post written by: Marc Chernoff

What Everyone Should Know About Selling Hours for Dollars


An Hours for Dollars Warning 

“Cutting to the chase”…  Strictly selling hours of your life for dollars is the inverse of a practical and profitable business plan.  The word “selling” is very important here because that’s what happens in every business transaction.  A product is sold and purchased at an agreed upon price.  The corporate exchange of hours for dollars is no different; it just has a different twist.

Everyone is the CEO of Their Own Corporation

What most people don’t realize is that you never really work for anyone but yourself.  The only question is: What are you selling, and to whom?  Even when you have a full time, salaried, “Corporate America” position, you are still running your own business.  You are selling one unit of your existence (an hour of your life) at a set price (the associated fraction of your salary) to a customer (your employer). 

Good Business vs. Bad Business

Selling hours for dollars is a flawed business plan.  Let’s take a quick look at the components of a good business plan vs. that of the standard hours for dollars routine.

A good business plan:

  • Multiple Products – Providing multiple options to your customers.
  • Product Development Growth – Innovating and expanding the core capabilities of your product.
  • Multiple Customers – Your total income revenue is acquired from several sources.  The loss of a single customer will not jeopardize your sustainability.
  • Scalable – Your business can grow naturally without disproportionately increasing costs.  Also, it cannot be shutdown by the absence of a single worker.
  • Inventory Expansion – Inventory can be expanded to meet increasing customer demands.

The business of strictly selling hours for dollars:

  • One Product – A single hour of your life.
  • Static Product Growth – You can change your level of productivity within an hour, but you can’t change the dynamics of the hour itself (which is the metric you are being paid by).
  • One Customer – Your employer.  If you lose your one customer, you lose your business.
  • Single Point of Failure – If something happens to you (injured, ill, etc.), your business suffers.
  • Ever Declining Inventory – Life has a limited inventory of hours.  They cannot be reproduced.

The Silver Lining: You Must Find Your Passion

There is, however, a silver lining.  When you are passionate about your work, even in an “hours for dollars” environment, you open the floodgates to a world of accelerated personal growth and contentment.  Suddenly, you are working to learn, mindfully indulging in the task at hand.  This passion is the byproduct of interest.  You have to be genuinely interested in the subject matter of your profession.  In other words, dollars cannot be the primary source of motivation.  Once you find your passion, here are some ideas for maximizing your career growth potential:

  • Learn as Much as You Can – This becomes a natural process when you are truly passionate about your work.  Obviously, the more you know the more valuable your time will be to others.
  • Pursue Unpaid Growth Opportunities – Get out of the “hours for dollars” mindset.  See if you can barter your skill set with others in your industry.  You educate them as they educate you.  Knowledge is worth far more than money.
  • Provide Value from Within a Black Box – This is how you increase your level of impressiveness.  Your efforts must make someone think, “Wow! How does he/she do that?”  They can easily see your inputs and your results, but aren’t 100% sure how you got from point A to point B.
  • Innovate – If you think there might be a better way, try it.  The worst case scenario is you’ll have to revert back to the way things are now.
  • Help Other People – The best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.  This will also aid you in establishing strong professional relationships.
  • Market Your Visibility – Don’t be bashful.  Take credit where credit is due.

Avoid the “Hours for Dollars” Mentality

Even when working in an “hours for dollars” environment, you can avoid the “hours for dollars” mentality.  Find something you’re passionate about and take it to the next level.  Become a guru.  This should help you to strategically position yourself as a “go to guy/gal”, someone your superiors (and industry insiders) see as a vital asset.

Doing so will ultimately free you from the bounds of an arbitrary hourly rate, because you (your business) will become entwined with the future objectives of your employer (and maybe even the industry as a whole).  This typically translates into big raises, bonuses, etc.  You’ll start getting paid based on the tangible value you provide.  Eventually, this position of power can be leveraged to start a company of your own.

Photo by: Antonio Martinez

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16 Comments

  • Hi Marc, I Stumbled my way here and I’m glad I did. This post provides a very fresh perspective for me, especially when you said: “Even when you have a full time, salaried, “Corporate America” position, you are still running your own business. You are selling one unit of your existence (an hour of your life) at a set price (the associated fraction of your salary) to a customer (your employer).” Wow … I’ve never seen it that way, but you’re right! Passion does de-commoditize our time and frees us from limitations that the “hours for dollars” mentality creates. Thanks, great post. Stumbled!

  • Irene,

    Thanks for the kinds words and added insight. I’ll be jumping over to your blog shortly to check you out. ;-)

  • Marc,

    Enjoyed the post- When I first read the headline, I thought it would be about passive income generation, but it was refreshing that the topic was instead about doing what you’re passionate about versus doing something for money by the hour. I completely agree that you should diversify your business, and even if you are an employee, should have other things going for you on the side.

  • Fantastic post, Marc! This, along with some Seth Godin, are speeding their way to a few friends of mine whom I’ve been trying (in not nearly as elegant a way) to convince of this very thing.

    Well written and thoughtful :)

  • @Derek:
    Thanks for the kind words. I agree. I’m not sure I really like the title. I may change it.

    @Joe:
    You flatter me. Thanks for the boost! By the way, your book is cracking me up. I’ll email ya on that.

  • “…you never really work for anyone but yourself. ”

    This is so true. I’ve been saying this for 30 years! No matter what job you’re doing, you’re doing it for yourself. If they stopped paying you, would you continue?

    I had an employer one time remind me (pretty heavy-handed) that, “Son, you work for ME around here and…” I stopped him and flat out told him, “No sir, I work for myself. You just provide the paycheck.”

    Things weren’t quite the same after that because he realized he couldn’t intimidate me (I was only 22 and he was in his 50’s). I quit 3 months later.

  • It’s up to each and every one of us to use our skills as a stepping stone. Sometimes we get so scared that we don’t want to move on and challenge ourselves, understanding this is easy. Making a real and lasting change and doing what we love is hard, but worth every ounce of sweat.

    I’m still working my way there and my goals are keeping me on track. Spring 2010!

  • I loved this article! You aptly described my attitude during my teaching career. I never considered myself working for a boss, but rather running my own business, the excellent teacher.

    If every employee could grasp what you have laid out here, what a wonderful world it would be.

  • I love your point about innovation: there’s no downside beyond maybe needing to continue with the status quo. Meanwhile, the upsides are potentially tremendous.

    I do think it’s okay to sell hours for dollars, as long as you’re fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. Without conversations like this, though, few people could claim that awareness. Thanks for the reminder!

  • This is exactly what I’ve been telling my husband. When you work for someone you are selling your services to someone for something. I’ve also told him he needs to find his passion. It’s more about what you want to do for the rest of your life than money.

  • Marc, I stumbled upon this post and I have to agree with the the rest, its very good. I have recently made this realization myself and I am now looking for my “Passion”. Its not the easiest thing to find when you have been brainwashed to get a job doing whatever you are good enough to make the most money. Finding your passion is not always the easiest thing to do.

  • I agree that’s it’s very important to find what your true passion is… problem is, it often takes years! I used to be a lawyer which was NOT my passion. Lately, it looks like writing is my passion. I am 37. It took me many years to find out what I really enjoy doing.

  • @Ron:
    That’s an interesting story. Many people don’t understand the concept of always working for yourself. I’m glad to hear you got yourself out of that mess.

    @Karl:
    It’s all about goals. Without them, no personal progress can be made.

    @Flora:
    Thanks for the kind words. Coming from someone with your educational background, it’s flattering. ;-)

    @Sara:
    It’s all about awareness. I agree, selling hours for dollars is fine… so long as you understand that you are always in business for yourself.

    @Shirley:
    Great point. Without passion, work is painful.

    @Andy and Vered:
    Finding passion is not always easy, but quite often people fail to even begin searching for it. They give up from the get go.

  • […] What everyone should know about trading hours for dollars @ Marc and Angel Hack Life. You have a limited amount of hours, which translates to a limited amount of dollars. Here are some ideas to get around that dilemma. […]

  • Wonderful article. Ive read a lot of articles about this subject. However, you illustrate this point very well with the components of a business plan. If people would follow this, no matter what profession they would have, organizations like unions would dissapear from earth. And everyone would work much happier. Dont you think?

  • […] What Everyone Should Know About Selling Hours for Dollars at Marc and Angel Hack Life […]

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