How to earn more money

November 15, 2012

The Survivalist’s advice on beefing up bonuses and super-sizing salaries

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Yo, survivor.

I’m with Cicero on this: a ton of cash is the sinews of survival. And in a world where rent, food, broadband and Sauvignon Blanc ain’t gettin’ any cheaper, getting a boost to your income has to be top of everyone’s list. So, how do you put yourself in the best spot to do it?

First off, it kinda depends where you’re at in the pecking order. If you’re still junior and at a big firm, you don’t have many options. If you’re lucky you’ll get a pay rise with all the other assistants at the regular time of the year (March, May, depends on your firm). As this is a flat-rate – or in some recent years, a freeze – your options are limited.

Bonus of contention

Most firms will have a bonus scheme, so make sure you understand how yours works, as they can be a bit complicated. It’s likely yours will be based primarily on hours billed. Some assistants don’t think this is within their control, but they might just be not asking in the right places for more work.

Walk the floors. Listen out in the cafeteria, or the lifts. If you’re tied to one particular partner, ask them for more work. If they can’t provide it – which might well be the case – ask if they mind you looking for work from other partners. (Point out that it won’t ever affect the work you’re doing for them.) If they agree, go on the hunt.

You are going to have to put some extra hours in, so make sure it’s worth it. In particular, make sure that you’re bonused on billable hours, not just bills paid and delivered, because there you don’t have any control over how much your hours are going to be discounted.

If that’s the case, you need to get the lie of the land. I knew one poor sap who had 450 hours written off one year because he was working for a dodgy dealer abroad who didn’t pay up and the partner was forced to write the whole bill off.

If your bonus can include other activities such as business development, training, assisting with seminars, writing and so on, that’s a dream. Get your finger out and do whatever it takes. Make sure you check things off with your supervisor all the time and don’t let this stuff impact on your billables. And keep an accurate record of exactly what you’ve done, for use come appraisal time.

Small firm, bigger challenge

If you’re at a smaller firm where perhaps pay and bonuses are negotiated separately – and there are plenty of these – then the rules are slightly different. Here, you need to be much tougher. First off, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. (Research reckons 40% of people simply don’t ask for a pay rise.)

But if you’re going to ask, make sure you can justify the increase. There is no earthly reason why your firm should give you a rise just because you want one, so consider how to convince your supervisor. It might be bringing clients in, taking some management or admin work off one of the partners, training or organising marketing events.

Try to look forward. Rather than saying “I’ve done this, reward me”, say “this is what I have done and this is what I intend to do, so reward and incentivise me”.

If you have a formal appraisal, this is usually the time to talk about pay. If you don’t, organise a special meeting. But don’t ambush your supervisor – make sure they know why you want the meeting.

Billing is key. Are you charged out at a high enough rate for what you’re doing? Can you bring in new clients? If not, can you add value to your service or do something different so you could charge existing clients more? Basically, bill more to get more.

Reason, not treason

Make a reasoned case but avoid being petulant or personal. Don’t threaten to leave – ever. If you are turned down, don’t sulk. Simply thank your supervisor for the opportunity and get back to your work and concentrate on being even better than you were before.

Try not to use other firms as a comparison. Every firm is different and operates under different circumstances. And getting whiny about what your mate down the road is earning in the Magic Circle won’t work if the partner you’re talking to is as jealous as you are.

Above all, when you’re talking about pay, the key thing is to stay frosty. A cool head is what you need to get a pay rise. If you make your reasoned case, with evidence and ideas about how you might bill more and still you’re hitting a brick wall – well, then there are plenty of firms out there who’ll be keen to take your call. And your thinking about how you might earn more should set you up nicely for interviews. TS

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