In a perfect world, we would all be paid a fair and representative salary for our skills, experience, and level of responsibility. Of course, the world is not perfect and many people go to work feeling underappreciated and under-rewarded. If this sounds like you it's important to understand that you can control the trajectory of your career if you have the right mindset. If this sounds like one of those 'Make Your First Million' books, don't worry; it's not sensationalism, just solid advice from someone who regularly has to barter for a fair wage. As a freelancer, getting paid what I'm worth is not only difficult, it's overwhelmingly important to being able to pay my bills. Here's what I've learned.
Timing Is Everything
When you're a freelancer the time to negotiate price is a finicky thing; there's a balance between building trust and wasting time. Discussing the details of the job so you can give a realistic quote, and getting dragged into an endless conversation of 'what about x'. Thankfully, for those in regular 9 to 5's it's a little less complicated... but there's still a balance to keep in mind. The best possible time to discuss a raise would be at your yearly performance review, assuming this is something that your employer subscribes to.
If not you need to pick your time carefully. Remember that your manager is only human; if you spring it on them when they're stressed, or drop it on them at the last minute you're probably not going to get the answer you want. Likewise, if you ask them to think it over, they'll probably get swamped with work and forget.
Instead, you need to pick your time carefully, formalise the discussion, and prepare as if you're giving a presentation. Prepare for this meeting like you're preparing for a battle, and make sure you're ready to go before you ever ask your boss to talk about your salary.
Your Battle Strategy
The first thing you're going to need to do is find your official job description. You can either ask your manager for it or check online to see if your company has any jobs in your area advertised. Secondly, get an idea of how performance is assessed by your employer; ask your manager if they have performance criteria or checklists you can consult. Take time to review both documents and make a note of how you meet the required criteria as well as your most notable achievements. You should also make a note of any extra responsibilities you have taken on.
If you are not consistently meeting the criteria, it's time to ask for feedback. Find out what your boss thinks you could do better and work on it. Ask for feedback, communicate your wins, and be proactive.
Once you have this under control, go online and look at jobs similar to yours, in particular, look at the salary or hourly wage that they offer. If these roles offer more money take note of the average. Even if your salary is in line with these, you can still make a case for getting a raise, but you will need to prove that you're better at your job than the average person.
Gather all your evidence together and get ready for the final step.
Approach whoever makes decisions about salary, or go as high as possible in the chain of management as is feasible, and ask to have a meeting which includes your manager. When you go to the meeting make sure you are well-presented but don't turn up looking drastically different than you usually do. More than anything else, practice with your friends and family before the meeting. You need to be confident in what you say - and you must have an idea of what kind of a raise you want before you go in. Be realistic (but start a little high to allow for negotiation).
Be upfront and don't beat around the bush, but be polite. Persuade rather than demand. What do I mean? Don't open with -
"I want a raise."
Instead start with -
"I want to discuss my salary/wage."
Once the dialogue is open make it clear that you feel that you deserve a raise and present your evidence. Make sure that you highlight any academic qualifications, your experience, all of your key achievements, and then finish with referring to the job description and performance criteria that you asked for.
At this point you should be on good footing, assuming you did your research and you were honest with yourself. Be prepared for some questions and some hesitation; remain polite but firm. If you are unsuccessful in convincing whoever you are meeting with, ask them what they feel you need to be doing better. Take note of what they say and ask if you can meet again in 6 months to discuss this further.
This is a great way to set yourself up for future success, by the way. By bringing yourself to the attention of higher management in this way you will highlight yourself as a driven and proactive person, and if you take rejection well they will also see that you are mature and reasonable. So, even if your first attempt fails this is a conversation worth having.
If you're successful, however, you will probably be asked what kind of raise you had in mind. Be realistic and straightforward; if you're thinking 5%, say 4% - 6% and ask what your manager thinks of that. They may ask you to justify this.
This is where that extra research pays off; if your role is lower than the average for people in your field state that this would bring you in line with the industry standard for your role and experience, then quote the job descriptions you saw. If you are already in line with the average wage for someone in your job you should instead talk about what makes you exceptionally valuable to the company. Expect them to haggle, it's not disrespect they're just doing what business people do.
If you find that you are faced with constant rejection despite asking for feedback and following through, it may be time to look for a new employer.