A few months ago, I wrote a piece about a friend who was struggling with her job. She was unhappy. She felt unappreciated. She was overworked. So finally, after months of begging her to quit, she did. It was awesome and I will forever be proud of her for taking that step.
But then something equally miserable began happening. She started interviewing at new companies, each meeting more stressful than the next. She wasn’t passionate about their products, she didn’t connect with their office atmospheres, and she couldn’t understand why they were wasting her time with three, four, even five interviews each. And most frustratingly, when these companies asked her about her salary expectations, each and every interviewer said: “No, that’s much too high for us.”
Can we please take a second to consider how insulting that is? They essentially told her that she isn’t worth what she says she is, straight to her face. It’s also important to mention that she wasn’t asking for a crazy salary — her proposed number was beyond reasonable. But they didn’t even take her suggested salary seriously and have the decency to consider it — they immediately shut her down. And if a company rudely tells her that she’s not valuable in the interview, imagine how they’ll treat her when she actually works there! How about one year later? Two years later? Even three years later? And while they’ll soon forget about that twenty-minute interview, she’ll always be weighed down by the daunting feeling of being undervalued. She’d likely be stuck somewhere that doesn’t respect her, listen to her, or even really care about her. But there’s nothing that she can do because she was never told that she had a say in the matter.
If you’re thinking “Lena, you are being way too dramatic about this,” uhhh, tell me something I don’t know. I’m the the most unnecessarily over-the-top person I’ve ever met. But this hasn’t hindered my ability to identify and call out bullshit when I see it. Just because the above-mentioned scenario is common doesn’t mean that it’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that we have to sink to its standards. We need to talk openly about the issue and actively find ways to take care of ourselves. So, that’s what we’re going to do now.
Okay, let’s talk money (specifically in Israeli shekels since I’m currently based in Tel Aviv). And since Israel’s cost of living relative to its salaries is higher than every OECD country except Japan, this is an overdue discussion. So yalla, let’s jump right in.
Where do your salary expectations actually come from?
For most millennials in Tel Aviv, the salary you request boils down to one central factor: the average of what everyone else is making. If your friends are making 9,000 shekels a month, you’ll probably request around the same. You don’t want to propose an outlandish number, so it’s best to stick to the norm. And since most international millennials living in Tel Aviv work within the same industries (marketing, writing, sales, gaming, high-tech, etc), you have an idea of what to expect. But let’s be real: if you ask for 9,000 NIS, you know that you’ll receive an offer of 7 or 8, which is why everyone’s brilliant negotiation tip is to ask for 10. And that’s where the thought process ends.
But let me ask you this: Are your expectations and your desires the same? Do you actually want to be making 9,000 NIS a month (the equivalent to $2,360), or is it what you’ve just come to accept? Are you really excited to be making $25,000 a year for a company you hate or is this what you’ve settled for?
This is what I find interesting: The truth about your actual desires versus what you actually end up doing.
Let’s break it down
Let’s look at this practically. I first want to clarify that I am not a mathematician (that’s an understatement — I barely passed my high school algebra classes). But I do have a calculator on my iPhone just like everyone else, so let’s rely on that.
What is your ideal yearly salary? Maybe $60,000? $80,000? $200,000? Let’s take a nice round number, like $100,000.
In order to make $100,000 a year, you would have to make $8,333 a month. That’s an average of 31,666 shekels.
Now, look at your skill set. Say that you have a service that you’ve previously provided in a professional setting — maybe it’s writing, marketing, coding, or sales. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Because if you have ever had a job in any industry, that is all the proof you need that someone is willing to pay you for it. Forget how much they’re willing to pay — the idea is that if one company is willing to pay you for a job, it’s all the proof you need that someone else would also pay you for the same job. Maybe they’ll even pay you more for the same or similar services.
If you know that you’re capable of doing a job well (not the best — just well), and others are in need of your service or expertise, you have the power to dictate your rates. Not as an employee, but as a….drum roll please…freelancer.
(If you know anything about me, then you knew that it would eventually loop back to this. Don’t act surprised.)
I’ve written A LOT about freelancing, so I don’t want to focus on the ins and outs of it right now (personal branding, client acquisition, sales funnels, bla bla bla)…instead, I want to focus on numbers.
Let’s reverse engineer
If you want to make $8,333 a month in order to meet your $100,000 yearly goal, that means that you should first figure out your hourly rate. If you charge $50 an hour for your services, that means that you need to work 166 hours a month. That’s about the same as a full-time job, so it works out well. But again, we’re not going for a full-time job here — we’re looking for multiple people who will pay for small chunks of your time. Because let’s be real — who in Tel Aviv is about to drop almost $8,500 one one person’s monthly salary? Not many.
Let’s shoot for three people who will each pay you $2,777 a month ($8,333 divided by 3). That’s more realistic, right? And since you’re charging $50 an hour, you’ll end up giving an average of 55 hours to each client.
Three clients each on a 55-hour monthly retainer will make you $100,000 a year.
Do the math and make it happen
This wasn’t difficult to figure out — I just whipped out my iPhone to do the work for me. So why do so many people approach their salaries differently? Is it fear? A lack of confidence? Don’t know where to start? Those are all issues that I’d be happy to talk you through personally.
The point is, your salary has nothing to do with what your friends are making, what’s “normal,” or what potential employers think you’re worth. It’s 100% up to you. And if freelancing isn’t what you want, that’s okay — there are plenty of ways for you to negotiate a better salary directly with potential employers. So stop thinking that your situation is a matter of random circumstance and start looking at the opportunities in front of you. Because at the end of the day, your monthly income isn’t magic, it’s just math.