Do you ever feel like you’ve tapped your earning potential? Maybe you’ve already reached the top of the ladder in your current department or company, or perhaps your industry just isn’t particularly lucrative.
The truth is, you’re never out of options when it comes to growing your income. Take it from these four people, who believed higher-paying work was around the corner—and found a way to cash in.
Brad Cummins, 38, Columbus, Ohio
After graduating from college in 2004, Brad Cummins joined the insurance industry, selling property, casualty and life insurance. While he owned and operated his agency, he still worked under a big-name company’s brand and only sold its products.
He admits he was doing well—earning between $75,000 and $85,000 a year, based on commission—but he wasn’t completely satisfied. “I knew I could make more money as an independent agent versus a captive agent,” Cummins says. “I also wanted the freedom to do something more than just be a local insurance agent.”
Making a Change: That’s what inspired Cummins to sell his agency in May 2014, keeping half the proceeds to pay for his living expenses and funneling $50,000 into a new venture: an independent insurance agency, focusing on life insurance.
“I went from offering one insurance product locally to offering more than 30 companies nationally,” he says. “I needed to have the flexibility to offer the customer the right product, not just force-feed them a product that was not to their benefit.”
Cummins originally planned to serve only local clients, but, as his Internet presence grew, he realized he could broaden his scope—and boost his bottom line. Using inbound marketing, search optimization and a well-designed website that he maintains himself, Cummins started capturing the interests of clients nationwide. He also created a technology platform that allows customers to view and compare rates, attracting even more people.
Exponential Results: Thanks to his focus on national clientele, Cummins’ agency has experienced quick growth. “This year, I will more than likely triple the commissions I made in my last year as a [branded insurance] agent, if we continue on our current pace,” he says.
Cummins is reinvesting much of that extra cash in his business, in order to build new products that make connecting with agents and purchasing life insurance easier. “My success means that I am providing for my family, helping agents and clients, all while doing something I truly love to do,” he says.
His Advice for Others: “If you want to increase your income exponentially, look for a problem that affects many people—and solve it,” Cummins says.
Michael Heiligenstein, 26, New York, N.Y.
When he finished college with degrees in English and History in 2013, Michael Heiligenstein says he didn’t have much of a plan for the future. “I moved home, unsuccessfully applied for work for a few months, before finally settling in at my former summer job at a local publishing company,” he says. “It wasn’t bad work, and I was still able to save money by living at home for several months.”
The only problem? He was making $15 an hour—and knew he could do better.
Making a Change: In early 2015, Heiligenstein took a leap of faith and moved to New York City in search of a better-paying gig. “I knew that, with the number of jobs in marketing and publishing in the city, there was a strong chance I’d find a fit for my skill set,” he says. “And within a month, I landed a job, handling marketing for a new, rapidly growing website about small businesses.”
Exponential Results: Heiligenstein’s new position paid $45,000 a year, significantly more than his previous job. Even better, within eight months, he earned a 33 percent, or $15,000, raise. He also graduated from an entry-level employee to managing a small team of his own.
How’d he get there? Heiligenstein says he identified his employer’s expectations for the position and worked hard to exceed them. “Not every single project was a success, but learning to handle criticism and identify issues is a useful skill,” he says. “I also sought out new responsibilities, which isn’t hard to do at a smaller company where nearly everyone is a multi-tasker.”
His Advice for Others: Much of Heiligenstein’s success boils down to taking (calculated) leaps of faith. “Startup jobs can be risky, but also offer a huge opportunity for advancement if things go well. [Moving] also helped me, as it’s unlikely I would have found similar work in Indianapolis,” he says. “The downside is the high cost of living, but the pay boost more than makes up for it. If you’re serious about career advancement, thriving cities are often the best place for it.”
Andrea Tate, 39, Huntsville, Ala.
After earning her undergraduate degree in education in 2002, Andrea Tate worked as an elementary school teacher for seven years, earning a salary of about $45,000. Though she enjoyed her job, Tate had bigger dreams—to reach as many students as possible and to provide more for her own two, school-age kids.
Making a Change: In 2011, she got her shot to accomplish both when a colleague recommended her to a recruiter, looking for a sales representative for a school-curriculum company. Tate thought the position sounded right up her alley—especially since she’d spent her college years working in sales for a wireless company.
Plus, it offered exactly what she’d been seeking: “I can reach more kids by providing learning materials to teachers and students throughout my territory, rather than just helping the ones that were in my classroom,” she says. “And this was an opportunity to provide for my kids in a way I never would have been able to before.”
Exponential Results: After scoring the position in November 2011, Tate left the classroom to start her new career as a curriculum sales rep. Though her base pay was $50,000—a slight increase over her teaching salary—the opportunity to earn commissions helped her double her previous income in less than two years.
With the extra money, Tate now sends her children to private school, invests for their future and even took them on a cruise last year.
Her Advice for Others: “Don’t get in your own way; be willing to try something different and new that may be out of your comfort zone,” Tate advises others interested in upping their income. “If you are [confident] in your talents and looking for new opportunities, you will often be rewarded.”
Dan Nainan, New York, N.Y.
For five years, Dan Nainan made six figures as an engineer at Intel, often traveling with executives and giving technical demonstrations at live events. But no matter how many speeches he gave, he couldn’t shake his nerves. “So I took a comedy class to get over the fear, and the comedy kind of took off,” he says.
After sharing the video of his first performance at a comedy club—the “final exam” for his class—with coworkers, Nainan was invited to perform for 250 people at a team dinner. That led to another performance for 2,500 at a company sales meeting.
“People were coming up and asking if I was a professional comedian, [pretending] he was an Intel employee, instead of the other way around,” Nainan says. “That’s when I got an inkling that perhaps I could do this for a living.”
Making a Change: It didn’t take long before Nainan started positioning himself to do comedy full-time. His first move was accepting a new job at Intel that relocated him from California to New York, so he could better pursue comedy on the side. Then a year later, he quit his corporate gig. His comedy career wasn’t profitable yet, but he was confident it would be one day. In the meantime, he’d rely on his savings and investments to support himself.
Because English stand-up comedy was relatively new to the Indian community, Nainan eventually found his niche doing Indian events—which is how he got his big break. In 2005, he posted a YouTube video of a routine, which quickly amassed over a million views. “That video has been responsible for getting me booked in 28 countries on five continents,” he says.
Since then, Nainan’s performed at Democratic conventions, presidential inaugural galas and for many celebrities. He’s also landed a few commercials and recently voiced characters on “Family Guy.”
Exponential Results: It was a long road, he says, but within seven years, Nainan tripled his old salary—today, earning as much as $20,000 for corporate events. And he has no plans to slow down: “I’m continuing to travel the United States and the world doing comedy shows,” he says. “I want to open my own clean comedy club, run my own comedy festival and get a sitcom or reality show sold.”
His Advice for Others: Nainan admits that quitting your day job isn’t feasible for most. However, he believes everyone has the opportunity to pursue their passions—and make money—in their off-hours.
“[Many people] complain that they don’t have enough time to get everything done, yet the average American watches [almost 20] hours of television a week,” he says. If you can divert just a few of those hours to a side business or passion project that serves a specific niche, you’re much more likely to find success—and a fatter wallet, he adds.