I rushed down the elevator to my mailbox. Today had to be the day; it’s been over a week since my client told me he had mailed my check. The anticipation gripped me as I floated down to the lobby mailroom. I dropped my keys twice trying to open the box, then tore through the mail.
The plain white envelope was stuck between a J.Crew catalog and a Bed Bath & Beyond coupon. This was it. I just stared at it in the lobby, then carried it upstairs gently, as if somehow this envelope might spontaneously catch fire or blow up in my hands.
In my apartment, I laid it on the table and with the precision of a surgeon, I carefully used a letter opener (wait, why was I using a letter opener, I’ve never used one previously in my life to gently pull apart the envelope.
I inched it out slowly. The $100,000 check weighed less than 1 gram. This was the first six-figure check I’d ever received. It was 2012 and it felt absolutely surreal.
I’d done it. I’d unlocked an entirely new level of money-making. I often get asked how someone can make more money quickly. While it’s actually pretty easy to go out and make $20 mowing a lawn or a couple hundred bucks renting out your place on Airbnb, it’s definitely tougher to go out and make an extra $100,000 per year. It doesn’t happen overnight, but there are steps you can take to significantly increase your chances of making a lot more money.
I’ve distilled this down into 7 steps on how to make more money today and in the future. Most people just make the decision right in front of them with little thought on the impact it’s going to have on their lives in the future. But the people who make the big bucks are often intentional, strategic, and have a plan. Here are the steps I took, and you can take, to make an extra $100,000 per year (or more!)
1. Get a raise, a bonus, or find a higher salary.
The fastest and easiest way to make more money is to get paid more doing what you are already doing. Period. When it comes to money, always try to optimize what’s in front of you. Talent is in high demand and you have the leverage. Pretty much no matter what industry you work in, it’s really hard, and getting harder, for employers to find good talent. The power dynamic has shifted so employees have more negotiating leverage. We are in a talent drought. The competition to recruit, hire, and keep you happy has never been higher. You can use this to your advantage.
Did you know that it costs most employers $20,000+ to just replace one employee, so they will likely pay you $10K+ more per year just to keep you? And if they won’t and you want to leave, there are companies that will pay to get you. Don’t sell yourself short. There has never been more salary transparency and it’s so easy to figure out what other people in your role at other companies are getting paid. It’s also easy to use salary data to scope out career trajectories. Don’t like what you are doing today and want to make more money? Figure out what skills are needed for the job you want and start building them.
I used to work with this guy Brian who was a Jr Copywriter at the first digital marketing agency I worked at – his starting salary was $36,000. He was a super talented guy, but he knew from his research that he was never going to be able to make more than $80,000 as a copywriter in Chicago. He wanted to make the big bucks with his creative skills. He saw on GlassDoor that Senior Creative Directors can make $150,000+ with just 5 years experience. He set his goal on the creative director position and started building his portfolio and helping out the creative director at our agency. Only 3 years later, he got a Senior Creative Director job in Vancouver and makes over $150,000 per year. What did he do? He saw what he wanted and came up with a game plan to get there.
In the digital economy, the money is there, but most people leave it to chance and think their bosses are going to see their hard work and reward them. I hate to break it to you, but you are on your own. Be your own advocate – ask for what you want, back it up with data, and come up with a clear game plan for where you are trying to go.
Keep a close eye on the salaries for positions like yours using sites like Salary.com, GlassDoor, PayScale, or Indeed.
If you want to go deeper, here’s a popular post I wrote on hack your boss and get a raise. I get emails all the time from readers who’ve used the strategies in that post to get $10,000+ raises. One woman used it to get a $30,000 raise. It’s worth having a look.
2. Quickly build in-demand skills (and future-proof yourself), then either get a raise, jump jobs or move into an entirely new career.
Skills are future currency. The more in-demand skills you have, the more money you will be able to make, the more control you will have over your income opportunities and the ability to diversify them. You can use your new skills in a full-time 9 to 5 job, to side hustle, or use those skills to launch your own business and become an entrepreneur. It’s actually never been easier to change careers, so building in-demand skills is a quick way to make more money – because you can switch jobs much quicker once you have a skill that’s in demand.
Thankfully it’s never been easier to build new skills for free or inexpensively. It used to take decades working at a job to learn the ins and outs of how the company and position worked. In the old model, an employee would start in an entry level position, learn the ropes, and get a promotion every 2 years with a 5% salary increase into the next role managing the people who did the tasks below them. You spent your time managing people and learning new skills. If you stayed long enough with the company then you might work 10+ years to reach the level of senior management. Your experience was aligned with compensation and later promotions depended on less on your value and more on the position opening up from someone up above moving out. This was the old school model.
Now with YouTube, online courses, and mentorship, you can learn new skills rapidly and have an immediate impact on your company’s or your own bottom line. As I previously shared, I learned how to do digital marketing in 60 days on YouTube and went from making $50,000 to over $400,000 in one year! It was this shift that was the biggest driver in my millennial millionaire strategy.
I was able to increase my salary and income by 8x in 2 years because I built an in-demand skill set (digital marketing) and continued to diversify my skill set. My friend Judith increased her salary from $50,000 to $225,000 in 3 years making moves from her graphic design job to leading sales for a tech company.
While I am a bit of an extreme example, the principle still applies that skills allow us to create value – which we can then monetize. You can learn almost anything for free through online courses to diversify or develop an entirely new skill set. You can learn pretty much anything required to run a company in a few hours online. Once you feel like you’ve learned it, then pay an expert for 15 minutes of their time to answer your questions to fill in the gaps.
The skills most in demand today and into the future will be a mixture of hard and soft skills, including analytics, coding, digital marketing, and selling, branding, and design.
Here are the skills you need to future proof yourself.
3. Start side hustling and selling your expertise.
You know those skills that you can build online? After you master them, you can sell your own expertise to others who want to learn what you know. Today and in the future, both creators and curators that add value will be able to build an audience and monetize it. This is why blogging is so great – you can share your expertise and monetize it. If you haven’t checked it out yet – here’s how you can make money blogging.
There is more information created every second online than can be consumed in a lifetime, but people are overwhelmed and don’t know where to look for answers or ideas that actually work. If you can provide answers and help people be more effective, more efficient, or more successful, then you can make a lot of money.
This is the paradox of the information age – an infinite amount of info is available for free online, but people seek teachers and experienced curators. You can easily sell your knowledge and make more money both actively and passively.
Actively: Once you’ve built expertise, you can sell it to other people by training or using your expertise to help them solve their problems through a consulting engagement. The larger the problem, the larger the organization, or the more desperately someone needs their problem solved, the more money you can make. The more specialized your knowledge, the more money you can make.
The more money you make someone, the more money you can make. I have consulted on digital marketing and website strategy for many companies and institutions, and these same rules always apply. The key is to get one reputable brand as a client (you only need one) and add as much value as you can. Then you can use them as a reference to sell similar projects to similar size brands. Here’s how to build a consulting business.
Passively: It’s never been easier to sell your expertise online. My blogger Michelle launched an online course to teach bloggers how to make more money using affiliate ads and she made over $1 million last year. The course sells itself. While this is, of course, an extreme example, it’s super common and easy to build a course that makes $10K+ a month.
Here’s how I made over $1 million side hustling.
4. Price as much as you can by analyzing the circumstances.
If you really want to make more money than it’s essential to learn to analyze your sales or business opportunity at a deeper level. I really learned how to analyze people while playing poker in college. What does the customer really want? What does your boss really want? Don’t just think about what they are asking – think deeper about what’s motivating them. In a lot of business situations, your boss or potential client want to look good/make more money/be successful. So if you can help them do all three of those, you are golden. I spend a lot of time writing emails for my clients that they can forward on to their bosses to showcase the impact they are making. The next time you are delivering or trying to sell a project, think about what you can add to make your client more successful. Then price for it!
A vast majority of people underprice projects because they are afraid of losing them. Going back to the first $100,000 project I sold – up until this point, I had always undersold myself and my expertise, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the project. Previously, the most expensive website project I’d sold was for $12,000 so it took courage to ask for $100K.
But with this project, I was able to ask for 10x more than I had before because I knew how much this law firm wanted a new website, I knew the guy in charge of marketing wanted the vendor to make her look good, I knew the value of my skillset, and I also believed that everyone I was competing with (all agencies) would be charging at least $100,000. It was also a big law firm, so I knew they had the money. It’s a lot more profitable to sell to companies that have more money! Sure, I could have lost the project, but I took a risk and asked for more money. You’ve got to be prepared to lose a few engagements to win the big ones.
Remember you are trading hours of your life for the project. Why wouldn’t you want to get paid for what your time is worth, or even better, as much as you can?
5. Launch your own company.
It’s never been easier to launch your own business. You can build a website now in 20 minutes and be selling products or offering services in a matter of days. If you are going to launch a company, I definitely recommend you start an LLC, the easiest type of company to set up, so you can separate your business and personal assets. There are many advantages to launching your own company and managing your life like a company. You can take tax deductions for business expenses, you get certain legal protections, and you can use a small business credit card to rack up extra miles for traveling for free.
Working for yourself either full-time or on the side has never been easier and it’s the clearest path to wealth. All of your investments – your time, networks, skills, and, of course, money will compound over time – resulting in new income streams and opportunities. It’s important to invest your time building the habits, skills, and networks that will set you up for life.
I love writing about money and personal finance, so I started blogging about it in February 2015. It took me a year to start to build an audience and make money on advertising ($100-$2,000/month), then earn commissions by recommending products/services that I use myself through affiliate marketing ($1,000 – $10,000/ month). Once my audience was large enough earlier this year, I started selling a premium course for readers who wanted to go deeper. Given the initial success of the Millennial Money Course, I am currently working on a few new courses – one on SEO and side hustling.
Making money at anything takes time – it’s not just going to magically appear, but it has never been easier to build an audience and sell your expertise. Start building the foundation.
To go deeper, here’s how to actually make money online.
6. Reach people with your product or message (it’s never been easier).
I have built my career targeting people online. I’ve been fortunate to work with over 200 different clients, including many of the top universities in the world to help them target and sell their products.
Today, you can target almost anyone on earth with a message personalized for them through digital marketing on the platforms that they use every day. In fact, when my wife was in Africa, I built a Facebook ad campaign with a small targeting audience just so she could see an ad that said: “I miss you!”
You might be thinking – well how can I do this? The good news is that anyone can learn how to market products online. There are many high-quality free resources where you can learn about digital marketing and most platforms (like Google & Facebook) have extensive videos where you can learn the platform. To learn the basics for free, check out the learning centers for Google Adwords and Facebook. There are also low-cost courses you can take, but if you are motivated, you can learn everything you need to know about digital marketing for free. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals, then it’s time to learn from experience.
It’s important to note that just because it’s never been easy to reach people with your product or message, it also means that more people are doing it. The marketplace has become both more competitive and difficult to get someone’s attention. Just because it’s easy to target, doesn’t mean that the people you target will care, respond, or buy.
In order to get them to actually pay attention, it’s important to clearly communicate the unique value of what you are offering. You will always have competitors, so it’s important to highlight what makes you or your product unique and why someone should hire you or buy your product.
What makes your offer different? Why are you better or faster or more reliable? If you can get this message to the right people at the right time, you can unlock incredible money-making and selling opportunities.
7. Build a network and an audience of people who share your interests and/or need your products (it will compound and sustain you).
While I enjoy making new connections, I hate networking events. I’m an introvert at heart and disdain events that are set up just to network. I get tons of invites for them – young professionals networking, after hours networking, breakfast networking. In all the networking events I have ever been to, and I went to a ton in my twenties, I have only met one person that eventually led to a connection that led to a sale.
But networking and connecting online? It’s exceptionally more powerful. The most profitable connections I have made have been through LinkedIn, my own website, or the holy grail: referrals from past clients! Once you have a few happy clients, you can unlock a bunch of others by asking for referrals.
If you really want to build a business or make more money, you need to build a network and an audience. A network is a group of connections that takes time to build and is essential to unlocking opportunities throughout your lifetime, but an audience is a lot more valuable. If you have an audience, you can actually make a ton of money pretty quickly – by selling value to an audience that trusts you because you’ve already added value to their lives.
Focus on building both an audience and a network. If you haven’t yet, definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s make it happen. We’re in this together. ? ?
This is the single most important hack I’ve used to build wealth. It’s easy. I break down ALL of my money goals into daily goals. I still deposit money every day into my investment accounts and track my net worth for free using Personal Capital.
Our minds are built to think about today. Our ancestors weren’t able to comprehend years into the future. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard for us to save money.
You’ve probably tried those retirement calculators or have used the retirement projector at Personal Capital. Most of the calculators come out with a number you will need to “retire” based on your inputs and current progression. The numbers are usually big and run into the millions.
When I had $2.26 in my bank account I used one and it told me I would need $1,250,000 to retire. My annual expected expenses are about $50,000, so this also hangs with the common idea that you only need to save 25 times your annual expenses to live off the interest forever.
BUT SERIOUSLY WTF? Who can save $1,272,000 dollars? I was barely able to buy a burrito.
These numbers are so large, they seem impossible to reach, don’t resonate with us, and actually discourage saving. But, backed by academic research, a lot changes when we start thinking about money in daily increments. Learn how I used this hack to transform my savings and reach financial independence.
If are nerdy like me and want to go deeper on this topic check out the research of USC professor Daphna Oysterman here. There’s an easier way to retire early and reach financial independence.
IF I COULD SAVE JUST $50 EVERY DAY I WOULD REACH EARLY RETIREMENT (AT 55)
I did some calculations and determined I needed to try and save approximately $50 a day in order to reach financial independence in 30 years. It can’t be a coincidence that I needed to save a Grant a day!
It’s a simple calculation I did using a basic compounding interest calculator. In order to get to $1,250,000 I needed to save $50 a day and have an expected 5% annual compounding rate (a pretty reasonable expectation over a 30 year period). Thinking about it in annual terms I needed to save $18,250 a year. Max out that 401K!
But 30 years? Forget that. Then I started really thinking. Here is my thought process on the podcast.
IF I COULD SAVE EVEN $51 A DAY THEN I COULD FAST TRACK MY FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE. THIS WAS A MIND-BLOWING MOMENT FOR ME. I WAS HOOKED.
I started depositing as much money as possible every day into my investment accounts. I downloaded the Vanguard app and literally make deposits every single day directly into my investment accounts. Some days it was only $5, but I rarely missed a day. When I started side hustling I put 100% of what I made directly into the same Vanguard account. I barely let deposits clear my bank account. The minute I saw the money in there I put it into an investment account.
I got really stoked when I was able to pass the $50 a day deposit threshold. I started to feel in control. I knew that I was ahead. Every day that I deposited more than $50 I was ahead in my retirement savings.
Then I started trying to make as much money as possible every day so I could invest it. I stopped thinking long term and thought every day about making that $50 threshold. When I got a bonus or new client those we just bonus points. BOOM, right into my investment account. Do your own calculation – you might need a lot less.
Here is how much you need to save per day to reach your number. (Stay tuned – I am turning this into an early retirement calculator and will post here soon).
DEPOSITING MONEY INTO MY INVESTMENT ACCOUNTS EVERY DAY FELT, AND STILL FEELS, LIKE A GAME. I STARTED CRUSHING IT.
$50 went from being my daily goal to being my daily minimum. I started depositing $70, then $80, then $100 dollars a day. Then as my side hustles started really taking off I started deposit $500+ a day. Every check I got I put as much in as I could that day, but still kept my daily $50 deposit goal. Then I put $5,000 in a day, then $20,000 and the rest is history.
USING THIS EARLY RETIREMENT HACK I WAS ABLE TO REDUCE MY 30-YEAR SAVING PLAN DOWN TO JUST 5 YEARS AND REACH FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE!
I still do this to this day. Now I automate most of it and simply have the money pulled out of my account and put into vanguard. My current minimum threshold is $200/day.
But you can start at any level that is comfortable for you. There are a ton of ways you can take this idea and run with it. Try depositing $5/day to start and then increase it $1/week. Trust me you probably aren’t going to miss that extra dollar.
There are a ton of apps you can use like Acorn and Digit to do this for you, but good old fashioned manual depositing via your investment app (Betterment, Vanguard, Personal Capital, or any others) all make it super easy to deposit. I find that doing it manually is A LOT more fun and will get you motivated to escalate your limits.
So that’s it. Start thinking about investing as a daily goal. Then crush it.
MONEY & HAPPINESS
What is your earliest memory of being happy?
Do you remember that feeling being a kid on a warm summer night, the grass under your bare feet, and the freeing feeling of not having to go to school the next day?
For me, being happy is being free like on those summer nights.
We all want to be happy. It’s a full feeling. A feeling that connects us with others and deep into ourselves. Physiologically it’s pretty easy to understand – a chemical reaction happens in our brain, serotonin is released, and boom we feel great. Emotionally and spiritually it’s more complex. But how does money impact your happiness?
Studies show that the correlation between your salary’s impact on your happiness up to $75,000, and then it peaks at $125,000. Meaning that people are increasingly happy until they make $125,000 and then they plateau. This may be true for the participants in that study, but it’s not true for me and I am sure it’s not true for a lot of people.
SO CAN MONEY BUY HAPPINESS?
Definitely. Money can make you happier when you look at the simple fact that when we make money it makes us happy and when we have experiences and purchase things, using money – it can make us happy.
But it’s not that simple, as you can see below. There are an infinite number of stories of people who have made a ton of money but are miserable. The same goes for people who have very little, but still, find joy in their lives. You don’t need money to be happy, but it can make you happier.
Earning more, saving more, and investing more will help you lead a richer life. And a richer life will make you happier. Happiness is personal.
If you aren’t already happy, then money can only provide a temporary escape from you inner well-being.
For a different perspective, we recently recorded a Millennial Money podcast episode on the topic of money and happiness.
The more money I’ve made in my life, honestly, the happier I’ve gotten – but the money is only one factor – the means. The reason I am happier is because I have more control over my time. This means I can spend more time doing things I love, spending time with people that I love, and well, doing things that make me happy. You can actually use the money to maximize your happiness when you know how to use it.
WHY MONEY CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY
Here are the biggest making more money can make you happier:
- Less worry and stress
- More control over your time
- More extraordinary experiences
- The opportunity to give back
To understand how money can make you happier at a deeper level, I think we should look at two different types of happiness – short term and long term.
SHORT-TERM HAPPINESS COMES FROM FINDING YOUR FLOW STATE
You know that feeling when you’re sitting on the beach with a cold beer and feel one with the world? What about the feeling you get after seeing your favorite DJ or band and walking out into the crisp air after the show? What about the feeling you get when you’re in such a good conversation time disappears? Or maybe it’s how you feel when you buy that new handbag or a new truck?
That’s your flow state. When you are happy. Finding your flow state will make you happy, but it’s still fleeting. One way to maximize your happiness is to find your flow state every day, or as often as you can. It’s about doing things you love. This is the most beneficial form of short term happiness.
Unfortunately, so much of American culture has linked happiness with consumption – this is why we feel happy, albeit temporarily when we buy stuff. But that happiness rarely lasts. It’s surface level.
Making more money can open up more time and the freedom to experience your flow state. Money is freedom, as long as you have control over how you use it.
LONG-TERM HAPPINESS COMES FROM FINDING PURPOSE AND EXPLORING YOUR PASSIONS
It’s pretty easy to go out and buy short-term happiness, but long-term happiness needs to be cultivated.
As humans, we all essentially seek and require the same things to live a happy life – community, loyalty, love, excitement, curiosity, passion, and peace. To explore more on how to live a fulfilled life check out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
At its core living a happy life means having more fun, richer, more meaningful experiences. It also means living a life full of meaning, passion, and purpose.
The more money I have made, the more time it’s freed up for me to following my true passions – like Millennial Money, where I share my passion for helping others with their personal finances. I also get to spend more time traveling the world with my wife, more time with friends, and more time exploring other projects the fulfill me. This makes me happy.
I know that my long term happiness has less to do with making money and more to exploring the freedom and connections it provides. I’ve made a lot of money mistakes and it took me awhile to learn this. Money can only make you happy if you also work on other areas of your life.
I feel very blessed and lucky.
I know that my success is not directly a result of hard work – it is more a result of building good habits, maximizing my value, and of course the luck of an insane bull market over the past 7 years. I truly believe that most people can escape living paycheck to paycheck and use money to live richer and happier lives.