How Employees Can Get Paid What They’re Worth

By Jamie McSloy / April 23, 2018
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How To Get Paid What You’re Worth In A Nutshell

I saw a forum thread the other day. A programmer was saying that he was sick of being underpaid: He considered himself a guy who is worth ten times the amount he was getting paid, and yet had no luck when asking for a pay rise.

He was in full employment and didn’t run his own projects.

Let’s address this.

Employees: I Can’t Help You Get One Over On Your Boss

Aside from delivering papers when I was a kid, I’ve never had an employer. So, take this all with some measure of scepticism if you like. I’m not an expert.

Here’s the thing: You are never going to get paid your “full worth” in the sense I’d understand it as an employee.

So say I figure a sales letter I write is worth $10,000 plus 3% royalties.

It stands to reason that that’s my price, my going rate and if I’m worth that, then someone will pay.

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Now Back To The Regular Programming Schedule…)

Fair enough.

And say the job I do for someone is worth $10,000. I will bill $10,000 and expect to receive it.

I hope you’re still with me.

If you are an employee, you aren’t the one doing this. Your boss is.

So your boss subcontracts you for $10,000 and your boss gets paid $10,000.

Does it stand to reason that you get paid $10,000 for your work?

Well, on the one hand, the value of the work is $10,000, and you’ve done the work.

But understand there is no incentive for your boss if that’s the case. Your boss would be making $0 if you were paid what you were worth.

Or would he?

See, he’d actually be making less because it costs to acquire the work.

Let’s say I charge $10,000 for a project. It might cost me $1,000 to acquire that customer. That might be in ads, taking my time to pitch emails to them or attending networking events.

Either way, when you’re self-employed, you will foot the cost.

Let’s not dwell on that, because it’s easy to just say you can’t get paid the full value for your work if you work for someone else.

It simply can’t happen.

What Are You Worth?

What got me about the guy in the aforementioned forum thread was that he didn’t really understand this, even when questioned.

People asked, “Do you do any of the selling?”

Here’s the thing: If you don’t sell your work, then the value of it in isolation is $0.

Say I made cute little wooden teapots or something. They might be the most beautiful wooden teapots in the world and maybe their value is $2000 each – they’re the Faberge egg of wooden teapots.

But without a sales team, I can’t sell them.

They sit and rot in my garage at a value of $0 to anyone.

This is why when you’re an employee, the sales work is done by someone else. So if you’re  a programmer, you might build an app worth millions, but it’s the other guys who sell it. They are useless without you but you’re also useless without them.

The only way to know your worth and value is to put both to the test indepently.

Run Your Own Projects

If you are a developer, there’s nothing stopping you from putting together a website, online app or whatever. You can sell it too. Get a copywriting book or something, and put it out there.

This is the only way to prove you are valuable to an employer definitively.

If you’ve created an app that makes you a monthly profit of $5,000 as a SaaS, then you can demonstrate that to an employer. Also, you have a lot more leverage because you need the money less.

This is how to demonstrate your value.

Now let’s talk about expanding your value.

Do Some Experiments, Learn Some Skills

Learn some skills, expand your skill set and do some experiments outside your field.

This is the harsh truth of the matter: If you are a superstar programmer, then you are still a programmer.

There’s a shelf on your earning potential if you are pigeonholed. If the going rate for a programmer in your city is $5k a month, then maybe you can prove you’re worth $70k or $80k per year instead of $50k.

But ultimately, there’s probably another superstar programmer who can undercut you or the wage you’re asking will mean additional responsibilities (like management) that you don’t necessarily have.

So what do you do?

You get yourself out of the pigeonhole.

A programmer ceiling is, say, $60k. But a programmer with project management skills is a rung up. Throw in tech sales, legal acumen or financial modelling skills (for example) and you’re something else entirely.

Throw in the additional projects that you were doing because you read the section above, and suddenly you’re more like an evil genius consultant than you are a programmer.

This is how to exponentially increase your value and leverage.