The 10 timeless principles to increase your income
This article, which was written in partnership with DBS Education Marketplace, first appeared on The Woke Salaryman.
By now, you’ve seen the memes. They go something like this:
To make a super comfortable income at 30, you need to:
- Have cold showers in the morning at 4am
- Read about investments and asset classes
- Learn to manage upwards
- Have multimillionaire parents who own the company
We can relate and appreciate people taking pot-shots at extremely privileged folks pretending to be self-made.
That said, it’s also important to acknowledge that not all high-income earners are spoilt kids running a family business.
Here’s a humbling truth: There are indeed people earning way above the median salary of $4,680 in their 20s or 30s. It is not unheard of for people to earn $10,000-$15,000 by the time they’re 30.
With that said, here are some starting points for you to look at if you want to increase your income, no matter what role you’re in (there is some overlap in some of them.)
1. Work more or work harder
The lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to increasing your take-home salary is to work longer hours. It is the most straightforward way. It is also our least favourite way.
In theory, it makes sense. If you earn $40 an hour, you’ll earn more if you work 200 hours ($8,000), as opposed to 100 hours ($4,000) a month.
In the real world, this will not apply to many salaried employees who are remunerated on a monthly basis.
This is the first and most important lesson: Hard work alone is often not enough to increase your income. It certainly helps, but it hardly guarantees it.
Understanding this will allow you to put your efforts to better use elsewhere.
2. Switch to a more lucrative industry
Some industries will just earn more than others.
This is the uncomfortable truth. How much you are paid is a combination of:
- Supply and demand
- Who’s paying you
- What’s your impact
What this means is that our career choices will directly affect our income. It is highly unlikely for an entry-level accountant to be paid $10,000 a month. But it is more likely for a junior software engineer.
This has nothing to do with whether people work hard or not. Or who is morally superior. Instead, it all boils down to how much people are willing to pay for your skills.
That said, switching industries may mean giving up your passion, work-life balance, benefits, purpose, and culture, or investing time to learn a new skill. You may also the lack natural aptitude needed to do the job.
For these reasons, we don’t recommend blindly jumping on the bandwagon of ‘what’s hot’ solely with money as the only consideration.
PS: If you’re not sure where to start or looking to learn new skills, check out DBS Education Marketplace, where there are lots of courses on in-demand skills like finance, analytics, management, digital skills and more.
3. Cut out the middleman
When you work for a company, a boss earns a mark-up on your labour, aka profit margin.
For example, you earn $4,000, and your boss charges the client $10,000. They take $4,000.
Effectively, they are the middleman between you and the people willing to pay for your skills.
If you could do the middleman’s job, you could be pocketing that extra $4,000.
That said, it would be disingenuous to pretend that middlemen don’t provide any value. It takes money, time, skills, and networks needed to find business, as well as the labour needed to work on projects.
The simplest way to cut out the middleman? Try being a freelancer or becoming self-employed.
4. Take on risk and forgo stability
When you work at a company as an employee, you risk no capital. Whether or not the company makes money or not, you’ll receive a paycheck every month. It’s a stable life.
If you’re a business owner, you take on quite a large amount of risk. If the company doesn’t make money, you still need to pay rent, salaries, bills and whatnot.
However, in a scenario where the company does make money, the business owner will get a larger share of the profits. The employee will still get their regular salary.
From this example, you’ll see that taking on more risk can mean potentially more money.
One classic example: Many commissioned-based sales jobs can pay handsomely if you do well at them; the sky’s the limit.
The downside? It will punish you for not having results.
5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
Most people (including yourself) put their self-interests first. Same when it comes to salary.
You’ll be trying to get the most salary. Your employer will be trying to pay you what they can afford. Some clients will try to pay you as little as possible.
Without negotiation, you’re more likely to get a deal that leans towards favouring the other party.
How do you negotiate better? Here are some starting points:
- Understanding what you can charge for your skills based on the market rate (go for interviews often just to get an assessment)
- Knowing how to be assertive, and fight for what you are worth
- Leaving the conversation open for future negotiations
- Building up the ability to walk away from bad deals
- Recognise when you have negotiating power, and when you don’t
That being said, even the best negotiators are limited by whether they can back their talk up. This brings us to…
6. Become irreplaceable
Do work that others can’t do. The lower the barrier of entry, the lower the salary. Jobs that require special knowledge, skill and/or talent will generally pay more.
This is why handing out leaflets pays less than flying a commercial airliner. Or why doing basic data entry works pays less than successfully structuring a legal merger and acquisition deal.
Do work that others are unwilling to do. If you have difficulty acquiring the above, then taking on conventionally unpleasant or riskier jobs is an alternative.
- F&B staff get paid more to work on Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
- Many advertising agencies also charge a rush fee when clients need things delivered on short notice.
- In the military, there are things such as ‘risk’ or ‘hazard’ pay for people in more dangerous roles.
None of these things are pleasant. But they will help you earn more money.
7. Lead people and learn how to organise labour
Elon Musk allegedly said: “You get paid in direct proportion to the difficulty of problems you solve.”
Well, the more people you handle – and are responsible for – the bigger the problems you can solve.
Of course, this requires you to hone your management and leadership skills – which don’t always come naturally.
Because of this, there are plenty of people with the title of ‘manager’ who have little or no leadership ability, and stagnate at the lowest levels of corporate because of this. (Further reading: The Peter Principle)
The topic of leadership is something that we can’t cover in one paragraph, or even one article. However, we think developing the following skills/traits is a great starting point for anyone who wants to be a leader.
- Communication and Empathy (more on this in the next point)
- Big picture thinking
8. Write and speak well
If a tree falls in the forest – and there’s no one else to hear it – does it make a sound?
Similarly, if you have a great idea or execution – and you can’t express it – can you honestly expect people to read your mind?
In Singapore, where people tend to be shyer and reserved when it comes to speaking out at the workplace, being the outspoken and confident one, can give you an unfair advantage (See above: Do work that others can’t do).
Learning how to communicate your ideas and convince clients will instantly make you more valuable.
9. Join profit centres
The vast majority of companies will try to bring costs down, and increase profits.
This means there are cost centres and profits centres
Often, this is also reflected in how their staff are paid. Staff who contribute directly to a company’s profits will have a higher chance of being paid more.
Classic examples of cost centres are: accounting, human resources and maintenance.
Profit centres…are well, most obviously the sales department.
(Do note it’s possible for a role to be a cost centre in one company and a profit centre in another.)
10. Know your worth and be ready to move
It is entirely possible for someone to be able to command $10,000 somewhere else but be paid $4,000 for a role.
This is particularly true if you undervalue yourself, or refuse to leave despite knowing this.
How might you come to such a situation? Here are some common observations:
- Low self-esteem or belief (possibly due to gaslighting)
- Misplaced loyalty in a company
- Refusal to leave a comfortable environment due to the fear of the unknown (for example, due to too many financial responsibilities)
- In-demand skills, but in an industry that cannot pay
Admittedly, not all of these are easily addressed, yet, the opportunity cost for these can be quite large in the long term.
Our thoughts? Take however long you need to resolve them.
If it’s low self-esteem, surround yourself with people who believe in you.
If it’s a lack of network, go out there and meet people.
If it’s a money situation, slowly build up the ability to make a career jump.
These are all easier said than done, but just about everything is.
Remember, you can change things. You can move. You can learn.
You are not a tree.
Stay woke, salaryman.
If you’re looking to switch careers for better salary prospects or upskill for a promotion, explore DBS Education Marketplace and check out a wide variety of courses from reputable and accredited educational institutions such as NUS Business School, Nanyang Business School, NTU and private education provider 88Learn.
To make selecting your next course easier, DBS Education Marketplace has:
- Course options for everyone from fresh graduates to mid-career switchers
- Filters so that you can narrow down courses based on your work area, interests and budget
- Compare and enrol into in-demand courses across reputable education institutions in one platform
- Access to various funding options, DBS/POSB exclusive card discounts and payment solutions for better savings and cash flow