Charged Up! podcast: Be the boss of your career
Episode 12 with "Boss Bitch" author Nicole Lapin
Best-selling author, TV presenter and host of The CW Network’s business reality show “Hatched,” Nicole Lapin has made her own career out of helping people understand business and finance without the usual jargon. In her latest book, “Boss Bitch,” she takes readers through the steps to building your own brand, demanding the salary you deserve, starting a side hustle, and becoming an entrepreneur.
In this episode of “Charged Up! with Jenny Hoff,” Lapin talks about the strategies and mindset you need to take your career to the next level and how she can help guide you in her book “Boss Bitch,” released March 21, 2017.
Get Charged Up! about becoming the boss of your career.
TRANSCRIPT: [Duration 27:47]
Jenny Hoff: Nicole, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate having you here.
Nicole Lapin: Thanks, Jenny. Great to be with you.
Hoff: So first, let’s get to know you a little bit, because your life has been fascinating. But also because I think one of the biggest barriers to advancing in our lives monetarily is this psychological barrier that we have, telling ourselves what we’re worth, what our skills are worth, what we deserve. And if our listeners are looking at your bio right now they might say, ‘Well, OK. She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she graduated valedictorian at Northwestern, no wonder she’s made it. How can she relate to me? Her life’s been perfect.’ But while you are beautiful and intelligent, that perfect life I think is far from the case. At least from what I understand when I’ve read about you. You’ve definitely confronted your own demons, and dealt with a lot of instability in your life. And yet you’ve overcome that. And a lot of people don’t. As much as you’re comfortable sharing, can you tell us a little bit about what your personal journey has been like, and how you were able to come out on the other side fighting and winning?
Lapin: Well, first of all, thank you so much for those kind words. I wish I could talk with you every day to hear nice things about myself. But everybody has their story. Everybody has their struggle they’re dealing with. And I don’t think mine is particularly extraordinary, but the idea that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth couldn’t be farther from the truth. I grew in an immigrant family, a pretty broken home. My father died of a drug overdose when I was 11, and I sort of plunged into work to try and sedate all of that. Growing up as a first-generation American, there was never any discussion of money, or stocks, or bonds, or any of that stuff. Like a lot of immigrant families, we just used cash, and that kept me out of a lot of money conversations. In fact, my boyfriend in high school said he wanted to be a hedge fund manager, and I thought he wanted to be in gardening. This is not a joke. He dumped me because I couldn’t hang out with his Wall Street friends.
But fast forward about 10 years later, I was speaking the language of money to the world. And what I realized is that money is just a language like anything else. We just didn’t have a Rosetta Stone to join the conversation about money. And so I got a job on the floor of the Chicago Market, and they said, “Do you know anything about business?” And I lied. I was like, “Yeah, I totally love business.” And I was clueless. I just figured it out the hard way and I went to the school of hard knocks. I’m very upfront about the fact that I didn’t get my MBA. I didn’t work in a bank. I just figured it out myself as autodidact. And so, if I can do it, I really believe that anyone can do it because I wasn’t given any sort of connections or a leg up. I just had to figure it out. And if I could figure it out, anyone can.
Hoff: When did you get to the point psychologically where you told yourself, ‘Hey, this is what I want in my life. I’m going to go for it. I’m not going to be scared, and I’m not going to be intimidated’?
Lapin: Gosh, I don’t know if there was a particular point where I just went for it. I fell into the business world by accident. And at first, I really thought to myself, ‘Gosh, I don’t belong here.’ There’s this thing called impostor syndrome that I talk about in my book. And we all have it to some extent. We all think, ‘Gosh, somebody is going to figure me out. They’re going to realize that I don’t deserve to be here.’ And I think we struggle with that all the time whether we’re working for somebody else, whether we’re the boss of our own business. I think there’s this voice in our head that creates doubt even if you think you’ve overcome it. Sometimes it comes up to this very day. I don’t think I should be the first person to say, I’ve figured everything out. I know a lot. I figured out a lot. I certainly don’t know everything. No expert knows everything. And if they’re telling you they do they’re either lying to you or totally delusional. And so I think just going for it meant that I have the confidence in myself to be able to figure it out, and it wasn’t at 100 percent then as that 18-year-old girl who needed to learn about business and finance, getting a job, and business for the very first time. Or today, as a 32-year-old with a bunch of shows, a bunch of network shows, a bunch of books, and all sorts of bells and whistles. So, I think it’s a journey for all of us.
Hoff: Let’s also talk about your career trajectory because I love the part in your book where you talk about how much you’ve made in each one of your jobs. $7.50 at your first TV job, $26,000 a year at your second, and you go up exponentially with each job. And I think a lot of people feel at some point that they’re capped out at their job, and there’s not much that they can do aside from the 3 percent raise that they may get automatically every year if they at least they do their job well. Can you talk about your career trajectory and what you learned along the way to really be able to demand a much higher salary?
Lapin: Gosh, I wish everybody would talk about their salary. I saw a study with Nielsen that showed women rather admit their weight versus their salary. And nobody wants to talk about either one, let’s be real. But it’s fascinating to me that we don’t talk about it enough. And the only reason I love to talk about it with my girlfriends is to help them. And the only way we can open up a dialogue about getting the work is to actually if we talk about it. Hello, Captain Obvious. The first step to getting more money and demanding more money – as you’ve noted that I’ve sort of done in my career, and as I jumped up salary-wise – is to have the information as to what the comp is. Like when you’re buying a house, you need to know what the general neighborhood looks like in terms of paying value. The same goes for your career. So, it always stumps me as to why this is so, ‘Oh, my gosh, she asked me about my salary.’ I mean, I’ll be sitting at dinner with my girlfriends and I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Sarah, how much do you make?’, and there’s like crickets. But we can talk about everything else from bikini waxes, to sex, to everything that’s seemingly personal. That’s totally fine. Increasing the dialogue we have about it, the better we are. So that’s where I really wanted to put my money where my mouth is and literally say exactly how much I made, and exactly how much it looks like every step of the way because that knowledge is power.
Hoff: That’s true and one way that you even mention in you book to find out is if nobody’s telling you what the salaries are at the company you’re applying to or at the company you work at, there are sites like Glassdoor where you can find out. There are companies out there where people will anonymously post what they’ve been making, in what role, in what companies. So, you at least have a general idea of what to ask for when you go in. You jumped up from $26,000, to $75,000 to $150,000 to $400,000 – How did you keep growing that? What did you learn? Obviously, you’re in a career where that is a possibility. Not everybody’s career – If you’re a waiter or you’re a midlevel manager at a corporation, you probably can’t get that high, but what did you learn along the way about standing out and building your own brand as you talk about in the book in order to have that leverage to demand that kind of salary?
Lapin: I don’t know if it’s not possible for somebody who’s a waiter or somebody who’s in middle management. I think it just depends on what you decide your career trajectory’s going to be because it’s not your momma’s career path. It’s your path, your destiny. It’s not really a ladder anymore. It’s more of a rope swing. And that’s what I did. I didn’t follow one particular career path. In television and in media, there isn’t one particular career path anyway. And so I sort of wrote the rules as I went along, and I think a lot of people can do that. In my career, I went from working for somebody else to working for myself. That’s not saying that I wouldn’t go back to working for somebody else in the future. You just have to be open to those possibilities. And so for me I think I never expected to earn that much money, and I’m really honest about it. Because it was more money than I thought I was ever going to make doing something that I loved. I thought I was just getting paid to do a happy dance. But I think being really transparent about it, it was important for me to say that it wasn’t one particular trajectory. So, you’re working as a waiter and you want to start a cupcake shop or whatever. That’s all possible now in a way that it wasn’t possible maybe 10 years ago or more than that. So, I think it’s changing your mindset and your finances will follow. The idea that passion is going to save the day is kind of BS to me. I don’t like to get touchy feely like that. I want to keep it real. If you’ve got to support your family, I understand that a jump to something new and entrepreneurial might not be a possibility. But it is something that you can sort of incubate on the side. That’s what I did and created this side hustle and it’s a really buzzy term right now – where I was working for somebody and had the consistency of a salary. But I was sort of testing what my goals were entrepreneurially to be the boss of my own business while I was working for somebody else. I think that’s the important medium step, I suppose, between working for somebody and then starting your own business. I think that sort of area is where the magic can happen, especially salary-wise.
Hoff: So let’s talk a little bit about your personal brand because it’s something that you cover in the book. And I really love it because you say it doesn’t matter if you want to stay in the job that you already have, if you want to work for somebody else, if you want to do a side hustle as you talked about, or if you want to start your own business. It’s important to develop your personal brand, your elevator pitch, knowing what you offer. And even within your own company, branching out to do something a little different to set yourself apart. Because frankly, that’s probably the only way you’re really going to be able to demand an increase in salary is doing something above and beyond what you’re expected to do. Can you talk a little bit about building your brand? And you talk in the book – I love the example of the bathroom attendant who – It’s not a very glamorous job and it doesn’t bring in tons of money, yet she maximized that by certain qualities that she had and certain tools that she used in order to make sure that she was the one that people wanted to come to and people wanted to leave her a tip. Can you talk a little bit about that example and how that exemplifies building your brand no matter what job you have?
Lapin: It’s true. People think, ‘Oh well, you were in media. This is how you have to survive in terms of getting ahead.’ But anybody as you know can have a personal brand and should have a personal brand. And that’s how you get in the part within a bigger company, or you create your own thing. And Doris, my friend at my favorite restaurant, is the bathroom attendant who I was blown away by in that she made the space in the bathroom her own. She had personal touches, monogrammed towels with people’s initials on them, and she treated everybody like her own daughter. I was struck by her initiative to make that space her own. And I think that showed me that you can either become a duck or an eagle.
This is a well-known business analogy. A duck sort of follows along with the status quo. An eagle swerves up and creates that brand wherever they are, even if it’s in a bathroom or even if it’s on a television screen. So, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, it matters that you have taken the extra step or steps to create your own identity that becomes invaluable. And doing just the regular whatever you’re doing at work is not going to necessarily give you that 3 percent bump as you had mentioned. That sort of keeps up with inflation maybe. Just because you’re doing your job doesn’t mean that’s extraordinary. And so I think that that idea that you’re creating a brand not only can help you within the context of your own company or your own current job – If it’s done right, and you’re not pissing people off – but can also allow you to take that brand everywhere. The brand is portable. My friend, Doris, in the bathroom, she could go to another restaurant, or she could start her own restaurant. I wouldn’t put anything past this woman. And she created those relationships with people. Her clients. Everybody has their client. Everybody works with somebody to that extent, no matter what you’re doing. She’s going to take those relationships, which is the most valuable business currency if we’re being honest with ourselves, and do something else. That’s why it’s so important to create your own personal brand. And everybody: It doesn’t even matter what sector of business you’re in, should have one.
Hoff: Yeah, I think you make a great point there. I even loved it how she took cash, check or credit card. She even had a little Square to take credit card with, so if people wanted to leave her a tip, they were not going to have to be stumped if they didn’t have cash on hand. And again, that’s being business savvy, at the same time of owning your brand and doing a good job, but also giving every possibility to the customer to pay you more. You also split your book in different sections. And I kind of want to go through each of those sections. The book, “Boss Bitch”, I love it. I thought that it really applies to a whole range of people. Whether you are in a job that you feel stuck and you want to get to a new job, or you love your company but you want to grow there, or you want to side hustle to pay off your debt or credit card bells to make more money, or if you want to start your own company. There’s a lot of really sound take away advice and actionable items, which I like a lot. And I’m want to talk a little bit about when you’re already in your company and you want to increase your salary. And you mention that a lot of people – a lot of women especially have a tough time negotiating a higher salary. That is a part where it just almost anxiety ridden and they’d rather avoid that topic all together than ask for more money and get more money. Can you talk a little bit about the negotiation process? What we need to know to be geared up to go into negotiations. And how to give over that psychological barrier that stops us from asking for more money?
Lapin: Yeah, I think the biggest piece to getting more money is having leverage. And so when we talked about salary transparency, the best way to ask for more is to know what you’re worth outside of your own company. Even if you aren’t planning on jumping ship, finding another ship that would hire you puts a fire in your current captain, so to speak, belly. And so my girlfriend once said, “Hey, you’re going to be so proud of me. I asked for a certain percentage more of salary as I was negotiating a job.” And I said, “Well, what did your previous person make?” She said, “I don’t know. I just asked for what I was making before and a little increase of that.” And I said, “Gosh, you’re kind of negotiating against yourself.” And so those sites that we were talking about that shows the salaries that other people aren’t willing to talk about it. I wish they were, but we’re not in a perfect world. It’s super important when you’re going in. That’s the number one thing in your arsenal. And then you already have a job looking around for another job is the best negotiating tactic you would possibly have. It’s number one, two, and three. Having leverage, and really being willing to jump, and looking around in a tactful way. And I talked about ways that you can be above the board when you’re doing that is the number one thing that you can have in your arsenal to get more. Because it’s not just like a a boss that’s going to open up the company covers and be like, ‘Oh here, you’re so amazing. I haven’t even noticed. I haven’t told you how amazing you are lately. Here’s a boatload more money.’ It’s like never going to happen that way. In fact, they have their own stuff to think about. They have their own salaries to think about. And so I think when you’re going in, really make sure that you are super, super prepared. I know this this sort of sounds trite, but this is the most important conversation you’re going to have, so let’s practice with yourself in the mirror, with the dog, with a friend. Create examples. Show exactly what you’ve been doing. Create charts and graphs. Create a printout. Get it bound at KInkos or whatever. Make it really important. It is an important conversation. It’s an important discussion. Make an appoint on your boss’s calendar. It’s not Friday at 5. And try to keep your timing in mind. It’s not after a company has had more earnings, that’s a terrible time. It should be after you’ve had a stellar review or something awesome happened. So keep that in mind, and come in like this is any other professional meeting. This is the number one thing that can grow your wealth especially over time. So I think those are some of the things to keep in mind obviously case by case and industry by industry specific. But I think leverage, timing, and preparation are the biggest takeaways.
Hoff: Yeah, and I think you really mentioned in your book too about like having even numbers. You said, have graphs, have numbers. Have something more than just emotion. Like, ‘I deserve this raise because I work hard.’ Well, a lot of people work hard. What does that mean? It’s more, ‘This is what I’m contributing to the company. This is how I’ve increased your profits. And this is what I want back.’ You start the negotiation that way, and you maybe aim a little higher than what you’re hoping to get to so that you can stay in the ballpark of what you want.
Lapin: That’s right. And I think it’s also about thinking about your overall compensation package. So coming with like three different options that you would want. One that’s totally salary based, one that’s salaried based and some other perk based, and one that’s totally per based. Because maybe working from home one day is going to be more valuable to you than a bump in salary. Or maybe having cell phone or transportation paid for is also going to be valuable. And that’s not monetary. And those are things that companies can hopefully give you. And so I think not just looking at your base salary as part of your overall compensation package is really important.
Hoff: Yeah, and I love your advice. Practice it first with other people because maybe that will get over that anxiety of asking for more money when you’ve practiced it, you’ve rehearsed it, you know what you’re going to say, and you’re very prepared for that. It’s different than trying to casually bring it up at a conversation, and then that opening never happens. And so let’s also talk about standing out in a way that doesn’t alienate your team members. You’ve talked a little bit about building your own brand. But what are some ways that somebody who’s not in a high profile job can do what they need to do to have the ammunition to argue for a higher salary besides just working hard?
Lapin: Yeah, I think it’s about creating indispensability. So I think it’s about saying, ‘I am the best at X.’ Whatever it is. If you work at a manicure place. You’re the best massager ever. Everybody’s comes in, asks for you. All the Yelpers say, ‘I want Jenny to be my girl because she is the best at whatever.’ Or feet stroking – or I don’t care what it is. Be the best at something. Figure out what that niche is, and own it. Because then you’ve become that go to person for whatever. So if you’re working at a law firm, and you make really amazing PowerPoints, or decks, or whatever. Become that person where it’s ‘Oh you should go to Jenny because Jenny’s going to be able to do that the best.’ And that’s really what creating a brand is. It’s about thinking about the things that really excite you, thinking about the things that really excite the company, and then finding the shaded part of that then diagram. So I think that’s how you don’t piss people off is that you stay true to your brand and also true to the company’s brand if you are working for somebody else.
Hoff: Let’s also get to the next section. The side hustle. And there’s kind of two ways that you can approach a side hustle. Maybe you just wanted to pay off debt, pay off credit card bills, build a little extra income. Maybe it’s a way as you mentioned to test out a business that you might want to start on your own eventually. And to first test out the market to see if you can even make money doing that. What are some side hustle ideas? I think people hear this term a lot and it sounds like a great idea. But they’re stumped when they think of what can I do to make extra money that isn’t this multilevel marketing. I know that’s kind of taken off, but in a lot of those cases, you have to pay a few thousand dollars up front to get the product. And then sell it, and then get other people to sell it too. So what are some side hustles that people can do that can make some more money that doesn’t cost a lot of cash up front?
Lapin: Gosh, so my website too, I have on NicoleLapin.com/profit which I have an entire side hustle matrix. Check this out in the book because there’s so many side hustles that people can really make money for doing anything. From watching TV to being an Uber driver. If you just want to make money, there’s a ton of stuff you can do. You can sell stuff, you can sell your hair, you can sell your sperm, you can sell your eggs. The idea that you can’t make money on the side is laughable. Literally something that you’re into doing or something that you’re already doing. If you love sports, referee sports. We can have five podcasts on this entire topic. And so I think if you just want to make money, there are a ton of ways to make money. I named a few. You want to be a test rabbit. And the shared economy idea – Rent out your anything, your house on Airbnb, you can rent out your tank, you can rent out your dog, you can rent out your tools. I mean, it never ends, especially if you can look at what you have, what makes sense for your timing. You can make a lot of possible income if you just leverage the shared economy.
Okay, so there’s that. And then there’s the idea that you want to use your side hustle to create your main hustle. And that’s a little bit tricky because that’s not something that you’re necessarily going to make money on, but you’re going to potentially make money on more in the future, or at least save money. The most important thing to think about when you’re thinking about starting your own business is realizing that you don’t want to do is just as important as realizing you do want to do it. And so if you get it out of your system, and you’re like, ‘Gosh, I want to create.‘ We gave the cupcake shop example before. ‘I’ve always wanted to leave my job, burn my corporate bra so to speak, and create a cupcake shop.’ Cool. The bad way to do that is to just burn that corporate bra, so to speak, and go figure it out. The better way to do that is to try to incubate it, after work, on your own time. And more often than not, people have this idea that they just can’t get rid of, and they want to try it. And sometimes crappy things happen at work, and you make impulse moves. And that’s not the best way to start a business. The best way to start a business is to test it out. Maybe you hate making cupcakes. Maybe you’re like, ‘No, no this is actually a hobby. Starting a business that I don’t want to sort flour, I don’t want to clean up, I don’t want to find a commercial kitchen, I don’t want to market. None of this stuff interests me, I just want to make cupcakes.’ And in that case, awesome. So get your job, make cupcakes on the weekend, everybody wins. The worse scenario is if you didn’t test it, you did it, you hated it, you failed, and you have sort of potentially burned your bridges. And so there’s a better way to think this idea through of starting your business via side hustle.
Hoff: Yeah, and I like that. And then you go into talking about starting your own business. And you’re very honest about your own business. How with one of your ventures, you wanted to start a watch that tracked your spending, and how it ultimately failed and cost you a lot of money. Because the process is very complex, and you didn’t test the market first. Can you talk a little bit about the complexities of starting your own business, and why it’s not just something that, ‘Okay, now I’ve got a good idea, I’m going to quit my job, and throw myself into this.’ Can you talk about kind of what that involves and what people need to be keeping in mind before they start a business?
Lapin: What’s cool in our current landscape is that it’s easier now than ever before to become an entrepreneur. By the same token, what’s interesting about our current landscape is that it’s easier now than ever before to become and entrepreneur. This is a double-edged sword. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. And in fact, just because you’ve seen in glossy magazines, entrepreneurs being very sexy with their G-5’s or whatever, doesn’t mean that it came easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. And not everyone should do it. In fact, there are a lot of things that you should consider before you start a business that aren’t super sexy and aren’t super fun. Like do you need health insurance for your family? Do you have savings? All sorts of logistical things. There’s a checklist that I’ve come up with that you should really ask yourself. And for me when I was starting my company, one of my ideas was yes, to create a financial smart watch. And I thought it was a genius idea. But there’s a Fitbit to track your steps and your calories, why not create one that tracks your spending? And I was like this is genius, I don’t need to test it, we’re going to go. I was so impatient, and I was like patience is for doctors. Let’s just go. And that was a terrible idea. And it was a really expensive mistake. But it’s an expensive mistake that hopefully other people can learn from mine. My biggest jam is to tell people all the ways I’ve failed. It’s more interesting than talking about my success stories. Like I wanted to create a book that was essentially a cookbook of all the ways you can mess up a cake versus all the ways a pastry shop will make a cake. And I think that’s more valuable. Like could you please learn from me because I really did that stuff. And if you laugh at me, super. If you laugh with me, great. Because I’m sort of trying to keep a good attitude about it all. But hopefully you just learn for me or are inspired by it because looking at those potential traps is just as important as realizing like here are all these amazing success stories of entrepreneurs. A lot of those things aren’t relevant to the rest of us who might not have been born with a silver spoon in our mouths like I mentioned in the beginning. And so there are ways to hack the system so to speak and create an awesome on your own. Bootstraps without raising money or having a lot of money. But it’s about realizing that you have to go through a lot of those motions that aren’t super sexy and aren’t super fun. Like creating an Entergy, or creating a trademark, and higher people, and firing people, and creating contracts with them so you’re not screwed. All that stuff is the stuff that you don’t see on the Instagram of really famous entrepreneurs. That’s like all the nitty gritty stuff that I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to tell you about all the crap that no one else really wants to discuss.’ Because that’s the stuff that really gets people in trouble. It’s what got me in trouble too.
Hoff: Yeah, and that’s very true because people have that passion. Maybe they love making those cupcakes but if they’re not thinking of all the things that go along with that, their business can fail really quickly. And then they can be out a lot of money. So, I really recommend that everybody read the book, “Boss Bitch.” I really enjoyed it. I did your questionnaires myself. The little ones on branding and everything and I found it really interesting really at any level you are in your career. And our show’s called Charged Up!, and so I always want to ask people what charges you up about in your case being your own boss and mastering the art of making money, which is something we all want to do?
Lapin: What charges me up is just talking to my former self. A girl that grew up in a former immigrant family who didn’t have much, and didn’t speak the language of business, much less ever thought she would be in business herself. That fires me up. I mean sounds Pollyannaish of me, but I really with I had a guide like this when I was starting out, and I felt like nothing was speaking to me. So I like to talk as you’re seeing right now. I stumble and I say silly things. But just the way I would talk to any of my girlfriends. So what fires me up is just being able to have a dialogue that doesn’t seem scary, and doesn’t come from a teacher, and it sort of keeps it real. So that’s what gets me charged up, sister.
Hoff: Alright. That’s fantastic. Well, Nicole thank you so much for joining us today. This has been an enlightening conversation. You book, “Rich Bitch” that’s been out for a while now, “Boss Bitch” is just coming out. Pick it up, read it. They’re fast reads. They’re fun reads. And you can skip around the different sections to see which one fits your current situation in life. And I really enjoyed it, and I enjoyed your insight. Thanks so much, Nicole.
Lapin: Thanks, Jenny.
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