There was no point ducking it – I was earning 20% less than the year before, but I felt like I working as much as I always had.
It was a sobering realisation.
It was 2008 and the recession had been taking away my clients for months.
Most of us get used to a rising income over our working lives – unless interrupted by illness, a career break, or children.
Yet my gravy train had careened into the sidings.
I was also out of practice in drumming up new work.
Something had to be done.
How boosting my earnings began with a change in mindset
Reducing your income through early retirement or downsizing can be a positive step forward.
Seeing your long-term plans derailed by the whims of the economy is different.
I had no desire to get philosophical about my newfound role in Honey, I Shrunk My Salary (And Put Financial Freedom On Hold).
So I considered my options.
For a while I thought it might be time to change the focus of my work (and a few years later this proved to be the case) but before then I was able to arrest and then reverse my declining earnings by shaking up how I thought about my output.
In this post I’ll explain how just an hour’s effort might put your income back on track, too.
It’s a motivational technique that probably works best if you’re self-employed, or if you have a side business on the go (and you should!)
However I believe it could also be used by those in full-time employment, too.
Greener grass syndrome
Before I share my technique, I’ll describe how it came about.
I’d lost two clients within two weeks of each other.
Wondering when it would stop, I pondered the unthinkable – giving up freelance and getting a job!
I had some useful skills that I knew could land me a permanent role somewhere, despite the downturn.
In fact I had friends at one company I’d already worked for that had a vacancy I was confident of filling.
But going back to full-time employment would be a drastic step.
Being self-employed suited me, and I’d done it on-and-off for over a decade.
True, my career progression had flat-lined.
But the positives of far more freedom both in my personal life and how I worked outweighed for me the fact I wasn’t now bossing people around for a living.
Yet I was concerned.
Who knew how long the recession would last?
Perhaps I’d only been able to make a good living as a freelancer because of boom times that had turned to bust?
Meanwhile, here was this job offering reasonably interesting work, a decent salary, a four-day workweek (!), and paid holidays. (The latter something full-time employees always take for granted).
It even included a then-newfangled iPhone on contract.
As I was pondering the downsides – a boss, commuting, office politics – it struck me that the salary on offer was actually below what I still expected to earn that year, even assuming my lost clients weren’t immediately replaced.
In other words, I was being scared into swapping uncertainty about the future for the certain downside of crystalising the very loss of earnings that I feared!
I did it my way
Why was this potential job so appealing?
Thinking about it, I realised I’d been drawn to the security and perks of a role…
…all spelled out in clear type.
I saw I’d become very uncertain about what I was trying to achieve from self-employment.
For many years I’d had all the work I wanted to do, and I’d grown complacent about my motivation.
Could spelling out my freelance rewards and responsibilities address this, I wondered?
Yes, was the answer. Better than I could have expected.
Here’s how I did it.
I wrote my own job description
I decided to do write myself a contract of employment – all in the third-person – as if I was an official employer.
It was the sort of job offer I wrote for potential candidates when I headed up my own start-up company.
The big ticket items like the salary and specific role were at the top, and then came a clear list of what I was expected to do to earn my money.
I also stated:
- My hours (I prefer to work six days a week but only from 8.30am to 2.30pm for maximum productivity).
- The average on-target day rate I needed to earn to keep my job.
- My non-core responsibilities (including prospecting for new clients…)
- Flexi-time possibilities to ensure I work away from home for at least two weeks of the year — a perk too often lost in the bustle.
- I decided as a bonus that my job would also come with an iPhone!
There was lots of detail specific to my own business, too.
When you formally employ yourself, my advice is to get your job description as detailed as you can.
For example, include lunch hours and working conditions.
It felt a bit stupid when I was spelling that out, but once I had it all written down I would refer to it several times a week — and I slacked off less.
I don’t mean I stopped taking afternoons off or whatnot – more that I stopped perambulating around the Net when I was meant to be working, being happy if I made some money instead of enough money, procrastinating, and avoiding frogs.
Tackling mental beliefs is important if you find yourself ‘stuck’ at some particular level of income, but for me it turned out to be equally useful for simply holding the line, too.
My income went up, almost automatically, as I relentlessly focused on what I was looking to achieve, instead of wondering about what I wasn’t.
What if you’ve already got a full-time job?
Perhaps this post isn’t as relevant if you’ve got a traditional job that you’re happy with. You might simply talk to your employer about increasing your salary.
That said, many people look to earn a passive income on the side, and so-called portfolio working is also becoming much more common.
Some people treat their equity or property investing as a core part of their own ‘household business operations’ too – and those that don’t might consider doing so.
I suggest you try combining your salary with your extra income to derive your overall on-target earnings.
In my experience, stating what you want to achieve and regularly reviewing it can be a powerful way of focusing on your day-to-day salary and income goals.
Paying yourself first is a proven way of boosting your long-term savings.
Why shouldn’t employing yourself first grow your income, too?