Having a Chinese mother meant that I grew up thinking that money was never something to be awkward about. Of course, not all Chinese mums are the same, but my mum would never buy anything without asking for a discount, she would barter in Marks & Spencer and use her considerable charm, wile and chutzpah to get the very best deal possible.
When I was a freelancer going from contract to contract, she’d say, ‘Are they giving you more money?’ and ‘They should pay you more’. She didn’t really care about the amount; it was more that she wanted me to be paid well and what she thought I deserved, which was, of course, more. Her asking me these questions spurred me on to ask for a pay rise every time because there was no way I was going back and telling my mum I wasn’t earning more.
So, what do you do if you don’t have a Chinese mum? Here are the things I’ve learned along the way.
In each and every job, do it well, be proactive, present solutions not problems, show up on time, present a ‘can do’ attitude and be someone who is good to be with and work with. In other words, make yourself indispensable. Make them think they don’t want to be without you. If you are an employee, consider whether they would fight to keep you. The more you are a flight risk, the better your chances of a pay rise.
List all the things that make you special to work with. If you were going to line up with three other people who do the same job, what would be the added value of working with you? What is it about what you do that means they should pay you more? Practice articulating this until it trips off your tongue.
Find out what other people are getting paid. Don’t be squeamish about this. Women, ask what the men are getting paid. Ask around, use your amazing skills of research – that we use all the time in the TV industry – to find out top rates and parameters. And always ask for more than you would be happy to settle for.
Get friendly with the person who holds the budget – the finance director, the production executive, the HR manager – and not in a cynical way. Don’t see them as the enemy. Understand they form a vital part of the team, have a budget to manage and spread around. Understand their parameters and what they may or may not have to play with.
I learned this term recently – your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). In other words, if they can’t give you more money, then what else is important to you that you could negotiate? The chance to step up and get something extra on your CV, or experience in a different genre? This way, you will gain value in another way that could be worth money in your next role.
This is your Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – in other words, your walk-away point. Work out what this is and stick to it. If you have no other options and you need the money, then you’ll have to take what’s on offer. But if you don’t and you really can’t stomach it, have courage, stick to your guns and say no. You never know, they may well budge.
Don’t get emotional – in the room or on email, at least – and don’t be swayed by any emotion or guilt-tripping the other party may bring into it. For example, ‘We’d all love a pay rise, wouldn’t we?’ Other people’s pay rises are not your concern, and vice versa.
Tracy is a creative mentor for the Channel 4 Indie Growth Fund, the producer of the WFTV mentoring scheme and a professional executive coach. Follow her at walterwootze.com