Several years ago I developed a personal career strategy that I call The Assets and Capabilities Model. For the purposes of this model, an asset is something which you control and a capability is something which you can get done. Notice that this is different than “things you own” and “skills” – that’s intentional and to clarify, here are some examples before moving on:
Some of my assets:
My AWS account
My company’s reputation on Upwork
My computers (note that some assets are, actually, “things you own”)
Software I’ve purchased
My Zoom account (previously my WebEx account)
My relationship with my kick-ass designer in Ukraine
Some of my capabilities:
I can design large-scale distributed systems
I can implement a business or development process, train people on it, and monitor it instantly
I can perform code analysis and technical due diligence (in part because of experience and in part because of some of the software I own)
I can build remote teams quickly
I can schedule an online meeting at the drop of a hat
Take notice of some of the overlap – I can build remote teams quickly in part due to my experience and my company’s reputation on Upwork. I can schedule an online meeting at the drop of a hat because of my Zoom account and because I’ve done it many times before. I have long lists of assets and capabilities which took years of conscious effort to develop and several times a year I ask myself a few questions:
What assets aren’t being fully capitalized upon? (I’m looking at you, list of domain names)
What capabilities aren’t being used frequently enough?
What are some assets I can acquire/develop?
What are some assets I can divest? (domain names, old computer gear, and books are common)
What are some capabilities I’m missing?
What are some capabilities which need to be improved or refreshed?
I recommend the exercise to anyone who is interested in actively managing their value – pretty much anyone who isn’t retired. The exercise starts simply enough: grab your note-taking tool of choice (I have a thing for Canson Sketch Pads) and start listing things you have/control which can be used to solve problems and things that you can get done, either yourself or via your network of strong relationships. I find it’s helpful to link things together to find self-reinforcing constellations of value – things like AWS, Upwork, large-scale system design, building remote teams, and development process implementation all fit together to form a higher-level capability of “I can start a software company in an hour with nothing but an idea, a credit card, and an internet connection”. As you perform your asset and capability cataloging exercise, you’ll naturally identify some of these higher-level capabilities yourself. After you do, then you can follow on with questions about how to make that capability stronger, how to capitalize on it, etc.
What’s the point of doing all of this? Right now you’re probably sitting on a gold mine of value, but it’s not being actively managed. Once you have your catalog, you’ll see what you need to read, what kind of training you should seek out, which things you need to practice, and gaps which need to be filled – this is internal management. Next, your eyes will be opened to opportunities. You’ll find yourself coming across people who need something that you can can do or a chance to deploy an asset – this is external management.
As a final example, I remember some time around the end of 2009 I decided that I lacked public speaking experience. I had no problem speaking to groups in meetings, but I had very little experience presenting to an audience who was there specifically to listen to me. I developed an idea for a talk about the future of work and how it affected recruiter, contacted a few recruiters, and said, “I have this talk and I’m trying to get better at speaking – may I present to your team sometime in the next month?” Not everyone responded, but a couple did and I got to practice. Public speaking is now on my list of capabilities because I’ve actually done it and so I know I can do it again.
What’s on your list? What are you missing? How are you going to capitalize on the unique collection of assets and capabilities that you possess?
Think of yourself as a product for a few moments. Your employer (or client) continuously refills on what you have to offer.
Now think of how you treat products. The ones you like and seek out vs. the ones you just kind of use because they’re there or because switching costs are high. There are also products you use that you really don’t like, but feel there is no good alternative (I’m looking at you, AT&T which has essentially a monopoly where I live).
Which are you? Are you a product with a devoted following or are you just there because you’re there?
One of the difficult aspects of the modern economy is that there are new, competing products being released all the time. Just like music moved from tape to digital, there are now alternatives to what you’ve been doing for years. Not many people (if any) said, “Think of the tape manufacturers – it’s not fair, we need to keep using cassettes!” Instead, we saw that CDs (and then MP3s and then streaming) were better alternatives and so we switched.
Jobs are “disappearing” because there are so many better alternatives to hiring for those jobs. From outsourcing to machine learning to robotics and drones and autonomous vehicles – you aren’t competing against just other people anymore.
A new model year for you is just around the corner. Is the 2017 edition of you going to sell out or sit on the shelf? You need to become your own product manager, which means understanding your true competition, your actual costs (if you are unfamiliar with “fully burdened labor costs” then Google it – or just add 20% to your pay to estimate it), your actual value, etc.
So, as the year winds down give some serious thought to your entire offering – from packaging to warranty.
Here’s to wishing you a year of Apple-level devotion and margins!
In my previous post I described how to make an additional $10,000 in 2017. For freelancers, the combination of “charge more” and “work more” is pretty easy. For employees and contractors, however, it might be a bit trickier since most people have a hard time asking for money – or at least asking for it in the right way.
So how about getting a raise without asking for one?
This was one of my favorite (and, regretfully, most secret) techniques from my days as an employee and contractor.
Instead of asking, “May I have more money, please?” or (even more cringeworthy) stating “I think I’m worth x”, the correct question is “What do I need to do to be worth x?”.
There are several important aspects of that question. The first is that it comes ahead of the increase. You’re asking your manager to help you align with the organization in such a way that you’ll be worth x. This should be a manager’s dream – you’re making it easy to manage you, and in a proactive way.
Next, notice that x can be whatever you like. I once got a 50% raise with this technique and my manager was happy to give it to me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a handout – I had to develop solutions to a couple of very difficult problems to be worth it, but that’s where the beauty lies. By posing the question this way, and up front, you quickly enter a space of discovering and defining value that’s starts with mutual agreement and completely bypasses the need to negotiate.
Another important aspect to this question is that you may get the response, “We’ll never be able to pay you that”. The manager I had at my very first salaried job had to deliver that message. To her credit, she delivered it proactively (I was WAY too immature to ask for a raise well – she simply got in front of the issue before it ever came up) by telling me, “This organization will never need all that you can do. Get as good as you can before you leave, because we’ll never be able to pay you what you’re worth simply because we can’t consume what you do.” That response, while somewhat disappointing, is incredibly valuable information. An appropriate reply (and FAR more appropriate than my reply) is “Then what is the maximum I can be worth here and how do I get there?” It’s also a sign that it’s probably time to start looking elsewhere.
Lastly, there’s an even better technique than what I’ve described. It’s actually more of a super-charged version, which is why I presented the other one first. That technique is to bring suggestions for value along with your ask. That’s what I did for the 50% pop mentioned before. I took the “what can I do to be worth x” and turned it into “would it be worth x if I solve y and z?” You see, at that point you’re doing part of your manager’s job for them and that’s incredibly valuable.
The final point I’d like to make is that you have to deliver. It’s not enough to ask where the value is, you are committing to deliver on it. Don’t go asking how to get to x and then reply with, “Yeah, I don’t want to do that”. Only ask if you’re looking to grow and looking to stretch yourself.
So, look around and identify some of the opportunities which almost certainly surround you. Talk to your manager in your 1-on-1 to set a goal. Make a plan, check in during your 1-on-1s and quarterly reviews – the next thing you know you’ll be making what you want.
No 1-on-1s or quarterly review? Oy, well we’ll discuss managing your manager next time.
As you look to 2017, you can pretty easily add $10,000 to your income. Here’s the math:
$10,000 = $5/hr more than your current hourly rate. (divide your salary by 2,000 for a quick hourly rate)
If you’re making $20 – $25 per hour, then you need between 400 and 500 extra hours next year. This is 8 to 10 extra hours per week. An extra hour per day, plus 3 – 5 hours on Saturday morning will do it. Not only that, but the extra time you put in should move you up to a mid-level freelancer.
If you’re making $30 – $50 per hour, then you need between 200 and 350 extra hours next year. This is 4 to 7 extra hours per week. An extra hour per day Monday -Thursday and a few hours on Saturday will do it.
If you’re making $50 – $100 per hour, then you need between 100 and 170 extra hours next year. This is 2 to 4 extra hours per week.
If you’re making more than $100 per hour, chances are that you’ve built a system of work where adding more time isn’t going to move your income needle enough to offset the loss of free time and big thoughts.
The lesson here is twofold: first, the extra money is easily within grasp if you spread out the effort through the whole year. Secondly, working on your value (aka your rate) will give you more leverage than simply throwing additional hours into work. If you’re early in your career then put in the time, collect the extra money, invest in yourself, and learn as much as you can. By accelerating your experience with the extra time, you’ll hit mid and senior levels earlier and find compounded returns later in your career.