Need a raise, but how?
May 22, 2007 9:59 PM   Subscribe

How do I ask for a raise from bosses I like in a company that isnt profiting?

OK, bear with me, this is going to get really long and more than a little boring but a lot of that has to do with the fact that (with the exception of a few short naps) Ive been up for almost 3 days on a magazine deadline.

I work as art director for a city magazine with a circulation of around 50,000.
I started about a year and a half ago and we launched our first issue last fall.
Were a bimonthly. About 130 pages.

Okey, thems the nuts and bolts. Heres the problems:

• I was offered the job with a contract that included 44k a year, 2 weeks vacation and medical (this was Dec 05) Since that time, only the 44k has materialized.

• I am working as a one-man art department on a full-color, national-quality magazine that has a smaller staff than most high school newspapers. And no, Im not trying to be cute. Its true.

• Every other month, I do nothing else but work on this magazine. As of this writing Ive clocked about 300 hours this month (about 23 days in a row of 12+ hour days) and I will be here at the very least til sun-up tomorrow. For every two months of my life, this job takes one entirely, and thats not counting the amount of regular time spent on the job in the off months

• Its been a year and a half with no raises, bumps or bonuses and no discussion of them.

• The magazine has been recieved very well by advertisers and the public, but has yet to become profitable. Weve also been nominated (on the strength of a single issue) for a few awards and won a couple.

The problem is this: Im giving way more for this job than I can ever expect to get back out of it. My bosses are literally the best bosses Ive ever had. Great people. But I feel like Im killing myself to help someone else follow their dream and 44 a year (in California no less) is just not hittin it for what I have to put on the table.

So what to do?
I love my job and think we make a really great product, but my time has to be worth something as well and so does my life, which I seem to be missing most of just to do my job. I know the company doesnt have much money, but at what point do I say "thats not my problem. What I do costs a certain amount"?

How do I address all this without there being any bad blood between us?
It seems like an impossible knot right now and its making me sick to my stomach.
They really are great people, and Im very loyal, but Im also a 33 year old that cant afford a car yet I spend most of my time working.

Anyhoo, thanks to anyone that read all of that. Any thoughts?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Work & Money (19 answers total)
Keep in mind that profit is just an accounting concept; just because an enterprise isn't profitable in the way that most laymen think of the word doesn't mean there isn't cash flow available to absorb higher expenses.

So I'd forget the profitability issue, and directly raise the lack of the promised holiday and medical as bargaining chips.

Since you're still working there it seems the lack of paid holiday or medical doesn't bother you that much.

Ask for a compensation increase that is structured along the lines of, minimally, the cost of two weeks holiday, a medical plan, as well as what ever you think is reasonable for the amount of time / effort you put in.

Before you begin your negotiations I'd suggest that you at least explore what your skills would command in other firms. Have an exit plan in mind in case they decline your altogether reasonable request.

Be prepared, should they refuse and you find another job, for a counter offer from your current employer - you sound indispensable. Make certain you know precisely what you'd do under all circumstances.

After all, profitability or the lack of it isn't really your problem as the Head of the Art Department. You do your job, expect that folks above you in the management chain do theirs, and you have every right to expect to be fairly compensated for your efforts.

For don't worry about "bad blood"; for you this is just business. If they exit the situation angry why would you care if you're acting in good faith?
posted by Mutant at 10:46 PM on May 22, 2007

If its a small company and you know for a fact they're not making a profit then you probably cant (and shouldnt ) ask for a raise. They cant pay you money they havent got, they can decide they cant afford you and find a replacement though.

Is future profit likely? Is there anything your 1 man department can do to cut costs without sacrificing quality?

I dont think its unreasonable for them to only pay you your contracted amount, if your contract didnt mention bonuses then you shouldnt expect to get them (especially if the company isnt profitable)

18 months isnt exactly a long time to go without a raise - I'm sure everyone would love yearly raises but thats just not how business works. Unless it says so in the contract they're not obliged to even consider increasing your salary.

Look at this from their perspective, are you going above and beyond whats necessary to get the job done? Just because you're working 12 hours days every other month doesnt mean you're going beyond what they expect. If they expect that 1 person can get all this work done within a month in normal working hours then you probably seem slow/slack to them.

But it does sound like the company has some serious time management issues to work out if you're having to work overtime only every other month. If the work was spread more evenly over 2 months it would probably be more tolerable. If this isnt down to you (ie, in the off month there just isnt any artwork to deal with - rather than a backlog that builds up towards deadline) then perhaps its something you could bring up with your bosses.

If you want to keep the job and theres possibility for future profit then stick it out. Otherwise find a new job, better to leave than to be fired for being too expensive.
You say your bosses are great people they might also be more generous than you can imagine when they have money to be generous with, if you ask for a raise now, you may end up losing out in the long run.
posted by missmagenta at 10:58 PM on May 22, 2007

I'm guessing that a good print designer in Califoria can do a lot better than 44K a year when working 300 hours every other month, and a 40 week on the other months.

You are not responsible for circulation, advertising, or revenue, so I don't think your pay should be tied too closely to the profitability of the magazine, and if it is, then you should be extrordinarily well paid once it becomes profitable since you are poorly paid when it isn't.

They have already failed to fulfill their contract with you by not providing medical and the promised vacation. You are well within your rights to walk. You are certainly within your rights to ask them to both fulfill the original deal, and give you some sort of raise. It also sounds to me like you are right to push them to improve their editorial and production schedule to allow you a somewhat less ridiculous work cycle.

Is your time really filled during the down months? Another option is to negotiate a more flexible schedule during the down months, since you are clearly more than flexible about your work schedule on the busy months.

You have a very strong hand, as long as you are willing to walk. It's your choice how you play it.
posted by Good Brain at 11:12 PM on May 22, 2007

Response by poster: During the "off months" it becomes a little more than a regular job. Some overtime here and there and often afterhours photoshoots etc for the coming issue, so theres not really terribly much downtime in the off months either.

I want to hire a second designer, but the workflow needs to speed up from the top first.

And yes, I am performing well above both my paygrade and my job title. They know it and have even said it. I dont think anyone is trying to screw me, but at the same time is it really my problem? Services cost money and they should find a way to provide it.

I havent even mentioned the secondary effect that this has had on my income. I used to pull 500-1000 a month in freelance. Now the phone never rings because Ive turned down too many projects for lack of time.

posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:18 PM on May 22, 2007

"They cant pay you money they havent got..."

Once again I reiterate that profit is just an accounting concept. There are many, many ways for cash rich firms to be "unprofitable", at least in the eyes of a layman. And there are situations when it benefits a business to lose money - taxes on profits, for example. Can't tax what isn't there. Its very common for companies to be run at either minimal profits or at an outright loss.

And without access to the full books & records of this enterprise, we have no idea if they are indeed running their business at a loss.

And whether or not the firm is profitable is only the concern of the owner and the accountants. You're entitled to fair compensation, and if they can't offer it to you don't let smokescreens like "profitability" sway your thinking.
posted by Mutant at 11:24 PM on May 22, 2007

Response by poster: To be fair, they havent given profitability as an excuse. Thats just something Im figuring is affecting things.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:27 PM on May 22, 2007

Insist on the 2 weeks holiday (2 weeks? in Aus the legal minimum is 4!) and health cover, or cash in lieu. They've got to pay you what they contracted for as a starting point. Then bring up the extra work you're doing to push for a raise.

Of course, you'll need to be able to realistically threaten to leave the company if they won't budge.
posted by robcorr at 12:02 AM on May 23, 2007

Call me cynical, but I don't think the profitability of a company (or lack thereof) should influence your own compensation. The only exceptions would be things like having stock options, profit sharing, or desirability of long-term employment.

It doesn't matter if the company is profitable or not. For the magazine to be created, it requires someone in your position to be doing your work. This is a normal cost of business and cannot be reduced without affecting the quality of work. If the company cannot pay the going rate for your work, then they shouldn't be hiring someone of your skillset.
posted by meowzilla at 12:14 AM on May 23, 2007

As has been mentioned before, unprofitable firms can find ways to compensate you. And minimizing profits is a valid strategy for the owners. I would ask for a boost in pay but failing that perhaps they can pay some of your expenses. Maybe your cell phone bill or health club membership or a per diem. They can legitimately write those off as a business expense and it will cost them less than a like increase in payroll. The owners have to be living somehow even if their business isn't providing them with profits, so they are probably already using the tactic of having their personal expenses be business expenses.

As for not getting your medical benefits as promised, that is an unconscionable breach on their part, and I'd raise holy hell to get it rectified, with the understanding that when they come through on that, it is not a favor they did you, it's their duty. It is irresponsible and dangerous for them to let you go without health insurance if the agreement they made to provide you with it was in good faith.
posted by vito90 at 12:53 AM on May 23, 2007

If they hired you at that rate, chances are they can hire someone else at the same rate.
I'm well aware that businesses have cashflow even if they're not profitable but that money can be used to make a profit - whereas giving you a raise wont make them more money if they can just replace you.

Before hitting them in the wallet, talk to them about the workflow and the 12+ hours days. Doing something about that would be far more valuable to you than an extra $4k payrise. And you should mention the medical insurance (have you been uninsured all this time? If not then you may be able to ask them to cover the costs of your personal medical insurance - for all you know this might have been what they intended in the contract but you never billed them for it)
As to the lack of holidays, how many times have you requested time off and been refused? I dont know about US law but in the UK if you have requested time off and been refused then you are entitled to payment in lieu.

Remember though, if you dont have a backup plan and they decide you're too expensive you could be out of a job completely.

Your absolute best bet if you're dead set on just wanting more money is to find a new job at a higher wage, tell them about the job offer and if they offer to match what the other company is offering then great for you, but there is always a risk that they will say, fine, we understand - good luck in your new job.
posted by missmagenta at 1:48 AM on May 23, 2007

Your issue isn't just lack of money but lack of time. Can't the magazine take on an unpaid intern or two, so you could delegate some of the grunt work to them?
posted by Violet Hour at 3:07 AM on May 23, 2007

From their point of view, it sounds like you are an extremely valuable asset. They really won't want to have you completely burn out (if they're smart). Help them see that you're just about at your limit and something's got to give, otherwise, as much as you like them and the job, you will _have_ to look for something else. This isn't good for you, long term, and you need to get something more back or you're just going to become an unhappy, not-so-creative employee, or a happier ex-employee -- not because you don't like them, but because you simply can't live your life like this for much longer.
posted by amtho at 5:46 AM on May 23, 2007

Nthing the view that "profit" is an accounting concept. It doesn't necessarily mean that the cash isn't there.

At a minimum, you are entitled to everything you were promised in your contract. Why not bring that up? It may be that they can't afford medical -- health insurance is quite expensive for small businesses -- but might be willing to renegotiate your contract to give you a raise instead.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:19 AM on May 23, 2007

We have a saying in my family: "don't negotiate with deadbeats."

You KNOW your employer doesn't honor contracts; that attitude will eventually destroy the company, and it may happen sooner rather than later. Don't stick around for the day the paychecks start bouncing. If there's any way you can make it work financially, I would suggest quitting immediately, collecting on your accrued vacation (sic the authorities on them if they won't pay), and offering to fill your position on a contract basis until they can find a replacement. Tell them your rate is, mmm, $60/hour (consider how long it will take to get a new $45k employee up to speed) and, given their history, you require prepayment. They'll give you a sob story about profitability and how you'd be making more than the head of the company; explain that you don't care. Offer a lower rate if they will prepay well in advance (i.e., 1000 hours for $50k).

This will burn bridges with the people at the company who don't honor contracts. Good riddence.

(...and potentially leave you jobless. The other option is to ask nicely for your promised insurance/vacation and start looking for a better job.)
posted by backupjesus at 7:59 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with backupjesus on this.
Yeah, it's sounds a little harsh, but that's what needs to be done.
They're screwing you, even if they don't mean to.
You have a very, very strong hand here, and if you can play it right, you can get exactly what you want, if not more. Don't be afraid to highball them either. Work down to what you really want from them, and if they're not willing to give that to you, be really and truly ready to walk away (begin looking around for a new job, and have a few leads before you start the battle).
Start by asking to be paid as an independant, by the hour, in advance, for at least twice as much as you make, hourly, now. Additionally, ask for reimbursement for your med and vacation, as well as back reimbursement for overtime. They will want to do none of these things. But if you're firm, and serious about being able to walk (an offer from another place would be nice, but not necessary), i'd bet you'd be able to manage enforcement or reimbursement for your med and vacation, as well as some sort of system for overtime pay, from here on in (overtime pay is what you should really be asking for here.).
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2007

Well, it does sound like you're getting hosed. When these guys decided to start a magazine, they took on a substantial risk. Were they up-front with you about these risks when they hired you? Did they ask you to share in them?

Especially if they were not (but even if they were), it is in no way incumbent upon you to share in these risks unless you also have a share of the rewards (i.e., potential future profits). I would approach them and ask for more money, and simply be honest. Tell them that you like working for them and that you like the work, but explain the issue with your income, and the loss of freelance work caused by the absurd hours. They need to pay you more for that amount of work. Let them know that you are comfortable negotiating with them, and that you understand that they will need a set amount of time (but no longer) to reach a decision regarding your pay. Be firm with this deadline.

If you approach them reasonably, and they will listen. After all, it's not easy to replace a guy who works 300 hours ever other month and helps put out an award winning product.

Alternately, if these guy's promised you medical and didn't deliver, they are screwing you. Feel free to play hardball. It sounds as though you will be difficult to replace - this gives you significant leverage.
posted by taliaferro at 10:06 AM on May 23, 2007

You are not asking for a raise. You are asking, first and foremost, for your bosses to honor your existing employment contract by providing you with paid health insurance and paid vacation, or monetary compensation for the fact that they haven't done so yet. If they can't do that, you should quit.

I agree with everyone above who says that, regardless of their pleas of poverty, you have a lot of power here. Make them give you, at the very least, what they've already promised you. Let them know that you will not be producing another issue of the magazine for them until your existing contract is honored. If you want to ask for more money on top of that, you probably have the power to do that as well, but that's secondary to getting what they've already agreed to pay you and reneged on.
posted by decathecting at 6:45 PM on May 23, 2007

If they work the copy machine extra hard, they have to pay more for its upkeep... or get another copy machine to share the load. The maintenance costs would then be lower per machine.

They need your help just like they need their inanimate objects to function properly. It is the owners' duty to maintain you.

Mutant is right about it being an accounting concept. If things look so good, they can take out loans to get you paid. Besides if they profit like gangbusters, will your pay increase the same? Probably not.
posted by umlaut at 8:00 PM on May 23, 2007

I do know someone who did what backupjesus suggested, quit and then agreed to keep working as a contractor. It has worked out nicely for her. However, I was going to suggest something less hardball -- putting them on notice. What about sitting them down and saying:

"Hey, Nice-Friendly-Bosses, I really love working here. It's been an amazing opportunity to be part of an award-winning magazine getting built from the ground up. I really want to stay involved.

"That's why I wanted to talk to you. I'm starting to look ahead and plan for my future, and I'm realizing that to achieve my longer-term goals [you could mention one or not], I need to increase the amount I bring home, so I can start to save for these.

"It seems that art directors in this city typically receive about $70K [or you could just say "significantly more than I do"]. And as you know, I'm not even receiving benefits I was originally promised.

"I know you're in a tight spot right now, but I wanted to let you know that if the magazine's finances don't make it possible to boost my salary to a competitive market rate, in [12? 9? 6?] months, I'll be forced to start looking for another job. I'm hoping that by talking about it with you now, we can find a way to make this happen because I really enjoy working here and working with you both."

So then, at the end of your time period, you'll be able to leave without bad blood. Or maybe they'll make it worth your while to stay.

I'd pick the deadline you give them a bit carefully. My (uninformed) guess is that they'd boost your money by some amount fairly soon but possibly never to the full amount, or at least not until about a month after whatever deadline you set.

They may not understand your "money above all else" attitude if they live and breathe the excitement of starting this magazine, so I'd recommend sounding a little regretful. You share their excitement and vision, and you wish you could stay, but the financial reality of this world is forcing you to be practical. (I mean, it's true, right? You're already asking yourself "is this job worth not being able to afford a car?" and the tradeoffs will only get worse, I'd guess.)

Oh, and I'd start looking for jobs shortly after making your speech, especially if they're the type that might view this as "disloyality" and start looking for your replacement. If you find one right away, you can either ask to start in a couple months, or tell the current people that actually, you'll need to know sooner.
posted by salvia at 6:12 PM on May 27, 2007

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