Ask Our Boss: How Do I Build a Personal Brand Without Jeopardising My Day Job?

Alison Rice

In our monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.

This one is interesting for me to reflect on as a manager, because five years ago any employee that was actively building a personal brand or business would have been a red flag for me. And not because I thought it was bad or shady, but because it sent a signal that person might not be around for long. It is hard to justify spending time developing a team member if I'm unsure they are truly in, or just passing through. And trust me when I say you can’t always know in the recruitment process. I’m yet to have someone tell me their 12-month goal is to build an epic personal brand or start their own business!

There’s also a bit of business I.P. wrapped up in it, too, given I’m in women’s lifestyle publishing and our strategy is easily transferable to developing personal accounts. But that’s always going to be the case when you are your target market. The benefits outweigh the risks—a team of women producing content they relate to is what makes MyDomaine Australia so great.

Outside of my perhaps (or perhaps not!) unique circumstances, I think building a personal brand or side business without jeopardising your day job applies to all industries through a time, effort and energy lens.

For example: Will your manager wonder what else you could be doing to grow their business, and if you in fact have capacity to take on more? While there’s a benefit-of-the-doubt assumption that you’d be doing any personal projects outside of work hours, I know many examples of employees who have been more excited to grow their own brand or business, over the one that's paying them a salary. 

Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter—every one of these platforms has changed the way we think about success, talk about success and learn about successful people. My opinion is that as managers, we must adapt and help create new pathways forward that benefit both key talent, and the business in the long run. 

Getting a job is harder because competition is fierce. It is no longer who you know, but what you know and increasingly, what you stand for. I think niche and engaged personal followings can actually be an advantage to employers who see the benefit of accessing a new community to market their business. Employees as business ambassadors—it can be very powerful and a fantastic recruitment tool.

There’s also an important long-term view to factor in here as well, for women specifically. We unfortunately need to self-promote to a) get the top job and b) at equal pay. Beyond that and regardless of gender, there's no shame in building a personal brand because it is today's resume. The first thing I do when a resume lands on my desk is Google the applicant. 

And then for the entrepreneurial, smart and strategic young women have proven that founding a multi-million dollar business is possible in your twenties and thirties (thank you Alyce Tran and Alison Egan). So through that lens, trying to keep your employees and their ambition small will never work. 

Long story short: I’m all for personal brand or non-competitive business building on the side, as long as there's acute self-awareness, transparency and check points. Here’s some tips from me. 

#1: Know your “why” and decide on your influence intersection

If you’re going to spend your down time building a personal brand or business, you need to know your “why”. Why are you doing it and what do you hope to achieve? Julie Masters is the country’s leading influence strategist and she also coined the term influence intersection. This is the intersection of topics that define your personal brand. They should be topics you’re already an expert in or have personal experience with. We can’t be everything to everyone. Julie’s advice is to stop and think: What battle has chosen you? This applies to great business ideas as well—what problem are you hoping to solve, or what market gap will you fill?

#2:Put yourself in your manager’s shoes. Does this conflict with your day job?

I’ve got to have some compassion for us managers here! If you’re building a replica business on the side, that's just not OK. And then when it comes to personal brand building, I’d be keen to rule out any potential negative impacts on my business—like bad press or my employee's comments taken out of context.

#3: Check your contract

A lot of the time, the company’s stance on “doing business outside of the business” is outlined in your contract. Non-compete clauses also protect the business—both its I.P. and clients—after you’ve left. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can steal and get away with it. If the business doesn’t enforce legal action, the universe will eventually call you up on it. If you always operate with integrity and high moral code, you can't go wrong.

#4: Make time with your manager

Once you have the above clear, make time with your manager. Tell them about your side-hustle idea, or the personal brand you’re hoping to build, and why. Be honest and transparent. Hit any conflicts up front and ask them for their advice and feedback. What is the business’ stance and if they do see it as a conflict, is there an opportunity to come to a compromise? You should also use this time to set proactive check-in points. Make it easy for your manager to raise any concerns they might have as things progress. There's no better way to do that than in a regular and dedicated forum.

To learn more about the business of digital branding, shop Ryan Rhoten's book, Career Kred ($15). 

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