Underhanded tactics guaranteed to land a bigger bonus

Greg Miliates offers some tips -- some underhanded -- for getting a bigger bonus.

This is a guest post by Greg Miliates.

Back when I had a "real" job, my boss referred to me as her "cash cow" since I was the only member of our customer support team who was doing work that generated revenue -- everyone else was a cost. I didn't mind the nickname, kept mooing, and was able to snag a sweet bonus. Now, being appreciated feels good, but a compliment won't pay the rent -- or help fund the down payment on that Ferrari you've always wanted. Being the cash cow wasn't underhanded -- I'll cover that later -- but it definitely fattened my paycheck.

So why should you get a bonus? Simple: you either generate cash or cut costs. If you aren't doing one of those things, you're a cost center, and as everyone knows, departments viewed purely as costs are vulnerable to cuts. You're viewed as a necessary evil of doing business. The poor stepchild of the company.

So what's the trick to guaranteeing a bigger bonus?

Actually, there's more than one trick to guaranteeing a bigger bonus -- I'll mention some of the underhanded ones later -- but for the moment, let's stick to the high road.

As IT professionals we're essential to keeping things running smoothly, ensuring uptime, making sure critical data is backed up, and all the zillion things we're expected to do. But we often stay stuck in that mind-set: the mind-set of an employee who supports the organization. The key to a bigger bonus is to stop thinking like an employee and start thinking like a business owner. Once you do that, you can start looking for opportunities to generate revenue and/or cut costs -- though hopefully not cutting things in your own department (after all, we all like to have our own private fiefdom).

And here's another trump card: as tech geeks, we're in the know about new tools and technologies that can help businesses. No longer do you have to be the pocket-protector, glasses-held-together-with-tape, flood-pants-wearing, pasty-skinned office outcast. No. Here's your chance to shine -- and get you some bank.

Understand your company's business model

The first step is to understand your company's business model. To really succeed, you need to understand more than "we sell stuff online and people pay us for it." That might be how you capture revenue, but it's not your business model. A business model is more comprehensive. It includes aspects like:

  • What problem is your company solving?
  • What customer segments are you targeting?
  • What channels do you use to reach customers?
  • What solutions do you offer for the customer's problem(s)?
  • What's your unique value proposition?
  • What costs are required to generate revenue?
  • How do you capture revenue?

Obviously, that's a simplified list, but this isn't a grad school business course. We're just scratching the surface on the kinds of things you need to start thinking about. Keep in mind that no matter what your company's product -- whether it's a physical or digital product or a service -- the product is NOT the business. The goal of the business is to execute the business model. So whether it's widgets, wakeboards, or weasel grooming, your business needs to execute and optimize its business model.

Armed with that knowledge, look for ways to amp up the business model

Now that you have a solid understanding of your company's business model, you can look for inefficiencies, gaps, or new ways to create revenue or cut costs. Think about:

  • What current activities generate revenue?
  • What are the most costly aspects of the business?
  • How can you optimize current revenue?
  • How can you capture and/or generate new revenue?

Where the rubber meets the road: real-world examples

Here are a couple real-life examples to drive the point home.

In my consulting practice, I work with law firms, and most attorneys bill by the hour. Like most professionals these days, attorneys don't do all their work in their office sitting in front of a computer. They make calls from their car or at their kid's soccer game, meet with clients out of the office or in court, and write e-mail from their smartphones and tablets. But guess what? Most firms have enterprise time & billing systems that don't have a way to allow remote time entry. So, although attorneys MIGHT remember to enter that out-of-office billable time, they typically don't, and that already-worked billable time ends up being lost revenue. I saw that as an opportunity, and my business partner and I built native mobile apps to capture that revenue and import it in real time to the firm's enterprise database. The result is an IT solution (CloudTime) that generates revenue for firms: attorneys bill more hours (WITHOUT doing any extra work) and therefore get bigger bonuses, and the IT folks who brought the technology to the firm get bigger bonuses too.

Another example: Sales-driven organizations like real estate and insurance brokerages generate revenue by closing transactions, whether it's a four-bedroom ranch home or a life insurance policy. The more transactions closed, the more revenue generated. However, there are a couple steps in the process that can be improved: increasing & optimizing lead generation channels, and optimizing lead conversion. (As an aside, MIT co-sponsored a study on lead conversion which found that, among other things, the faster a lead is followed up, the more likely it converted to a sale). A few ideas for how IT could improve those steps are:

  • Create additional channels for capturing leads, such as separate websites and/or web pages that target more specific keyword searches such as "Santa Fe luxury homes" or "over 55 life insurance policy".
  • Add easy opt-in web forms for capturing leads.
  • Add a prominent toll-free phone number on every page of the company website to make it easy for leads to contact your sales team.
  • Implement an automated system to notify salespeople in real time when a prospect completes the web lead form. A great example of this is Follow Up Boss, which automatically connects leads to agents and has a centralized, automated lead tracking system.

Create quick, cheap tests to demonstrate your value

Depending on the size and structure of your company, you may need to partner with your marketing/sales department on some of these ideas. Or you could just go rogue and bear the consequences -- as the saying goes, it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

The goal here is to test and measure things using small, inexpensive experiments to find out what's most effective. You can create these kinds of experiments -- called A/B tests or split tests -- for nearly anything, but now that you're thinking like a business owner, you'll want to focus on things like increasing traffic or leads, or optimizing conversions (i.e., sales). Depending on the scope of your experiments, they can either stand on their own or act as a springboard for bigger initiatives. Either way, you've shown how using IT tools and technology can add to the bottom line. Some examples:

  • Test whether displaying your company's toll-free number prominently on your website increases leads and/or sales.
  • Test whether getting listed in Google Places increases leads and/or sales.
  • Create Google adwords campaigns to see which keywords generate the most traffic and/or conversions (i.e., sales).
  • Experiment to see which copywriting messages on your website create the most sign-ups and/or sales.
  • Test different designs and calls to action on your website's sign-up form to see which converts best.

Take matters into your own hands to justify a bigger bonus

Like I mentioned earlier, there are other, more underhanded ways you can ensure a bigger bonus. Here's a sampling:

  • Kiss up to the boss. Yes, it's unimaginative and spineless, but it can work delightfully if your boss responds to that kind of thing.
  • Mercilessly cut costs. Fire your underlings to reap huge short-term savings, then get your bonus and quickly transfer to a different department before things blow up.
  • Sleep with the boss. Again, unimaginative, but tried and true, though not without its risks. It's also a transferable skill.
  • Get you some sleazy clothes and work that moneymaker. Yes, defying the office dress code can get you a lot of attention and maybe even a bonus. But let's face it, we're IT people. The most revealing thing people want to see us wear is a Sith cloak.
  • Get blackmail on the boss. Works well, especially when someone -- you perhaps -- is sleeping with the boss.
  • Golf with the boss's boss. Underhanded like blackmail, but just a hair classier.

Come to think of it, there are quite a lot of ways to guarantee a bigger bonus. But like I said earlier, we're taking the high road here. By thinking like a business owner, increasing revenue, or wisely cutting costs through things like automation, you'll have surefire ways to achieve sustainable career success --and get bigger bonuses.

And if one of your subordinates ever tries a low-road tactic to hook a bonus, you'll at least be prepared. But by that time, you'll be golfing with your boss's boss, so you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Greg Miliates started his consulting business in 2007 and quadrupled his former day-job salary. His blog gives specific tricks, techniques, and tools for creating a successful consulting business on the cheap. Being self-employed, he'd like to find his own cash cow so he doesn't have to kiss up to or sleep with the boss to snag a bonus.


Greg Miliates started his consulting business in 2007 and quadrupled his former day-job salary. His blog ( gives specific tips, tricks, techniques, and tools for starting and running a successful consulting business ...


sleep with the Bosse's Boss! This works great and can really be a hoot. You need to keep it low-key though or people won't like you. Your immediate Boss probably won't like it either.


Explaining to employees how to understand and maximize their contribution to their employer's business could be a career for you.


I'm like most of you guys. A 'nice' guy. A guy that would like to believe our efforts and achievements are recognized and subsequently rewarded by the higher-ups in a company. I have noticed something, though, and it's an old cliche'd saying, "Nice guys finish last." The best jobs I've ever gotten have been when I've had an aggressive attitude, or just plain lost my temper, in an interview. The same goes with raises and bonuses. A non-aggressive attitude equals a doormat in the eyes of many managers. Right now, we ARE under the gun. The employers have a definite advantage, but more because WE are the ones that buy into that. They'll hold their 'Sword of Damocles' right over your head by threatening to let you go but, 7 times out of 10, it's a bluff. The best raises come right when you go to step out that door... You just have to be prepared to go that far. Of course, those 3 times it's a company that DOES think you're immediately replaceable, or not needed. Sometimes they'll hold to that just for spite. But a lot of those millions of out-of-work people are that way because they're not as good as they think they are, and the companies that let you walk out the door aren't in very good shape. Most of the jobs I've been let go from saw the company disappear months afterwards. Of course, it's small consolation for you if the door closes behind you and there's nothing else available. Try to line something else up before, if you can. It's easier to find a new job while you're already employed than when you're not. Even if it's for slightly lower pay, you may find it a better atmosphere to grow from.


At one company I happen to know quite well, there is a new bonus scheme every year. It is based on overall company performance, and part of the individual's bonus is the individual performance, which is measured against objectives set at the beginning of the year and then reviewed towards the end of the year. Sounds great doesn't it? Except, that company has paid a bonus once in the last 10 years, and not at all in the last 5 years. Every year end there is just one little thing where as a company on the whole the objectives weren't met, and bang goes the money. And to compensate for that, the following year, the stakes are raised.


You can't get a BIGGER bonus if you're not getting them in the first place. I'm not talking about Christmas or anniversary bonuses that everyone on board gets, regardless of performance. I didn't think that many IT folks outside the CxO suite received them.


There can be potential downsides to extortion, such as the risk of flying pointy lead objects or a spontaneous combustion malfunction when you turn the ignition key on the car. Despite what I have read in the forum of a certain magazine, I have never had the opportunity to boost my earnings using sex or extortion, but will look forward to such opportunities going forward.


If I start doing that I won't be expecting a bonus I'll be expecting, well..., to be a business owner. Cheers


My company gives bonuses every year. They are about 50% based on overall company performance, revenues, profitability etc. The other 50% is performance based. The lower you are on the ladder, the more performance is judged as part of a team, the higher, the more emphasis is on individual performance. Of course, our base salaries are lower as a result of having a bonus, so don't think we are "lucky" to have it. I have heard of ways to increase bonuses not on the list, at previous employers, and before Sarbanes Oxley. People would delay making a sale if they had already maxed out their bonus potential for the year/quarter, so that they could ensure they got a good bonus next quarter.

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

If you find & implement tools that bring in more revenue or demonstrate significant cost savings, you demonstrate your value to the company, and can justify a salary increase--whether or not you're in a CXO role. Now, if your employer is unwilling/unable to pay you what you're worth, then you always have other options. Believing you have to stay at a job or company--or even in a particular industry or field--limits your options, and doesn't necessarily reflect reality. Compare & test your assumptions to find out what's possible. I'm not saying it's always easy. But, the world is filled with opportunity once you start looking. If one door doesn't open when you knock, try a different door, or make your own door.


StartMyBodyshoppingBidness wrote: "Believing you have to stay at a job or company--or even in a particular industry or field--limits your options, and doesn't necessarily reflect reality. Compare & test your assumptions to find out what's possible." Let's see. We've got a couple million unemployed and under-employed STEM workers in the USA, these days, and some 15M unemployed plus another 10M or so under-employed in the USA generally. The many options that pay even less have numerous applicants, but those are jobs we can't get because we're "over-qualified", while the bodyshoppers and their clients claim we are not "qualified" for the jobs we've been doing and getting those head pats for all along (and even for jobs merely using the kinds of tools and products we'd been creating). I'm not seeing a lot of great, likely possibilities here.


"If you find & implement tools that bring in more revenue or demonstrate significant cost savings, you demonstrate" that you're a pliant schmoo who can be milked forever with no recognition or compensation at all. If you're fortunate, you'll get nice pats on the head and encouraging noises, because they've been taught at B-school that that is both sufficient and effective. And the B-school bozos won't recognize that your great new software development tool or your new product is generating the revenue. They'll believe it was only their frat-buddy sales-clones who made all the difference, because, obviously, he was the one standing there when the money changed hands. Besides, an actual increase in compensation could cut into the CEO's vacation, 3rd home plans, or investment portfolio, and we couldn't have that. The C*O and VP compensation must always go up, no matter how effectively they've hampered everyone else's productivity.

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

I'm not necessarily advocating that everyone go out and start a business. Depending on your situation, being an employee is the best thing, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there are still things you can do to snag a (bigger) bonus and/or increase your salary by demonstrating your value to the company. Generally, if you want to get a bonus or a bigger bonus or raise, you'll need to do something beyond your normal job requirements. Bringing in more cash or cutting costs are ways to do that, but it often takes a shift in thinking to see those kinds of opportunities.


Some of us want to be employees, not business owners. I could never be self-employed unless I enjoyed eating generic cat food. I don't have the drive or the self-promotional skills to make a living that way. No, I'll probably never get a bonus, but I also won't lie awake worrying about my next contract or contribution. To me, it's an acceptable trade-off. Somebody's got to do the nuts and bolts work of implementing all those great ideas.

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

I'm not arguing that millions of people are and have been unemployed/underemployed--some of them for many months or years. My brother is an electrical engineer with strong programming skills and over 15 years experience, and was unemployed for a year-and-a-half. What I'm arguing is that there are indeed opportunities. Otherwise, what explains the fact that myself and other self-employed people have been able to start and grow businesses during the financial meltdown? What about other businesses & start-ups that have done the same thing? Absent opportunities, there'd be no success stories. Again, that's not to ignore the millions of people unemployed, the role of office politics, etc. Dealing with office politics in particular can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing like you mentioned. I had to deal with plenty of politicking, favoritism, crappy bosses, and lousy management decisions at my old day job--those were huge motivations to look for something else. But there are opportunities for most of us STEM workers. One of the problems I've seen is that most people fail to move beyond the mental paradigm of thinking like an employee, and so that greatly limits their options.

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