Know your worth: How to negotiate your next pay rise

June 27, 2023
Lucy Wark - Negotiate - Women Fellowship - Startmate

Your palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy 😵‍💫 — you’re either going into a rap battle, or — you’re negotiating your salary.

If the thought of naming your price and asking for what you want (and deserve) makes your skin crawl, you’re not alone. In particular, research tells us 32% of women never negotiate their pay at all, due to the fear of being denied, losing their job, believing they are inexperienced or unworthy, or simply not feeling equipped for the conversation.

Whilst that apprehension is understandable — failing to negotiate is a million-dollar mistake.  

People who negotiate, and receive a pay rise at least every three years, can earn on average an extra 1 million dollars over the course of a 45-year working life.

Read 👏 that 👏 again 👏.

Lucy Wark, understands the art of negotiation, founding the pioneering Australian sexual wellness brand NORMAL, and negotiating a successful exit from its venture-backed parent company, Eucalyptus, in 2022.

She met with the current Women Fellowship cohort, equipping them with tools required to negotiate the starting salaries and pay rises they deserve.

Know your worth 👈

Unlike large corporates or standardised industries with salary banding, the startup landscape is a lot more ambiguous when it comes to what a title may mean or what a role is worth. This is why it is vital to do your market research and gather data points to present back to leadership and support your case. 

Salary benchmarking 

Salary guides are a great tool to help you understand current industry trends and provide a market average range for you to benchmark your salary against — check out global growth consultancy Think and Grow’s 2022/23 Salary Guide.

Complementary data

Going the extra mile to gather additional data examples can be super helpful in cementing your request. Firstly, find job listings for similar roles where the salary is transparently included (and obviously favourable to your case 💅). Lucy also suggests identifying people in similar roles and startups and simply reaching out, asking if they would be comfortable to anonymously advise their salary range — to assist you in understanding your market worth.

Quantifiable accomplishments

You need to be able to communicate how your contribution will benefit the wider team and assist the business in achieving its goals. Create a list of the unique skills and experience you have, and any specialised training or certifications you hold, that demonstrate why a business should invest in you.

Armed with emotional intelligence

Negotiation is indeed an art form, fraught with emotion. You can have all the facts laid out, clear and simple, and still receive push-back — it is a dance after all, a sashay toward mutual agreement. This requires the perfect mix of assertiveness with an empathetic lens applied.

Asking for what you want

Society tells us it’s a fine line, striking the balance between being seen as a “pushover”, and not coming across as “too assertive” (🙄). Not to be confused with aggression, being assertive simply demonstrates that you respect yourself and your work, and request that behavior in return, from others. It’s about communicating your needs in a way that helps the other person understand. You can practice this in daily life or ‘low-risk situations’ (e.g. requesting to move to a more comfortable seat in a cafe, or learning to say ‘no’ to family or friends).

Negotiation persona

Money talk can be an anxiety-inducing experience. However, for the sake of a million dollars, it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — Lucy does this by stepping into her negotiation persona. Negotiation is a conversation and it requires you to remain calm and composed under pressure. By adopting the characteristics consistent with excellent conversationalists (think Brene Brown, Barack Obama) you can increase your confidence and reduce your emotional reactivity during negotiation.

Plan B in your pocket

What stage the business is in (early, mid, scale-up) and its equity funding cycle, may determine their ability to move on salary negotiations. In that case, there are plenty of non-financial ‘work perks’ you can table for discussion — this is known as ‘logrolling’, where you negotiate concessions or trade-offs, to create a win-win for both parties (e.g. working a four-day week, in lieu of a higher salary).

Non-monetary benefits

  • Employee Share Option Plan (ESOP) (equity)
  • Reduced working hours
  • Guaranteed back pay at the point of another equity raise 
  • Increased annual leave
  • Education or study allowance
  • More flexible working arrangements

Salary vs work perks

Reward and remuneration is a personal matter — what drives and motivates one individual, is completely different to the next. The key is to ensure it meets your financial and psychological needs — negotiation empowers you with the opportunity to make the outcome work for you and your lifestyle. 

Lucy encourages financial due diligence, to ensure that you’re not making compromises on a salary that puts you on the back foot and stops you from moving ahead.

“Treat equity as a cherry on top — it's great, but in all likelihood, it will take a very long time to get to get to a point of liquidity if it turns out to be worth something — be careful trading off large amounts of salary for it.”

“There are terrific startup success stories, so if you’re willing to deal with the uncertainty, build a case around the company's growth potential, and ask someone you trust who can support you with those judgments”.

Preparation makes payrise

Contrary to our beliefs (and deepest fears), negotiating your salary actually isn’t personal — it’s just business 💼. So do the research, gather the supporting evidence, master your mindset, and back yourself in — because it might just pay off.

Lucy Wark runs a course dedicated to turning you into one hell of a negotiator:

For individuals tackling salary / equity /  promotion:

For founder / operators / investors negotiating on behalf of their company:

Give the author some love!

Like this article? You’ll like our Women Fellowship too!

The Startmate Women Fellowship is a program and community for ambitious women looking to supercharge their career in startups.

Apply now
Women Fellowship
Written by
Written by
Penny HollowayPenny Holloway
Penny is a Marketing Lead and Consultant, hanging out in Brand, Strategy and Creative Development. She is also a Women's Fellow in the W23 cohort!

More Articles