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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Don't Be Intimidated by Commission-Based Work (Here's Why)

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Depending on who you talk to, getting the same paycheck every two weeks can be comforting— or frustrating. Some people who stay in salaried positions for years often end up feeling like their efforts don't match their compensation, and that 2% yearly raise isn't exactly life-changing.

On the other end of the spectrum is commission-based work, which can bring unlimited earning potential. But then again, a few slow weeks might send you into panic mode.

In short, commission jobs, with their income ups and downs, are not for the faint of heart. But as these professionals will tell you, those with the right skill set who find their ideal venture consider them well worth the risk.

Here's why:

You Control Your Own Destiny

"In my previous work, my income was always based on what the pay scale was for that position, or what some higher-up determined. That frustrated me," says Rebecca Smith, who's been an independent Aflac agent for the last 10 years. What appealed to this mom of two about switching into a commission-based position was not being bound by limits or corporate budgets.

In other words, commission jobs are designed to reward you for the amount of effort you put in. However, choosing the right position for you—and making sure you'll be set up for success—is key.

Do this: Conduct some research to ensure you're not hopping on board with a dinosaur company, says Rachel Gauthier, cyber security practice leader for The Tolan Group, an executive search firm, where she spent several years recruiting for commission-only roles. Ask these questions: What training and support is provided? Who am I selling to? Who are my competitors? Will I be establishing my own pipeline of qualified prospects?

You're Motivated by the Pressure to Perform and Earn

It's challenging to stay engaged at work if you know that your extra effort isn't worth more than the person sitting next to you slacking off. With commission work, however, you know that the harder you work, the more likely your paycheck will reflect that.

Of course, there will be times when you put in lots of hours and might not immediately see the fruits of your labor, especially in the early days. The question is: Do you have the temperament to ride it out?

"When I first started out, earnings were a concern for me," says Smith. At the time, she was a single mom with just a little bit of savings. "I knew I had to provide for two young daughters, so that was my driving force. I kept that mentality and didn't let 'no' bother me," she says.

Today, Smith has built up a stable portfolio of clients. "I'm able to afford things I never thought possible when I started as a struggling single mom 11 years ago," she says.

Clint Weight, who's logged eight years as an Alfac agent, admits that he, too, was anxious during his first couple years as an agent, until he accepted that rejections come with the territory. "The best way I have found to deal with it is to get back out there," he says. "New activity cures anxiety."

Do this: Go into the position with a realistic understanding of the sales cycle—especially when you're starting out, says Gauthier. "This is important to understand in terms of delivery to the client, and—most importantly—to your income generation." But, she adds: If you believe in the mission, and you work the sales process the way you are taught to, you can expect to make money relatively quickly.

Bonus tip: Sock away extra money when you have an up month so there's a cushion to get you through slow periods.

You're Your Own Boss

The other big advantage of commission work is that you can generally set your own schedule. And, as you establish your business, you'll gain even more flexibility. That's especially true if you're an independent sales agent, like Weight and Smith.

"This year I've been to the Caribbean, Mexico, and I'm going to Hawaii next month. Plus I don't have to miss important events with my boys," says Weight.

Smith is also able to work in a few getaways with her husband to help her recharge.

Do this: Set goals and reward yourself for achievements. In the beginning, it might be something small, like a nice meal out. As your business grows, it could be a vacation, or updating your kitchen. "If you've got something to work toward, it makes the achievement that much greater," says Smith.

Are You a Commission First-Timer?

If you're still unsure about taking on commission work, here are a few more tips:

Ask a lot of questions. Don't assume a company's claims about expected earnings will apply to you immediately. Ask how many months (or years) it took their existing sales people to reach that level. "If they're asking you to take on a substantial financial risk, they should be willing to share with you the financials that are relevant to your decision-making process," says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, a career resource for college graduates.

Be honest with yourself. Drive, work ethic, and strong people skills are essential for success in a commission-based job, says Gauthier. "If you have the determination, but cannot connect, it will be a struggle."

Think you've got what it takes? As Smith and Weight have illustrated, with passion, drive, and a positive attitude, commission-based work can be very lucrative and fulfilling—and very much worth the risk.

Benefit Advisors are independent agents and are not employees of Aflac. Certain criminal convictions may prohibit you from becoming an independent licensed agent under state and/or federal law. Aflac's family of insurers includes American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and/or American Family Life Assurance Company of New York and/or Continental American Insurance Company and/or Continental American Life Insurance Company
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