Money

What prevented me earning six figures earlier in life

I earn over six figures each year, and have done for five years now. Quite simply, I am privileged yet I also worked hard to get where I am. But it’s not always been like this, so I want to examine what stopped me reaching the holy grail of a £100,000 plus income earlier? What did I have to overcome?

My natural state

Truth be told, I’m not a natural high earner. A natural geek yes, with a scientific mindset and endless curiosity. I’ve been described as Type A and a workhorse by all my bosses. On the other hand the ability to schmooze people and sell is not my forte. Actually we could say I suck at it. It has been noted:

You are someone who calls a spade a spade

This trait didn’t naturally endear everyone to me. Especially being a woman, and we are you know, meant to be very emotionally intelligent and people focussed. In my experience geeky men are treated a lot different to geeky women, and boy did it grate with me. And I let it show.

However I was finding bosses loved having me on their teams to get stuff done. They were impressed with my work ethic and perfectionism. I always got good but not outstanding reviews, meaning paltry cost of living pay increases. At this stage I realised there were things I needed to work on to get to the next level and earn the six figures, but I took the easy route. A new job.

Job Hopping

So wanting to increase my income and also loving the challenge of something new I became a job hopper. In my twenties I put my time in doing basically megacorp type jobs. Jobs where there’s always plenty of work. But more importantly plenty of opportunities to learn from people and teach yourself new technologies.

The longest I’ve ever stayed in a job is 2.5 years, my feet start to get itchy as things get too comfortable at the 2 year mark. I thrive on a new challenge, new people and new systems to learn.  Figuring things out during an exploration phase excites me, working out how people work and being able to hit the ground running.

During this time I knew that my technical skills were top-notch, but I was missing some of the interpersonal skills and techniques. It dawned on me that if I really wanted to succeed I needed to put myself out there in challenging situations. And learn from others to develop these skills that seemed to come naturally to others, but not me.

The awakening of the plan

My plan developed at megacorp, when external consultants came in for a big project. They were doing the same technical job, but were treated as more senior and got paid a lot more. Like four times more than I did at the time, making them on six figures. As I learned this, I started to closely watch them, so I could learn from them. Their technical skills were a bit more polished and wide-ranging than mine, but the big difference was interpersonal skills and confidence. As I managed their workloads, I got to work closely with them, befriended them and learned a lot. They liked me and were happy to work with me, and secretly encouraged me to look for a bigger role.

The first step of the plan

So, I ended up seeing a consultancy job that was a perfect technical skill match, so I applied without realising what I was getting myself into. Call me naive, I didn’t really know how consultancy worked, but I knew the company would look amazing on my CV. I had a few really good interviews with them, where I clicked with the interviewers. They seemed to really want my coding skills, ability to get things done and understanding of projects, so it seemed like a good match all round. I’d get to work on my confidence and soft skills, they could use my technical skills. Therefore I accepted the job, and a reasonable pay bump.

Location

And what I’ve not yet mentioned, was this new job was in the big smoke, London. The vast majority of high paying jobs in the UK are in London. So many industries are headquartered here, from media, finance, government, retail to tech firms. It’s the place to be to earn the mega bucks.

As you may expect, living in London costs more than the rest of the country. I have a lot to say on this, so I’ll expand on in a future blog post, I still think living in London is value for money. You can earn so much more here, and there are so many options in so many industries. And that’s before considering the leisure and cultural options.

Doing your time

I enjoyed the day to day in the consultancy, it was easy and fun. However, I was realising there was a dark side. I tried not to let it show, but I was not exactly loving the misogyny and other shady practises. There was a work hard play hard culture, with longish hours expected. However I got exposure to see how a consultancy worked. The main business model is margin; pay consultants low-ish wages, then hire them out to companies at ridiculous rates.  I also got to see a little of how they kept ahead of trends and pitched to clients. But the main skill I learned was keeping clients happy. It turns out I am very good at this, anticipating needs and managing expectations comes naturally. Once I had learned all I could, and wanting to make my next move, I knew it was time to go it alone.  I was ready to make my escape into the six figure world.

Going self-employed – hello six figures

One of the key things I had learned in consultancy is the importance of pitching correctly. I knew what kind of contract I would be ideal for, and all I had to do was find one of them. This is another benefit of being in London, given the sheer number of roles available in this region.  I applied for lots of contracts, but didn’t get a good response. However one day a perfect match came up, and I got a much better response to this one.

After a telephone and face to face interview, I had earned myself a self-employed contract, tripling my income overnight. Yes, the leap really was that large. It’s important to note that I was losing the security of a permanent job, and assuming responsibility for covering my own days off sick or on holiday. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. My contract can be terminated with basically no notice for any reason. As someone who is rarely ill, and who has always had bosses wanting me to stay, assuming these risks did not faze me.

Keeping six figures rolling in

How do I keep myself employed at a six figure rate? Most importantly, I concentrate on value adding, and making sure I understand what is needed and always deliver. I love to get things done; at this stage in my career I can evaluate things well, I know how long things should take, and can give pretty good estimate on delivery dates. I foresee bottlenecks, and when an unexpected issue arises, if I can’t solve it I know how to resolve or escalate it. I know different companies work in different ways, and have their own strengths and different ways of working.

Tomorrow I could be out of work, but I now know that I can always find another contract. I’ve learned to adapt, change my approach yet still be myself. And interestingly, unbeknown to me at the time, one of the original consultants at megacorp gave me a reference for my first contract. And my third contract was a personal referral from another of the consultants, so maybe I am good at networking after all?

What do I wish I knew sooner?

I do sometimes wonder if I worked all this out sooner, where would I be now? Or did I need to learn it all the hard way by doing my time? I do believe if I could have controlled my emotions more, I could come across as more professional earlier in my career. I also needed more confidence in my abilities, and needed to command more respect in order to progress.

High Income = Possibility of High Saving Rate

This post covers how I got the income side to work, my next post will cover my spending. As we know there are two key ingredients to a high savings rate, income and expenses. Since I have achieved the high income, then comes the equally hard piece. Can I keep lifestyle inflation under control?

 

4 comments on “What prevented me earning six figures earlier in life

  1. We have something in common! Becoming consultants (contractor) to increase income and living in a big city! I’ve been independent for a few years now. Glad it’s worked out for you!

    I love how you figured out your strengths and used them to your advantage, outweighing another character trait you perceived to be less advantageous (calling a spade a space). It’s been my experience, people respond better to someone who is candid; earning trust and respect easier than others less straight forward. It’s all in how you do it.

    How did you feel about losing the so called ‘security’ of a full time job? Did it take you awhile to decide and take the plunge?

    1. Hi there, thanks for stopping by, great to have you here commenting. Lovely to see another consultant here; truth be told I never really valued security of a permanent. I always knew I’d be able to get another job, and am actually disappointed I never got the chance to get a redundancy payoff.

  2. Hello! I’m an independent contractor too! I decided to make this jump a few years ago and never looked back. I love taking mini-sabbaticals in between contracts.

    I agree with you – its all about adding value. And being a contractor working on many different projects has taught me a lot about soft skills – stuff I never learned in engineering.

What do you think?