When we talk about the blur between our professional persona and our personal persona the topic of our personal brand sits right on that cusp. But, it’s a fine line. Be too dull and corporate, nobody cares about you. Lean in too far with the personality, and you could look like that boring accountant at the party who overcompensates with a loud tie. Or, express an opinion your employer doesn’t align with and we know how that can go.

Accomplished B2B marketer and marketing writer Dennis Shiao shares his experience of balancing his personal brand with that of his employers and what he learned about that blurry line early in his career.

I spent much of 2008 working on virtual events. My clients were technology companies and they used virtual events for lead generation. I gained a wealth of specialized knowledge and wanted to share my experiences with the world. 

I launched a personal blog called “It’s All Virtual” and wrote exclusively about virtual events. Less than a month later, I was hired by a virtual events technology company — the vendor that I used at my prior employer.

This is the story of a personal brand that contended with an employer’s brand. I’ll detail what I learned from it and how my lessons might help you. 

Contention, angst and an uncomfortable situation

When I was hired, my employer wanted me to keep publishing on my personal blog. That blog was even referenced in my employee agreement (e.g., it was a piece of pre-existing intellectual property that I was bringing with me).

You might be able to see the issues looming: I managed a personal blog about virtual events. My new employer is a virtual events company who wants to publish similar content on their blog.

On my personal blog, I was keeping to a schedule of one post per week. While I did write for my company’s blog, I was publishing more content on my personal blog. It’s as if a Gartner analyst covering cloud platforms also had a personal blog covering … cloud platforms.

When I published a 1,500+ word post on my personal blog, people at the company would wonder, “Why isn’t he writing that on the company blog?” It was a messy arrangement and caused a lot of angst on both sides. I didn’t handle things well.

Here’s what I would have done differently.

Have an explicit plan and understanding up front

I had approval to continue managing my personal blog. My attitude was, “We’re good. If any issues arise, I’m sure they’ll let me know.” I should have been more proactive. It would have been better to draw up explicit boundaries and document expectations.

For example, I could let my employer know that I planned to publish one post per week on my personal blog. I could have asked them how often they wanted me to write on the corporate blog. 

Even better, I could have listed the topics planned on my personal blog and asked whether they should be published on the company blog instead. In the end, everything was left unspoken and as time went on, angst began to build.

Documented plans and clear expectations can help offset that angst.

Build your personal brand and employer brand simultaneously

I work on my personal brand all the time. The “It’s All Virtual” blog was an embodiment of that. Back then, I failed to explicitly connect my personal brand with my employer’s brand. 

Yes, people who read my personal blog knew who my employer was. However, I’d write 1,000+ word blog posts without mentioning them by name. I was evangelizing virtual events without promoting my employer’s association with them. I should have tied the two together.

If I could do it over, I’d put my personal blog on pause — or at least cut back on my activity there — and focus on contributing content to my employer’s blog. I’d still get a lift in my personal brand, but now my employer’s brand comes along for the ride.

Getting better as I moved along

After leaving that virtual events job, I did a better job managing the dynamics between personal brand and employer brand. In my new job, I worked on product marketing and content marketing for a B2B software company.

On the one hand, I continued to be active publishing and sharing content about Marketing. On the other hand, I heavily promoted the work I was doing on the job: blog posts, webinars, videos, infographics, SlideShares, etc. 

This benefited my personal and employer brands simultaneously. Industry peers would know that I had a hand in creating these content assets, while prospects and customers gained awareness of new content from the company. 

Unfortunately, my virtual events job was a zero sum game: if my personal brand wins, my employer’s brand loses out. It’s far better when both parties win.

In conclusion:

Work as hard as you can to build your personal brand and let your employer’s brand come along for the ride.

For those of you who are freelancers or solopreneurs: simply build that personal brand. 

Hear more of Dennis’s story

Interested in hearing more? Dennis joined Ian Truscott on the Rockstar CMO Podcast, back in episode #5 where he shared his story and take on virtual events. Listen now.

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