very different the kind of product or the kind of service that you would create based on your audience. The mistake is, when somebody is watching an ad on Instagram or in Facebook, and they see that somebody’s selling a course on how to create online courses, or somebody’s selling a course on how to create a membership site, and they are completely blown away by what some people are doing in a membership site, and they go like, “I want to start a membership site.” You don’t even know who you’re going to sell it to. 

I had a client who spent $5,000 on a course training her how to start a membership site and they came up with this whole idea, but her target audience were busy moms of toddlers. I’m sorry, but they’re just not going to be able to participate of your entire thing right? That’s why I always say, “Let’s figure out what you want to do, and who you want to serve, and start by building an audience.” The mistake is often thinking the final step, is often thinking, “This is the end result and I need to get there in six months.” The reason we often get there is because we suddenly hate our jobs. It’s so sad that physicians are pushed to a point where many don’t enjoy their jobs and they start looking at side gigs as an exit route. Often, when that happens, it’s too late. So, we have come like that time crunch of like, “I need to leave, but I cannot make money.” 

What I always say is, you need to start a side gig before you want one, before you need one. The way you do that is just building an audience, start creating online, and it can be as easy as tweeting, as just writing small little articles. Don’t go big. Don’t think that, “Oh, I need to create an eBook.” Don’t start with an eBook. You don’t even know what you’re going to talk about. Start with something very small. Tweet. Start tweeting, start seeing how people respond to it, and look at the data, and double down on those things that are working, and suddenly, you’re going to start building a little bit of a following. That’s the other thing, you don’t need a huge following, but you’re going to start building a little bit of a following, a little bit of attraction, you’re going to recognize what you enjoy, and then you can start figuring out, “Okay, what is the next step that I can help this audience with?” 

For instance, as a physician, it is very logical to want to do physician coaching. For instance, okay, what part of physician coaching do you want to do? What kind of doctors are you going to be helping? Are you going to be serving hospitalists, are you going to be serving family physicians, are you going to be serving any kind of medical professional, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, anyone? You have to define those things. The best way to do it is just start creating little pieces of content, and seeing who responds to it, and then go deeper, deeper, and then get to know them. “All right, this group of people has this problem that I can help them solve.” Now you create a product and based on them, then you can say, “Okay, it’s an online course, it’s a coaching service, it’s a community platform, it’s this cohort, whatever it is.” 

My recommendation is always start today. If you’re listening to this and you’re not thinking about starting a side gig, I hope you didn’t get turned off by the introduction when we said side gig, but you should start creating something today, because the other advantage, and this is the most important thing – it gives you options. I’ve written about this before. When I had my job at the stem cell practice, I loved it. I really loved it. I was making money, and I was making a lot more money than my colleagues, and I was very happy about it. But having the side gig gave me options. It allowed me to negotiate better. Because now, I didn’t need the job. I was doing it because I enjoyed it, but I didn’t need it. If it is not convenient for me, I won’t sign a renewal. I’ll look for options that would help.

Jen: You and I are 100% on the same page with that advice. I think that can be such a game changer to have options, and I think that’s really a way to ultimately stay in the game because you know that you’re negotiating from a place of stability and power, and not a place of overwhelm where you feel like you’re trapped. And so, if you’re someone listening and you’re interested, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that basically the place to start is to build your personal brand as a physician. Would that be correct?

Dr. Ernesto: Yes, I have actually veered away a little bit from the term “personal brand,” because now, it seems to be the thing that everyone is pushing for and everyone has their own definition of a personal brand, but it is exactly what that means. It is you’re getting known for something. There’s a person that I follow on LinkedIn and he’s great. His name is Matthew Ray Scott. He has a medical marketing agency and branding. He says, “You need to be the specialist within your specialty,” because you want to be listened to, you want patients to pay attention to what you’re saying, not just heard, but you want them to pay attention. The only way that you achieve that is if you’re able to stand out. And so, how can you stand out? If you go narrower and narrower and narrower, it’s almost impossible right now to stand out. If you’re a plastic surgeon and say, “Oh, I’m a plastic surgeon and I’m just going to create content about plastic surgery” that’s going to be almost impossible. 

But there’s this one guy, for instance, Dr. Caridis, and he creates content based on plastic surgery, which is his specialty, but he creates content for men suffering from gynecomastia. He has his own platform. He probably has a full practice because he has been able to narrow down into one area that he realized, “Hey, there’s people paying attention to this, there’s a need right here, I’ll own it.” Now, he owns that ‘category’ as they say, and that’s his product. Maybe it started as a side gig creating that personal brand and now, it’s also seeping into his practice, because that’s the other thing that I like to say like, we tend to think that a side gig is completely separate, but oftentimes – and I like the definition that Dr. John Jurica does. He calls it ‘clinically adjacent’ businesses. You’re utilizing your clinical expertise to build the side gig, then the side gig is also feeding your clinical practice, because they’re related in a way. That’s a smart thing of doing it. You and I were saying just now, it just opens up all these different options. You start getting invited to be a paid speaker, to write a book, to all these different opportunities. People who are speaking at conferences, they’re not there just because they’re good at what they do. They’re there because they’re able to sell tickets to the event. So, build your platform and then you’re going to have that credibility.

Jen: I think that’s brilliant advice. My friend, John Jurica, if you’re interested in what he has to say, you can also listen to the podcast episode number 142, where he and I talked about physician side gigs as well. He and you both advise that there can be some overlap. I think a lot of physicians think typically, “I’ll go into medical writing or I’ll go into–” you know, there’s a whole host of– expert witness, which could have some good overlap. Medical writing could have some good overlap on your area of expertise, but it does make sense as you say to niche down and find something that you have a specific knowledge on and a specific potential audience, and then test that out, and grow that audience a little bit first.

Dr. Ernesto: The other thing is, none of these decisions are what Nicholas Cole calls ‘marriage decisions’. If you start creating content, you’re that plastic surgeon, you start creating content for the gynecomastia patients. You either don’t enjoy it or see that there’s no traction, you can switch. You can go back and say, “Okay, well, then I’m just going to go back to mommy makeovers or whatever it is that you were doing before.” We’re often obsessed with, “How am I going to switch back, how am I–?” You just do. Nobody’s keeping tabs on you. We fear that somebody’s going to come and call us out and like, “Hey, where are you talking about this?” Nobody’s caring that much about what we put out there. 

Jen: Yes, that is another excellent point because the very idea that you’re going to just put something out and everyone’s going to discover it is something you learn very quickly when you get into the digital space that you can do a lot before anyone is going to notice at all so… [laughs] 

Dr. Ernesto: Nobody remembers your content as well as you remember your content.

Jen: Absolutely. It’s a learning process. And probably, the next question that I have relates to that because it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I think people who have already figured out how to get an audience and how to market products to them, often make it sound very simple. When in fact, it’s not as easy. You say, it’s not rocket science, but it’s also not easy. So, tell me some tips on bridging that gap between getting started and actually having an audience.

Dr. Ernesto: I actually call this, it’s funny that you say, “it’s not rocket science,” because the name of my newsletter is, “It’s not brain surgery”, because literally, it’s not brain surgery, it’s not hard. The problem is our expectations and we don’t have patience. Those are the two things that we need to fight the most. Because Jim Rohn used to say, “It’s all about consistency. You need to show up daily and you need to be consistent about it.” The first couple of times you’re not going to see any results. It’s like, you go to the gym for a week, you’re going to come home, and you’re going to look at yourself in the mirror, and you’re going to see nothing. That’s just how it happens. But you need to be constantly doing that.

Now, the beauty of it is with social media platforms, every single one of them right now. They give you access to your data, to your analytics data, so look at that and don’t dismiss it. Often, we say like, “Well, you know what, the thing is so and so is getting 30,000 views every time they post and I get 14.” Okay, that’s fine because they also started there. But the thing you need to do is, if you’re getting 14 here, and 14 tomorrow, and 14 tomorrow, and then someday, you get 28. You might still say that, “Well, it’s only 28.” No, it’s twice as many as you had the first time. Figure out what it is that you did differently and do more of that. Now, 28 is your baseline, and you’re doing 28 and 28 and 28, and suddenly, you have a post that goes to 120. You’re like, “Oh, wait a second, that’s 500%. More. What did I do differently?” And so, it is very important to pay attention to the data. 

This is something that creators back in the early 2000s and way before that had no idea of evaluating. The problem that we have is, we want to get to the top very fast, especially as physicians, because we’ve been in school for so long that we say, “I want to start this and I don’t have time to learn to climb up. So, I’ll just take the short cut. I just want to get–.” I’m sorry, but when you switch lanes, you have to start from the bottom. That’s why I always say, start before you need it, because now you can be patient. You can afford to start building little by little by little by little. Look at all the doctors who have big platforms. If you look at the statistics, they got to a point where they exploded in followers, they exploded in views. But before that they were growing very, very, very, very slowly just like everybody else. You need to figure out, “Okay, this is my niche, this is my area of expertise, this is what people are responding to, resonating with.” and then you start networking with other people who are in the same part of the journey. 

My two most important pieces of recommendation right there is, one, be consistent, stick to the plan, and two, look at the data and don’t compare your data with somebody else’s. Compare your data from today with your data from last week, with your data from last month. As long as you’re making progress, it’s all good. 

Jen: I really appreciate all of your insights here. It’s wonderful to have this conversation with you.

Dr. Ernesto: You bet Dr. Jen, it’s been amazing and happy to come back anytime.

Jen: Dr. Ernesto Gutierrez, thank you so much for joining me today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. 


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