As someone who’s determined employee salaries, I know that the highest earners are often simply the ones who make the most noise
The taboo around discussing money runs deep: It’s hard to have open conversations about earnings, even with close friends or co-workers, when you’ve always been told it was crass, gauche, or nosy to want to know what people around you were making.
But why should determining your value be a guessing game? In an age where people share the most intimate details of their lives on Instagram Stories, money seems to be one of the final frontiers. I get it: It can be uncomfortable to discover we earn more than our peers — or painful to realize we make much, much less.
But these are precisely the reasons why people should talk about money. I’ve been in the position of setting compensation for a company before, and I know that the highest earners aren’t always the smartest, most experienced, or most dedicated employees. Often, they’re the squeakiest wheels who make the most noise. And they are always the people who know their worth.
Whether you work for a big corporation or independently, here are some ways to know what you should be making — and to demand it effectively.
Do your research
Before you charge into your manager’s office or call up your clients and yell “Show me the money!” à la Jerry Maguire, you need to build your case for what you believe you should be making. You might begin with these resources:
- Check out Salary.com’s comp analyst tool and calculators from PayScale and Glassdoor to determine how you stack up based on your industry, experience, and location.
- Scan local job boards and sites for job descriptions that are similar to the position you hold. This will help you see what other businesses are offering, and what skills are required.
- Join private Facebook groups or Reddit communities related to the industry you’re in. While the salaries you find there may be wildly diverse, these online spaces can be great for candid conversations.
- Connect with peers in your industry. I’ve reached out to friends (and friends of friends) who do what I do, and we’ve compared notes on what we have charged and how to manage pushback from prospective clients. It’s helped me to become more confident in my rates.
- Follow people leading the conversation. Many entrepreneurs have been open about their money journeys, sharing their missteps and insights on their podcasts and blogs. For me, Regina Anaejionu, Tara Gentile, Paul Jarvis, and Ashley Ambirge have all been invaluable resources. If you’re a freelancer, there are also online classes that help you navigate that life from a money perspective, including Creative Class and Ted Leonhardt’s Worth It: Negotiation for Creatives.
Think beyond compensation
I once asked my company for a 30% base increase. I made my case in two parts: First, I presented the number of new clients I closed, the revenue I secured, and the incremental growth percentages for our existing clients. Then I showed how my mentorship and internal educational programs boosted morale, decreased employee churn, and made for an overall happier environment.
I came out of the negotiations satisfied. While my 30% base increase was split over a two-year period, I did manage to negotiate an additional bonus and non-monetary perks. While money is important, it’s not the only thing.
Be creative and consider your entire compensation package to determine what’s negotiable. In lieu of increased compensation, could your company negotiate on benefits? Vacation days? A tiered bonus structure tied to performance? Company-sponsored education and courses? Exposure to a new discipline or team so you can diversify your skill set? Evaluate the resources available in your present job and how you can use them to not only fatten your paycheck, but also to make you better at what you do.
Be generous with your information
I spent the bulk of my 20-year career in a traditional office setting. But five years ago, when I started working for myself as an executive brand strategist, I realized that even in consulting, no one was talking about money: Other professionals I connected with treated their project and hourly rates as veiled, closely held secrets. Finding consultants who were open about their finances was like finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.
This baffled me, because it was happening even with people I wouldn’t consider competitors. It wasn’t as if we were working in the same company or bidding on the same projects. But even if that were the case, we should be acting from a place of abundance instead of scarcity. The more all of us know, the better equipped all of us are to ask for our true worth. Many of my consultant peers work in a vacuum, unsure of how to price and structure their services, and how and when to raise their rates. If we didn’t have collaborative communities like Being Boss and the Creative Class demystifying money conversations and cultivating a climate of unity, we’d risk underpricing our work. We’d also risk viewing our peers as competitors who are digging their grubby hands into our cookie jars.
This is a flawed mindset. When I connect with more junior members of my industry, I openly talk about my rates and how I got to those figures — not to inspire envy, but to show them what’s possible, so they can build their portfolios, increase their client bases, and have the confidence they need to command more for their services. I’ve learned that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Don’t let money conversations remain in the vault. Talk about money and talk about it often. It’s not crass or gauche or nosy — it’s power.