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5 Simple Strategies to Double Your Salary

By Andrew McDermott

Hot air balloon on the water

She’s a failure, “the most overpaid CEO in history.”

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, failed to turn things around for the struggling tech company. She went on a shopping spree, spending $2 billion dollars buying more than 50 startups, none of which panned out.

What’s worse, she’s about to be rewarded for her failure. According to Fortune, she’s about to receive a $123 million dollar payday, for failing at her job.

Developers Are Collectively Viewed as Overpriced

Just like Mayer, developers are viewed as overpaid, that they’re simply not worth the money. The question is asked on Q&A sites. Posted on forums and message boards. Stated as fact by career sites.

But you know the truth.

You work incredibly hard for the money you’re paid. You’re worth every penny. But the small amount of money you receive for the large amount of work you do isn’t always a fair trade.

For many developers it just isn’t enough.

What if you could get more? What if you could dramatically increase the amount of money you’re making now? Not only is it possible, it’s inevitable… if you follow the right steps.

The strategies you’re about to learn work incredibly well but they require hard work. If you’re looking for an easy road, turn back now. Only all-star developers with grit and determination can do this. I say that because this will be one of the hardest moves you make in your career.

Most Developers Run from a Salary Increase Like This

That sounds insane, doesn’t it? Who would run from a salary increase like this? It’s obvious. The developers who don’t want to try.

These are the developers with an external locus of control. The belief that their career is shaped primarily by factors outside their control.

False beliefs centered around concepts like…

  • Scarcity. “There aren’t enough positions or promotions available for everyone. Someone’s going to get the promotion and let’s face it, it probably won’t be me.”
  • Affordability. “There would be more opportunity — if our company could afford it. There isn’t enough room in the budget for me to get a pay raise.”
  • Limitations. “I’m not management material. I don’t have charisma and I’m not great at leading people. I don’t want to be responsible for more people, projects, departments, etc.”
  • Perception. “You can’t get a raise or a promotion if you’re not being groomed. If you’re not one of management’s pets, good luck getting anything beyond a cost of living raise.”

See what I mean? These beliefs flow from an external locus of control. These developers aren’t in control of their career, their career happens to them. They won’t get what they want out of life unless they take control.

These Factors Really Are Out of Your Control

Here’s a test. What if every single one of the objections I laid out just now were true? Would that mean that you’re out of luck? That you should kiss a meaningful pay raise goodbye?

Absolutely not.

When you’re exceptional, getting a raise doesn’t depend on any of those outside factors, it depends on you. That’s the problem, isn’t it? It exposes a question many developers can’t answer.

Why should my boss give me a raise?

I want him to. I need him to. I want him to pay attention, to notice my hard work and contributions to this company. But that’s not his job, it’s mine.

Here’s the problem.

It’s actually a trick question. Inexperienced developers believe employers are looking for an answer that’s focused on them. They use descriptors like “I’m a hard/talented worker” or “I’m a good listener” and “I’m helpful.”

Your Boss Probably Doesn’t Care about You

You’re a hard worker — loyal, trustworthy, talented. You listen well and you’re focused on doing a great job. Your boss doesn’t care about any of that. Why?

Because those things are the starting point. You’re supposed to work hard. You’re supposed to be a decent human being. In fact there’s only one thing that creates raises and delivers job promotions.

Results.

When It Comes to Results, There Are Two Kinds

You need both to dramatically increase your salary, create the promotion you want and become an all-star.

  1. Conventional results. Being great at your job, going above and beyond and performing well in general. If you’re a JavaScript developer, your code is pristine, you’re helpful, productive, etc.
  2. Transformative results. These are results that make things better for your company, the industry or customers as a whole. It can be as simple as shared knowledge or as detailed as software.

Here’s why these results matter. Conventional results build trust. It’s easy for your boss to take a risk on you, to spend more on you when they trust you.

  • That trust manifests itself in several significant ways. It creates credibility at your job. Trust builds a reputation — creating safety. If you make an outlandish claim, that you can do something no one else has been able to do before, the trust you’ve accumulated is used as currency.
  • Transformative results are outlandish by nature. These kind of results are frightening, risky and intense. They seem impossible until they’re achieved. But once they’re achieved they create power, authority and leverage.

Here’s what these results look like..

Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, had a problem. He was stuck. He wanted to take his business in a new direction but he didn’t know how to code.

He knew his way around as a designer but that wouldn’t be enough to create what he wanted. He tried learning PHP on his own but didn’t feel he got the traction he needed. So he asked for help on his blog…

… Which is how he met David Heinemeier Hanson. David responded, helping Jason through his problem. They began working together with David doing his best to build trust and deliver conventional results. They would eventually work on the first version of Basecamp together, with David writing all of the code.

Here’s where the transformational results came in. David extracted Ruby on Rails from his work on Basecamp, released it as open source in 2004 and shared commit rights in 2005. Ruby on Rails has since been used by heavy hitters like Shopify, Airbnb, Twitch, Hulu and SoundCloud.

Ruby on Rails helped cement Basecamp as a market leader; as of January 2016, more than 1.2 million websites run on Ruby on Rails. It’s indirectly enabled them to attract attention and investment from Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.

Your boss wants both conventional and transformative results. But they’re not interested in transformative change until they trust you to achieve the conventional. Transformative results are often risky; the trust you’ve accumulated acts as a buffer, giving them what they need to take a chance on you.

That opportunity is how you’ll double your salary. But how do you go about getting a raise? And when should you ask?

Step 1: Find the Headaches and Roadblocks in Your Way

Headaches and roadblocks are inevitable. So it’s a good idea to flush them out ahead of time before they become a problem. When they’re ignored these problems have the potential to do a lot of damage.

  • A restrictive employment agreement. Some agreements state employers own all software you develop. That’s a legal disaster waiting to happen. Employers, for the most part, shouldn’t have control over their developers’ downtime.
  • You’re not seen as an A player. Maybe you’re an all-star, maybe you’re not. If you’re not, it’s time to become one. If you are, you need to be perceived as one.
  • Your boss makes a play for control. Success factors like fame, power, money and prestige bring nasty things out of people. Create something amazing and your boss may want to take credit or control of your hard work. You’ll need to know how you’ll handle it when it comes.

These aren’t the only roadblocks you’ll have to deal with but they are three of the biggest. Deal with them and you’re ready for…

Step 2: Find the Best Problems to Solve

You need a list of big problems to solve. These problems can be specific to your company, an industry-wide problem or an issue that only affects customers. You need the problem to accomplish two things:

  1. Be beneficial to your employer. The best problems, when solved, bring fame, money, opportunity or prestige to your employer. Give your employer all five and you become legendary.
  2. Be significant. Choose a problem that has the potential to make a significant impact. It’s okay if the problem is focused on your company, your industry or customers. It’s even okay if it has mainstream appeal. But it needs to be enough of a problem that others will notice the solution.

“Just one problem, Andrew. I’m not sure where I should start.”

Start by asking the right people about their problems. Okay, who are the right people?

  1. Co-workers. This can be anyone in your company, other developers, marketers, salespeople, managers, etc. But it can also be your peers. People you’ve met in the past, ex co-workers, or those you’ve connected with. Ask anyone and everyone about the difficult parts of their job. But be cool about it. More “let me take you to lunch” and less badgering.
  2. Customers. If your boss is fairly trusting, ask for permission to interview customers. What if your manager isn’t so trusting? Find people who aren’t customers and ask for an interview. Call them at work, take them out to lunch. Five to ten minutes is all you need; get a list of their biggest problems.
  3. Influencers. Create a list of influencers for each problem, but don’t contact them just yet. Influencers have an audience filled with people who have the problem you’re aiming to solve.

What kind of questions do I ask in the interview?

  1. What’s the biggest problem in your work day?
  2. Why is it a problem for you?
  3. Who else is it a problem for?
  4. What are the consequences of ignoring the problem?
  5. If you wanted to, how would you solve this problem?
  6. What about this problem scares you the most?

See where I’m going with this?

Awesome.

Don’t forget to customize these questions for co-workers, customers and influencers.

Step 3: Create a Solution to Solve the Problems

Take some time to think about the problems on your list. Which problem, if solved, will have the biggest impact at work? Which problem can you solve? How would you solve them? What would you do to make things better for others?

Write down a rough outline of your ideas, but don’t build anything yet. Take your rough outline to the people you interviewed and ask for feedback. Reach out to those who responded, as well as those who didn’t respond to your interview request. Ask them what they think.

Save their feedback.

Reach out to your list of influencers. Focus your attention on relevant influencers. Keep everything above board, avoid spamming at all costs.

Save your influencer’s feedback.

Give yourself 24 hours. Walk away. Then, when you’ve had some time, analyze your feedback. Look for trends. Are people saying the same things? Look for conflicts. Do your co-workers agree or disagree with influencers? Why?

Make decisions based on your feedback. Your solution should meet four specific criteria.

  1. It gives you leverage. With leverage, your solution can serve five or 50,000 people without you being involved directly. Writing a book, making a video, creating an app are all forms of leverage.
  2. Attracts an audience. Building an audience gives you additional leverage and power. Walking into a meeting with an email list of 50,000 people, 100,000 Facebook fans, or access to 2.4 million people via LinkedIn gives you an incredible amount of leverage.
  3. You retain control. Remember that part where I mentioned your employer may want to take credit for or control of your hard work? Now’s the time to protect yourself. Make sure agreements are in line and your solution isn’t developed using company resources or assets. Keep things separate as much as possible.
  4. The solution is easy to use. As developers, we have this annoying habit. We make things complicated. The solution, if you want people to use it, should be easy. The harder or more complicated your solution is the less people will use it.
  5. Is safe to use. Make sure your solution is legal. Don’t build an app that breaks the law or violates another company’s terms of use. Don’t expose your boss to a legal problem.

If you think your boss will be open to your plan, take some time to prime things a bit. Be vague as the final outcome may change. On the other hand, if you know your boss is not interested, keep the necessary details to yourself. Just make sure you’re following the rules.

Looking for examples? Here’s how others have done it.

  • Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz realized search engine marketers had a problem. They needed to track updates to Google’s search algorithms. His solution? He developed MozCast, a micro-site that shows updates and turbulence in Google’s algorithm.
  • Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s Webspam team. He wrote the first version of SafeSearch, Google’s family filter. He focused huge amounts of time and attention on increasing and improving search engine literacy. He wrote blog posts, created videos, gave talks to thousands in an effort to help publishers create quality content. He became a minor celebrity, with his fans becoming known as “Cuttlets”.
  • Matt Mullenweg forked b2 and created WordPress. CNET saw the effect WordPress was having, deciding to hire Matt to work on WordPress for them. Transformative change drew people and opportunities to Matt automatically, giving him the time and resources he needed to continue doing what he loved — work on WordPress.
  • Jessica Hische is a freelance lettering artist and author. She’s known for the advice she shares on her blog and the daily drop cap. She decided to tackle the spec work problem with her hilarious “Should I Work for Free?” flow chart. Her chart struck a nerve, being shared by heavy hitters like Fast Company, Lifehacker, Seth Godin, and AdWeek.

Step 4: Tell Everyone What You’ve Done

It’s done. You’ve created a solution to the big problems on your list. It’s time for the big reveal. This is the step most developers neglect. They create something amazing, then they go out of their way to avoid promoting it — which is a complete disaster.

In the beginning, no one cares.

In the beginning, most people won’t care about what you can do. They won’t care about your accomplishments, your unbelievable work ethic, your depth of knowledge.

You’ll have to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question to build an audience.

Here’s how you do it.

  1. Share the solution. Contact all of the people — customers, co-workers, influencers — who shared their feedback or helped you in any way. Make the conversation about them. Show them how their advice helped you, made a difference, saved you from disaster, etc. Be genuine, make the conversation about them. Express your gratitude.
  2. Reach out to rejecters. All of the co-workers, customers or influencers who ignored you or passed on your offer for help. Show them the solution and thank them for their time. If they’re open to the idea, be generous. Ask them about ideas for future improvements or upgrades.
  3. Make supporters the hero. Praise your supporters publicly. If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, praise them publicly (be sure to tag them). Share their wisdom and the things you’ve learned with your email list. Talk about them in LinkedIn groups. Lift them up whenever you have an opportunity to do so.
  4. Share the story over and over and over again. There will always be people who haven’t heard the story. People who are unfamiliar with the Transformative results you’ve achieved. Share your struggles, the process, your success. Continue to be grateful and kind.
  5. Nurture new relationships. If you’ve gone about this the right way, you should have a list of supporters, including the 10 – 50 influencers you’ve connected with. Keep the relationship alive by continuing to serve. Learn about your supporters, make time for them, honor them with your work.
  6. Become a connector. If you’ve taken the time to build relationships with everyone you’ll begin to see holes, areas of need where your supporters can help each other. Ask permission, then if it’s encouraged, provide an introduction.

Work hard and those around you will notice. Gain traction in your industry and you have your boss’s attention.

Keep track of every good thing that comes about as a result of this. Receive coverage on Fast Company? Add it to the list. Received fan mail via email, LinkedIn or Twitter? Save it.

Take screenshots of everything. Collect evidence to catalog the good things you’ve done. Save everything you’ve done, even if it feels insignificant, unrelated or pointless. This way, you’re ready for the moment when opportunity presents itself.

Step 5: Share the Result, Ask for What You Want

Schedule a meeting with your boss. Make this meeting about them. Frame the problem in a way that gives them what they want.

  • Do they want more customers? Show them how your solution does that.
  • Are they looking to increase market share? Show them how the results you’ve achieved can help them accomplish that.
  • Are they looking for more fame and prestige? Show them what others have said about you/them. Connect that fame to their efforts and hard work.
  • Do they need more sales? Show them how your solution delivers more of the right customers — the kind who spend more money.

Then segue into your pitch kinda, sorta like this…

You: I can get more of these results for you. Would that be something you’re interested in?

Boss: Absolutely. What you’ve been able to accomplish is pretty incredible.

You: Okay, here’s what I’ll need to make that happen for you. [what you want] I’m pretty sure I can get results within [timeframe] based on how things have gone so far. How does that sound?

Boss: I think I can get the board to approve this if you have some evidence to back up your claims.

You: Yeah, I’ve got some of it here.

The details of your situation are unique, obviously. But the outcome is achievable, if you do the work.

Unless Your Boss Rejects Your Hard Work and Says No

What if you spend a huge amount of time on this and your boss laughs in your face? Or maybe they are interested but they can’t afford to double your salary. That’s a pretty unpleasant, but very real risk you face.

Remember your supporters? The co-workers, influencers and customers you asked for help? Reach out to them.

You have control over your work so you have the ability to take this in any direction you choose. You can approach other businesses (via co-workers), setting up the same kind of meeting you did with your boss.

You can feel them out to see if they’d be open to your pitch. If they are, you can create a deal with them on a freelance basis. You can jump ship and work for them instead.

You can approach each business or influencer and negotiate a deal with them. You provide the benefits you’ve outlined in the meeting, in exchange for money. The possibilities are endless.

All-star Developers Can’t Be Overpriced

Marissa Mayer failed because she didn’t deliver results. But that doesn’t have to be your story. You work incredibly hard for your salary. If you’re good at your job, you’re worth every penny. As developers, the amount we receive isn’t always a fair trade.

You can increase the amount of money you make. Create conventional and transformative change if you want to be seen as the all-star you are. Focus your grit and determination into something that will change the world, one person at a time.

Most developers run from opportunities like these. You don’t have to be one of them. Become the all-star you were made to be and the “overpaid developer” accusation fades away.

  • Todd Zmijewski

    I don’t think anything you mentioned will double a salary. It might facilitate small, incremental bumps over a long period time but not double. The most effective way to get “large scale” increases in compensation is to move onto a new job. To that end I would counter with saying that the best way to double your salary is not to stay in one place to long. Recognize opportunity and don’t be afraid to make jumps. The reality of the matter is most people will never make more than 15% or so percent more at the same position. Regardless of what you do unless you get an out right promotion and begin to climb the ladder.

    • http://hooktowin.com/ Andrew McDermott

      Howdy Todd! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here’s an example to try to convey what I’m getting at.

      1. My boss wants sales leads.
      2. I make a tool that brings in thousands of leads per mo.
      3. My boss makes tons of money from my work but I control the tool.
      4. He doubles my salary (as a result of my work) to keep me (and the tool).

      Do I need my boss? Nope.

      But he needs me. I’ve created my own raise. There are hundreds of examples online of people doing something like this.

      Jumping from job to job, works — until you hit the market ceiling. If others believe you’re average, the job market won’t pay more than the market ceiling allows. It doesn’t give you the same level of leverage, control, influence or opportunities though (not even close).

      The people who are successful with this strategy usually make the jump from employee to entrepreneur. They make the right Transformative change and suddenly they realize they don’t need their employer anymore. They usually go out on their own after that.

    • http://hooktowin.com/ Andrew McDermott

      Howdy Todd! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here’s an example to try to convey what I’m getting at.

      1. My boss wants sales leads.
      2. I make a tool that brings in thousands of leads.
      3. My boss makes tons of money from my work but I control the tool.
      4.He doubles my salary (as a result of my work) to keep me (and the tool).

      Do I need my boss? Nope.

      I’ve created my own raise. There are hundreds of examples online of people doing just that.

      Jumping from job to job, works — until you hit the market ceiling. If others believe you’re average the job market won’t pay more than the ceiling allows. You don’t have the leverage, opportunities or access either.

      The people who are successful with this strategy usually make the jump from employee to entrepreneur. They make the right Transformative change and suddenly they realize they don’t need their employer anymore.

  • OphelieLechat

    This strategy has worked every single time for me — not necessarily in doubling salary, but in making my work visible, perhaps indispensable, and better valued.

    I’d love to read a deeper cut into employer agreements. With the blurry line between work hours and personal time at many software companies, it’s both reasonable for companies to retain control over work product, and for developers to retain the IP of projects that are completely personal. It’s tricky when “work hours” aren’t 9-to-5 and location-bound.

    • http://hooktowin.com/ Andrew McDermott

      Ophelie that’s great to hear. Early in my career I realized my employers would have been willing to pay more if I had asked. I made Transformative changes (accidentally at the time) but because I felt it was expected I never asked for more. Most of the employees I’ve seen make the same mistake. Mentors showed me how to increase my salary incrementally. They also showed me the ins and outs of negotiation.

      I agree, the situation with employer agreements is tricky to navigate. I’ll add this to the writing queue.

      • OphelieLechat

        In my experience very few people make true transformative changes in their workplace, and the ones that do feel as you did, that it’s just what’s expected. This gives me a lot to think about!

        • http://hooktowin.com/ Andrew McDermott

          I agree. Most people seem to be content with conventional results. My breakthrough came when a mentor offered me 3x my current salary to work with him (which felt bizarre and undeserved). I bumbled my way through that as a result of impostor syndrome.

  • TradeMySite

    hello Andrew
    very useful article it really help me to how can a employee can double his salary..

    • http://hooktowin.com/ Andrew McDermott

      Thanks! Glad I could help.

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