Welcome to another post in the $100k Club series. You can see the full series here. This is "My Morning Routine" for content marketing folks making six figures. The goal is to shed light on the skills and habits that enable people to achieve lucrative jobs and help get more people in this club.
These will be anonymous and updated regularly. If you make more than $100k/year and want to contribute, email me.
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What was your first full-time job in content? What was the salary?
I was a marketing associate making $40,000 with no opportunity for a bonus.
How much do you earn today? What's your job title?
I make $112,000 with the potential for up to a $7,000 bonus each year. My job title is Content Director.
What's the single biggest salary jump you've made? (either from job-hopping or a promotion/raise)
When I transitioned jobs from agency-side to client-side, I increased by salary by $10,000 annually. Because I worked for a well-known global communications agency, I had a warped sense of how much I was truly worth--such agencies can get away with paying you just under market rate since you want their name on your resume.
I figured asking for $10,000 more at my new employer would be competitive, give me a nice cost-of-living raise, and not scare them off. In hindsight, I could have asked for more. But it wasn't until I was a year into my new role that I learned about my company's internal pay transparency tool. According to it, I was only making 70% of what I could be compared to other people with the same title and years of experience within my geography. When I hit my one-year anniversary, my manager and I agreed that a performance-based raise was in order.
What is your most valuable skill?
My most valuable skill is that I am a hybrid creative and strategist. I am just as comfortable pitching concepts as I am in implementing and measuring the effectiveness of them. In my industry, you often times only work with people who are true creatives that went to art school, or strategists who are extremely cerebral and results-oriented. I have a strong appreciation for both disciplines and love getting better at them everyday.
Having these skills also demonstrates value to employers because they can do more with fewer headcount. However, I do recognize the importance of setting boundaries and pulling in true artistic visionaries and researchers/analysts when I need to gut-check content direction.
What's the best book you've ever read on writing, marketing, sales, business or productivity? (Feel free to suggest more than one!)
- Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson is the bible for any modern content strategist working on digital projects. Even though my edition is a few years old, most of the topics are still very relevant whether you're just starting out or need some new inspiration.
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a powerful read for people who want to be bolder and kick wishy-washy corporate speak to the curb. I've learned smarter ways to say how I feel and speak up whether I am working with lateral colleagues or business executives.
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an interesting read on the psychology behind building strong habits with people in your personal and professional lives. My takeaway was that consistency could be a key to success when working with dysfunctional or disorganized teams.
Have you had a career mentor/coach? If so, how did you find them and what have you learned from them?
I've had several mentors over the course of my academic and professional careers. As with these types of fleeting relationships, some matches are better than others. Some mentors were found organically--perhaps by working together and admiring their management style or creativity. Others were more rigorous, and matched by personality assessments.
I can't say one method is better than the other, but I'm a fan of not limiting oneself to a single mentor at a time. There's a theory online from Harvard Business Review about creating your own board of directors--people who have unique skills you want to emulate, strong professional connections, or totally different world views that challenge you to get out of your bubble. For instance, my current board of directors is made up of a work mentor and a friend of mine from a college fellowship who works in a similar field. It's definitely a work in progress, but it gives me something to further build out when appropriate.
Over the years, I've learned from mentors how to curry favor with risk-averse colleagues, build professional relationships that don't accidentally veer into "friendship" territory, when to negotiate, where to find creative inspiration, and more.
What skills or habits help you thrive at work?
- Willingness to take calculated risks and try new things.
- Defined deadlines in editorial calendars and project management software.
- Having a thick skin and being open to constructive criticism.
- Being an upbeat, collaborative teammate with whom staff want to work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to join the $100k club?
I live in a HCOL (high cost of living) city where it isn't too difficult to reach the $100K club if you work for a well-known brand. So I can provide a view into what I did to hit my first six-figure salary ($105,000) when I was 28.
- Market intelligence is everything: There are numerous sources online beyond Glassdoor that list out estimated or self-supplied salaries for different types of roles and companies. Occasionally, employment activists will share Google Sheets on Twitter where industry staff can upload their salaries/wages anonymously. There are also marketing trade groups and Facebook groups that put together annual salary surveys. After consulting all of those sources, I took the average of what I saw to ask for my first $100,000+ salary. It's not perfect, but it can give you a starting point.
- Quantify your impact: It's one thing to show a beautiful website you wrote for or infographic you developed. It's another thing to demonstrate how successful each of those assets were in driving sales, engagement, or another key metric important to your business. As someone who is not a math person--and still has to count on his fingers--I've learned to embrace data that not only justifies my professional existence but shows a positive contribution to our company.
- Develop unique skills that set you apart from your team: This is self-explanatory. If your team has a knowledge gap, take it upon yourself to learn how to close it. There are numerous free resources online. If you're lucky enough, your company might even have a professional development stipend. Learning something new will elevate you and give you another skill to add to your toolbox when negotiating a raise or a getting a new job entirely.
- Earn as much as you can as early as possible: When I was new in my career, making under $100K, my then-manager told me how I should negotiate strongly now to set myself up for later in my career. He had mentioned to me that it wasn't so uncommon at our then-agency for juniors and mid-level staff to make $8-9K more a year with each promotion. However, he mentioned that his base rate of increase as a VP was only abut $4-5K more annually. Bonuses for VPs were divvied up from a pool of funds and not usually based on signed scopes. That mindset drove me to work harder and be a better advocate for myself to prove my value.
What is your gender and ethnicity? Where do you live? (optional)
I'm a white male living in New York City.