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Four Universal Income Strategies to Boost Your Money


Let’s talk about income strategies.


Some time ago now I published an article which was about the big payouts and bonuses bankers get; and most of the time this is a reward for a job that is really shoddily done – from failing IT systems to money laundering. In this article, I stated that apart from everything else, I don’t believe that anyone is worth this kind of money. And my friend Roshawn from Watson Inc (hope he finds time to blog again because I really miss him) took me to task on this one.

At the time, although keen on increasing my income to pay off debt, I was quite convinced that no one is worth this kind of money. Then UK universities started recruiting what in the UK is referred to as ‘stars’ for the assessment exercise we have every five years or so (on this exercise our funding depends). These academics are also known as ‘four by four’ which normally would mean that they have published four papers in four-star journals (the highest-ranking journals) – I just call them ‘square’. And I can do it because I am almost there myself (about 3.4 stars) and it is really not ‘sour grapes’. But I am digressing again! What is important in all that is these people were appointed on about 70% higher salaries than the professors who are already in post.

This made me think again about the conditions that determine how much one is worth and respectively how much they are paid. One thing is clear: there is a point beyond which people don’t really earn their pay.

Apart from that, a couple of days ago I went to see my friend A. and share a nice bottle of wine. She was telling me about her husband’s business and that he is very proud of it but it has ups and downs. I found myself doing something extremely rude; I just heard myself saying: ‘Well, the problem is that your husband doesn’t have a business; he is a freelancer and sells his time.’

So, thinking about these seemingly unconnected examples, that is what I came up with: there are four principal income strategies. These are selling labour, selling reputation, building a business and making our money work for us (or investing). Let me address these in turn.

Income strategies to boost your money

#1. Selling labour

Well, this is one of the income strategies most of us end up doing all our lives. This is when we enter into a relationship where we exchange our labour (skilled or unskilled) for money. This may be done in employment or freelance – but the principle is generally the same.

Selling labour can bring between the minimum wage and a rather substantial pay depending on how specialised our skills are, how sought after these are and how qualified we are. Pay always has a clear ceiling, however, when selling labour (whether skilled or not) we are in effect selling time; and our time is limited.

Correspondingly, wealth building would likely depend on saving (within limited earnings) and accumulation will be relatively modest.

#2. Selling reputation

This income strategy is the next step of income generation and the transition from selling labour to selling reputation occurs when one has joined the top 10-15% of their field. Interesting enough, this is not only possible in high skill, high entry cost fields. As Muhammad Ali said

‘If I were not the best boxer in the world, I would have been the best rubbish collector in the world.’

One can become ‘the best’ in any walk of life and once this has been achieved one is in a position to sell their reputation.

In practice, this means that remuneration exceeds by far the simple value of labour; in fact, this is exactly how high ranking bankers are paid obscene amounts of money (and top-ranking academics). And some of them are worth it (well, when I am wrong I usually admit I am wrong though it may take me many months to get there).

Unfortunately, this is how celebrities, some of whom have never done anything useful in their lives, make a living as well; and a generous one at that.

When people reach the stage where they sell reputation rather than labour, income can increase dramatically and with it accumulation of wealth accelerates as well. Few get to this stage!

#3. Building a business

I probably shouldn’t expand on this one too much – it is pretty straightforward. I’ll just mention the difference between being freelance (selling labour) and building a business and that in the latter case you can either walk away from it (delegate authority for running it) or you can sell it at a hefty profit. In fact, the highest return one can get on their investment is either by building or investing in businesses.

This is the level where people do not simply sell their labour and/or reputation but also make a profit from the business. Hence, returns are considerable and building a business is not simply an accumulation of wealth; it is also an investment.

#4. Investing

This is the stage where we neither sell our labour nor our reputation but the wealth that has been accumulated by doing that (or even building a business) is invested and generates income.

It is important to note, that while there is too much talk in personal finance about ‘passive income’ there is no income that is entirely passive: investments need the effort to yield a return though it is a different kind of effort.


These are four income strategies from which we could choose.

Building substantial wealth entails moving away from selling labour and reputation to building businesses and investing. How this can be done is a matter of a different post(s).

If you are curious, I am between selling labour and selling reputation.

Where do you think you fit and what can you do to move from one category to the next?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

19 thoughts on “Four Universal Income Strategies to Boost Your Money”

  1. My philosophy is to have my money work for me.  The simple solution was investing in income property because it was one of the few ways I could leverage my investment with very low interest rates. In some ways, it was building a business.  I now invest i the stock market with the goal of growing and preserving  my assets. It involves far less hands on management!      

    • @Krant: Quite right! However, having investments to generate sufficient income requires either modest accumulation over a very long time (according to some and to simple calculations this rarely makes one wealthy); moderate accumulation over a long time; or very aggressive accumulation over relatively short time period. 

  2. Hi Maria, Great post!! I am agree with your four principal income strategies that’s really helpful fo us. I think when we are investing money that means we are hoping profit with low rate that’s our main aim. I have found many people’s not start own business these people investing money on stock, forex or land expansion. What is your opinion?

    • @ Pips Today: Investing in stock is fine but relatively low return (3-15%) and is worth doing long term; land is a bit like s safety deposit box – secure and slow growing; investing in businesses and/or building a business can bring returns of 50% and over.

      • Hi Maria, Thanks for your response and tips. I will go behind your suggestions I know it’s difficult to investing in businesses of me but I’m impress with returns of 50% that’s superior profits. 

  3. I am trying to leverage money to build wealth as well, instead of having to sacrifice freedom and energy to sell my labor. It is not in my personality to sell my reputation, I admire people who are able to market themselves as a brand but wouldn’t be able to do so.

    • @Pauline: How do you know? This ‘selling reputation’ thing only means that one has become amongst the best in their field and others know about (the knowledge can be achieved in delicate ways rather than ‘blowing your own horn’,

  4. I think you have an interesting succession here but depending on the industry you might not be able to graduate from one to the next. I definitely agree with you and a few others about getting to a place where the money is doing most of the work – that’s what I’m trying to do 🙂 But until then I’ll be using a combination of the 4 and working on trying to scale them so that I can keep growing – ok maybe if I can get out of trading my time for income I might take advantage of that just a little bit. 

    • @Nunzio: You have got to something I thought about quite a bit. I was thinking that how hard it is to get to the reputation bit would depend on occupation but couldn’t think of a line of work where doing this is not possible. Would you care to give me an example – I would really like to know.

  5. Right now I’ve got a combination of #1 and #4 happening. I’m slowly venturing into more online endeavors which I guess can be considered “building a business” albeit on a very small scale. Like everyone else, getting to the point to where #4 is the biggest income force is the overall goal! 

    • @Glen: Could you go through 2 may be? Getting to selling reputation allows fast accumulation. You can go for building a business but you are the only one who knows what this can be; and be sure to build a business not become freelance.

  6. Interesting post Maria!  I am a public school Teacher and unfortunately I have not had a raise in 6 years.  I left a job in corporate finance for the classroom and while I find Teaching to be extremely rewarding, I don’t find the compensation system adequately reflects my skill and effort. 

    • @Paul: Ah, teaching. I find that we are expected to do most of it (you know I teach at university) for the pleasure of touching destinies – problem is we need to eat and live, and there is no system to differentiate between a remarkable teacher and a mediocre one. One of the sad facts in life is that if you want to increase you pay you need to go into management which of course keeps you away from teaching. I feel your pain though.

  7. I love the idea of selling a reputation. I would suggest one does not necessarily have to be an expert to do this. There are hundreds of people online selling their reputation as an expert, ninja or guru or some other web trend self-title. Whether or not you agree with a lot of this (most of it is selling junk you don’t need) it is consistently making money for online entrepreneurs.
    I would go a more conventional route and advise that one does not necessarily have to be the best of something, even if it is as mundane as collecting dust mites. In many industries there is a growing need for consultants, specialists and those who have an opinion that adds value to the conversation. The easiest illustration is something that you have a degree in. For example, I have my history degree, with a specialty in the American Civil War. I’m certainly far from the best in my field. Nevertheless I do engage in consultancy work to a variety of persons. Someone else could easily do the same with a degree in basket weaving, sports medicine, geology, pop culture or anything else under the sun.
    The trick is to produce something of value that will improve that name and what people associate it with. It can truly become money as you sleep and mix with the income of labor.

    • @Scott: Welcome on TMP :). True but the more your reputation grows (for contributing value) the higher fees you can command. Selling reputation is an interesting one – celebrities sell it but what have some of them ever done?


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