Have you ever done a Google search for social work? Well if you did you would likely see something like this:
For a profession that spans a broad range of issues such as social justice, mental health, poverty, policy, and human rights, isn’t it strange that the second most searched for term related to social work is salary?
And why is that? Why is salary for social workers such a popular search?
If you were to do a similar search for allied fields like psychology, counseling or even human services salary is much further down on the search list. Could it be that all those social workers that say “We don’t do it for the money” are actually more concerned about money than they’d like to admit?
Truth be told, we (because I’m a social worker, too) have the ability to make as much money as we’d like without depending on an organization’s ascribed salary tier.
Historically we’ve been told that the work that we do as social workers – often on behalf of the most underserved in society – should be motivated by a sense of what’s right (justice) and fair (equality), not money. On the other hand, the same services that we provide cost money, as do the efforts and expertise of those of us that provide them.
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION (LITERALLY)
So how can social workers continue to do the work we love and build value for the humanitarian work that we do at the same time? The answer is this: we make our own damn salaries (expletive added for emphasis).
SHUT YO MOUTH!
Now, you would understand my belligerence towards the assumption that social work equals financial sacrifice when some of the most intelligent, influential, and well-compensated people are social workers themselves. Consider people like Dr. Steve Perry, Dr. Brene’ Brown, and U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee. While I don’t claim to know what’s on their income tax returns, what I do know is that none of them started out “at the top.” These people have moved up the ranks in social work experience and position like many social workers around. But unlike most social workers, they’ve enlisted an additional step that puts them in demand and showcases their value, and that is because they’ve positioned themselves as experts.
In case this concept is unfamiliar to you or it’s the first time you’re hearing it, let me explain.
THE EXPERT ECONOMY
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an expert as “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area.” And because of the rarity of their specific knowledge and skills, experts can usually command higher salaries than generalists on a regular basis.
Granted, this is not a new phenomenon – experts have been around for ages – except that today more and more people are using technology and online tools to deliberately position themselves as experts and, voila, a new paycheck appears! Of course there are a few more steps to actually realize the pot of gold at the end of the expertise rainbow, but I’ve given you the basic formula: position yourself as an expert, raise your salary.
LOOK AND LEARN
“But Eva,” you say to me, “I can’t do that. I’m just a generalist (or I’m a recent graduate, or I’m just a case manager, or fill in the blank); I don’t have expertise in any specific area.”
And I say to you, balderdash!
According to author of The Millionaire Messenger, Brendon Burchard, even if you don’t already have an area of expertise obvious to you at the moment, you can still position yourself as an expert in one of the following ways and in a relatively short period of time:
- Demonstrate that you can get a particular result over and over again (think Derek Hough in Dancing With the Stars. With five Mirrorball Trophies to his name, who wouldn’t want to be under his tutelage?). In so doing you’ll be what Burchard calls a Results Expert and will attract others who want to get the result you demonstrate.
- Research a specific topic to some level of depth. Even if you’ve never actually experienced or achieved the thing that you want to be an expert on, if you spend weeks, months, or years in the study of it, chances are you’ll know a lot more than the average person on the street. In this way you become the Research Expert and people will listen to you because of the amount of qualitative and quantitative data you’ve amassed.
- Show others how something is done. This is the position of the Role Model and usually happens organically as people learn and teach what they’ve learned to others over and over. These people can be coaches, teachers, and trainers in their specific area of interest and, when combined with the approach of the two former models, can catapult you to expert status in record time.
DOST THOU PROTEST?
Now I understand that there are some that may argue that just by reading a few books or watching a few videos you’re not qualified as an expert, and if that is you, hear me out.
Any time you have experience or understanding in a particular area to a greater level of depth than another, you are an expert to them. Besides that, you already have a degree that suggests you do possess some level of prowess when it comes various facets of social work and chances are you’re already an expert in at least one or two areas of your work or life already. Finally, experts command higher wages than generalists, and by commanding a higher wage for yourself you automatically present the overall profession in a more prestigious light as well, encouraging better pay for us all. Yeah, you!
But if getting started with promoting your expertise seems daunting at first, consider the following seven (actually you get a bonus one at the end) simple ways to begin to grow your expertise and add a few extra digits to the end of your monthly take-home salary as well.
WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR OWN SOCIAL WORK SALARY AND POSITION YOURSELF AS AN EXPERT
- Host a meet-up group
If you haven’t ever used Meetup.com, I highly suggest you do so soon.
This website offers a great way for people with similar interests to come together and connect on a variety of topics; and while some of the meetups are free, some cost a minimal fee. So if you’re an organizer you can choose to charge your group members a one-time or recurring fee; it can be a great way to make a difference, meet new people, and make money in the process.
- Guest post
If you haven’t yet made a content contribution to your local or online or offline social work information hub, make a plan for it today. Having your ideas and opinions published in a reputable newspaper, magazine, or website is a great way to position yourself as an expert and get your message (assuming that you have one) out to the world. Granted, this may not result in an immediate income boost, but it often has the added benefit of substantiating your other efforts to elevate you to expert status. Sites like Social Work Helper and The New Social Worker have open calls for writer contributions as do non-social work focused outlets such as The Huffington Post. Now get to writing!
- Offer online counseling, coaching or therapy
Did you know that there are websites that allow you to offer counseling online?
- Publish a book or other helpful resources
I can tell you from personal experience that publishing your own content such as a book, workbook, worksheets, an audio program, or other purchaseable resources is a great way to not only build your credibility and expertise in the area, but to make recurring passive income as well. Use a site like kdp.amazon.com, createspace.com, gumroad.com or acx.com to publish your next creation or the one you’ve got saved on your hard drive right now.
- Create your own website and publish original content
There’s nothing like having your own website to tell the world that you are, indeed, running things. However, this approach requires some level of prowess in relation to working with websites and understanding branding and marketing, so if it’s the path you want to go down know that it may take some time to develop out. However, it’s still one of the best ways to be seen as an expert; and there are all kinds of ways to monetize your own website while you help even more people. If this is the path you’re looking to go, let’s connect. I’ve been known to create a pretty decent website myself.
- Write a grant
When you are the author of a grant it sharpens your level of expertise and you can add a salary for your effort in developing it. There are tons of free tools online to help guide you in the process like http://www.npguides.org/ and http://atozgrantwriting.com/. It also helps to find a person who has been successful at receiving funding for grants to guide you as a mentor, so have at it!
- Take a photo with an established expert
One of the simplest ways to position yourself as an expert is to take a picture with a recognized one (or appear on their channel or website, etc. Ever heard of the Oprah Effect?). This works because it draws on the law of association so that people automatically attribute the qualities of the recognized expert to anyone they are associated with.
However, while snapping a picture maybe relatively “easy” actually getting close to your expert idol may prove to be a bit more complicated. To make connecting easier, make sure you’re following your dream expert on social media and online to find out where they will be appearing and orchestrate your appearance there as well. And the great news is that when you’re seen as someone who associates with experts, you’ll be perceived as one yourself (and be better able to charge similarly as well). Good luck!
8. Set up a YouTube channel and Google Ads
Ohh! I almost forgot! YouTube is grrreat (spoken in the style of Tony the Tiger) for building your expert platform, and the added option of adding Google Ads is an easy way to capitalize on that stage (here’s a tutorial). The trick to positioning yourself as an expert on YouTube is to speak as an authority.
Teach something; explain; give advice; demonstrate how it’s done; be the authority. There are a number of ways you can do this. You can answer questions that you’re commonly asked on an area that you know a lot about. You can dispel myths that people have about your area of practice, or you can give your take on a current event or issue within your community. Even if you decided to use video to take people along a journey with you (weight loss, self discovery, setting up your private practice, organizing a movement, etc.) you can still appear as the expert by qualifying your methods and explaining your process. It’s really up to you, but the point is to appear as the knowledgeable, informed, competent individual that you are.
LET’S DO THIS!
Any one of these
seven eight approaches can help you design your expert platform fairly easily and raise your own social work salary to any level you’d like. Just let me know if you need any help – I’m helping other social workers build their expert empires as well. Ready to join the rich social worker tribe?