How to ask for a pay rise in an SME business

OPINION: Hands up if youve ever asked your boss for a payrise? It can be one of the scariest things for any employee, in any business, to navigate.
When youre asking for an increase in a SME, or family business it can be even trickier; its highly possible these businesses don't have policies to govern salaries and pay increases. Throw in the fact that timing can be everything when asking a stressed small business owner for more money - and you may have a challenge on your hands.

But stress not, there are some tips I have seen firsthand over the years that can make the process easier.

Pick your moment:​


Business ownership can be rough at the best of times so picking the right time to ask your boss for a salary increase can make all the difference.

I speak from experience when I say receiving a cold email at 9.30pm at night is probably not going to get you the result you desire.

Sometimes the best way is through an informal meeting, perhaps over a coffee in a local cafe. Ideally pick a positive time in the business - perhaps after a new customer is acquired or a project is delivered.


Mood is everything for a successful conversation. Remember though - an informal setting doesnt mean you shouldnt be prepared to negotiate.

Demonstrate how you plan to solve a problem in your boss life:​


Almost every SME owner I know will happily pay good money for staff when they materially make their life easier.

When you do ask for more money explain a task youve actively identified you want to be more involved with.

Better yet, take it off your boss hands all together. Demonstrating how this will free up time for your boss will be a huge win for all.

Be prepared to be creative:​


As much as you may deserve more money, sometimes a business simply wont have enough to go around.

If this is the case, you could suggest alternative short term benefits as some extra leave, or my favourite is suggesting some kind of employee equity scenario.

The interest in Orchestras new Employee Share Scheme management module is a sign more and more companies are exploring new ways of rewarding their teams.

Employee Share Schemes are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand - and they have a number of benefits for both the employer and employee; as well as creating an owner mentality (ie employees start thinking like the owner would) and unlocking strategic thinking, they also offer opportunities for material gain for an employee compared with a short term cash incentive.

Gather your evidence, be factual and be realistic:​


I actually admire employees reaching out with a well-thought-out and realistic salary request.

It shows they wish to add more value to my business and this offers an important opportunity to discuss personal development.

Ensure you have your facts in order particularly around what you have achieved of late and the benefits to the business. It helps to have an understanding of what similar roles in other companies may be getting paid. If you are asking for a sizeable salary hike perhaps suggest staged increases.

The number one thing SME business owners want to see is that their employees care about the business in the same way they do - and that they want to make a difference.

A salary increase request can be a great way to do this so dont fear asking for one if you genuinely think you deserve it.

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