The Moneyist: I’ve been working for my millionaire friend for 4 years — she’s never given me a pay raise. My husband says I should be grateful
I have been working remotely part-time as an independent contractor (aka Form 1099) for a friend for four years, doing bookkeeping and admin work. When I started, she told me how much she pays and I was happy with the rate since it is more than I could make where I live. I don’t want to ruin this friendship, but I also don’t want to be a sucker.
I have been at the same hourly rate for the entire four years. She frequently tells me how she appreciates me and what a good job I do, and begs me not to leave. While the rate is more than I could make where I live, it is at least 20% less than she would have to pay for someone in her location. The hours are very flexible, and I am grateful for that.
In 2021, she raised the wages of all her employees by 5% to 10%, as her company is doing very well post-COVID. She has never offered to raise my rate. Admittedly, I have not asked for an increase. It is not a matter of her being able to afford it. She is very wealthy — worth at least $20 million. Her company is very profitable.
My husband says I should be thrilled with what I make. My local friends say they think I am being taken advantage of. I am torn.
Friend and Worker
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Dear Friend and Worker,
You’re not asking for a pay raise because you are friends, and you don’t want to ruin the friendship. She is not giving you a pay raise along with everyone else because you are friends, and she doesn’t want to ruin a good thing. Plus, she knows how grateful you are and that your friendship creates a mutually beneficial, if sometimes awkward, arrangement.
Once you have entered a business relationship with a friend — whether as a partner or an employee — the balance of power is compromised. It’s no longer equal. Personalities and emotions are not part of a negotiation strategy. You should not act against your own best interests for the sake of a friendship, especially if that friendship has been irrevocably changed — and it has.
Why would she give you a pay raise if she doesn’t have to? That’s the bittersweet part of hiring a friend: Priorities shift, and boundaries are blurred. Real-world rules no longer apply. Sooner or later, one or both parties let their needs take a backseat. In this case, those needs are yours. If she respects you that much and is as grateful as she says, she would give you a raise.
Independent contractors like yourself are sometimes treated differently than employees, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t feel free to ask for a raise. Tell her you are happy with your job — if you are — and what you have contributed over these four years. Don’t mention the friendship. This is just business. Your time is valuable, and that’s what she is paying for.
If she short-changes you, there won’t be much of a friendship or working relationship to salvage. It’s a win-win for both your self-respect and the value you put on your role in the company.
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