There’s an old saying in business that instructs, “You don’t get paid what you deserve. You get paid what you negotiate.”
I believe that wholeheartedly.
Over the years, I’ve learned that no matter how hard you work, working hard has little correlation to how much you earn — or more importantly, what others around you believe you’re worth.
Earning potential is related to one thing and one thing only:
The value of what it is you do.
Let me give you a few business examples:
- What is the value of someone who can scrub toilets?
- What is the value of someone who can neatly organize an office?
- What is the value of someone who can get people to sign up for your service?
- What is the value of someone who can provide assistance in a medical emergency?
In society, we place dollar amounts on everyday tasks, and then offer payment to one another based on who can achieve the desired outcome — related back, of course, to supply and demand. Lots of people can scrub toilets. Not many people can perform emergency surgery.
So, what does this mean for your own earning potential? How do you know if you’re being paid too little — and more importantly, how can you increase your value to the point where you are earning more than is considered “normal” for your responsibilities?
1. Do your research and learn what is most valuable about your role.
Every industry has fairly established roles, and every role has its own list of responsibilities.
If you want to earn more for yourself, do your homework and learn what it is about your role in particular that is valuable — and then look for all the different parties that are willing to pay for that role, and in what context.
Let me give you an example.
I studied creative writing in college. Do you know how many people told me studying creative writing would fast-track me to a minimum wage job? Not very many people make a decent living writing.
So, I did my homework. I asked myself, “Who needs a good writer? What would my value potentially be to them?”
Turns out, CEOs with powerful messages often struggle to tackle a blank page.
I’ve built a company off my ability to write and tell personal stories. But that wouldn’t have happened, had I not done my homework.
2. Give up short-term raises for long-term jackpots.
For four years, I didn’t make a cent off my writing.
I did everything for free.
If someone well-known needed a writer, I jumped at the opportunity.
If a startup needed a copywriter, I took on the challenge.
I wrote every day on Quora for free. I wrote guest blogs for free.
And then once I had proven myself and my abilities, once I had 50,000 followers, once I had thousands of people on my email list, once I had been republished in every major publication on the Internet, it all happened on its own.
This is the biggest piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to increase their earning potential.
Forget the small raises. Forget the, “Hey so I’m going to need you to pay me for the extra hour I spent on this project.”
Forget it all. Instead of asking for that hour paid, ask for an introduction to someone else. Ladder up your success to the next project, and the next project. Work with bigger and bigger people, for free. Master for craft. And before you know it, you will be at the top of the pyramid.
3. Don’t just tell people why they should pay you more. Show them.
I am a huge advocate for personal branding. And what I mean when I say personal branding is representing yourself on the Internet in a way that speaks volumes about who you are and what you do.
If you Google my name, my website is the number one search result.
The second search result is my About page.
In fact, the entire first three pages on Google, I own — with my website, my columns, podcast features, and my social media accounts.
My social headers, I had designed. My photos, I update regularly.
I write a new article somewhere, every single day.
All of these things make it very, very easy for someone to look me up, sit back, and think, “Hmmm, I should work with this guy.”
I get about 20 inbound leads per day via email, solely because of my personal brand.
No ads. No PR. Nothing else.
Which is why I balk at the people who talk and talk and talk about how great they are, meanwhile they’re practically invisible on the Internet. Everything they do is outdated. They don’t share any content that proves they walk the walk. From all the way over here, in front of my laptop, how am I supposed to know they’re someone worth working with?
Stop telling. Start showing.
And I don’t just mean entrepreneurs. If you are an employee of a company, you will get paid more if you have a strong personal brand.
4. “You can’t rationalize with the customer.”
This is something I heard a mentor of mine say over and over again, and it continues to play in my head constantly.
The moment you start trying to justify what it is you do and the value you provide by focusing on all the nitty-gritty things, you’ve lost.
Sure, you might win their business in the end, but it’s not the win you’re going to want.
Rationalizing with people only devalues what it is you do.
You have to show them the vision. You have to get them to see emotional impact.
This is what people do when I tell them what I charge as a writer. They say, “That’s absurd, I could hire a copywriter for $25 an hour on Craigslist. I pay someone five cents per word.”
Yes. You absolutely could.
And what you would get back is a bunch of words on a page, fulfilling your rationalized expectation.
What you won’t get is the conviction, the voice, the tone you want representing you and everything you do. What you won’t get is someone emailing you after saying, “I was extremely impressed with the piece you just published today.”
Rationalizing with the customer would be, in this example, focusing on how much they are paying per word or per piece.
I don’t rationalize. I show them the real value I am providing, which always focuses on a desired outcome.
It’s amazing to me how many people complain about their current situation, but never ask for a different result.
It’s a very, very rare thing for an employer or a client to wake up one morning, call you up (or bring you into their office), sit you down and say, “You know what, I’dm going to pay you more.”
It just doesn’t happen that way.
Like I said at the start of this article: people don’t earn what they deserve, they earn what they negotiate.
If you feel you deserve to be paid more, in whatever context you are working in, it’s your responsibility to ask. And by the way, you can also ask for more PTO, too.
You have to bring it up with your employer. You have to bring it to the attention of your client.
And most importantly, you have to be prepared for them to say, “No,” and to then explain what value you provide that warrants an increase in your earnings.