Be Your Own Agent

Alex Rodriguez batting

Athletes get criticized a lot for always taking the money. When they have a choice between several teams that want to sign them, 99% of the time they take the option with the most amount of money—winning and chemistry be damned.

I can’t really blame them, but they do take a lot of crap for it.

These guys (and girls) are making hundreds of millions of dollars, and oftentimes they pick the team offering them more money over teams that give them the best chance to win (which is supposed to be all athletes care about, if you believe their clichéd answers, and I do).

And people like me will often take the player’s side, arguing that it isn’t the player making the call, but the agent.

The agent plays a pivotal role in the process. They’re the ones negotiating on behalf of the player. Structuring the contract and the communication between the player and the team. Getting the most money they can for the player. Fielding any offers and playing them against each other for the player’s benefit. Hyping up the player’s accomplishments to make them look as good as possible (Scott Boras is a genius at this).

The agent is the player’s advocate and most of the time you’ll hear players say something like “That’s my agent’s job, I’m just the player. He does his job, I do mine.”

And how does an agent get “graded?” Scratch that—how do they get paid?

As a percentage of the player’s salary, so they’re obviously incentivized to go for the largest possible salary they can get.

To me, that makes sense.

Some players point out how uncomfortable they are with the business side of the game. They just want to play the game and not deal with the rest of it (the game itself being plenty to have to manage).

Writers fall into this trap all the time.

I’m a writer and I write because that’s who I am and what I do. I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it for the art. So when I write something I’ll just put it out there and if it makes it, it makes it. But I’m not going to go our and sell it.

They feel uncomfortable trying to sell their work because it “cheapens” it somehow.

Most of us do the same thing when it comes to our salaries.

We don’t make a strong case for a raise.

We don’t negotiate when we start a new job.

We feel like we’ll get what we deserve if we just do our best.


In the case of your career, you are the player and the agent. You have to be your own agent. If you’re a great player, odds are you’ll get rewarded as such, but that’s no guaranteed—unless you have a decent agent on your side.

It’s a company’s job to try to maximize their profits, and it’s your job to do the same with your compensation.

Employee and Agent

It’s helpful to separate these two different roles in order to be as effective as possible, because if you don’t play both of these roles yourself, no one else will.

Look, I get it—you don’t want to go in and demand more money, more days off, and a higher title because it doesn’t jibe with your work persona that’s “all about the work” and “doing a good job” or—back to the sports clichés— “a team player.”

But if you aren’t looking after your best interests, odds are nobody else will.

I’ve had bosses that took care of me without my having to ask (god bless them).

I’ve also had bosses that never even thought about it unless I brought it up. And then they were happy to help.

Then there are the ones that think about it but don’t want to do anything about it. They have a budget too and they’re trying to get as much out of it as they can.

Let’s not forget about compound interest—for every dollar you “miss out on” when you’re young, you’re leaving a LOT more on the table when you’re older.

Say you’re 22 and get your first job offer for $40k. You could either take it right away—thankful that you got your first job. Or you could negotiate by making a solid case as to why you should get paid $45k.

If you manage to pull it off, not only will you start your career off on the right foot by always putting your interests first and foremost (like an agent would), you’ll also have that additional $5k as a head start over your non-negotiated self.

So five years later when you go to another job, you’ll be looking to go up from $45k, not from $40k. Repeat that process every few years and you could be looking at a difference of $20k by the time you’re 40.

That’s a lot of money.

And if you’re investing some percentage of that money in something like a retirement account, that’s even more money you’re missing out on.

This is a big deal! Not just because we’re talking about a lot of money, but because we’re talking about putting your best interests first. We’re talking about furthering your career as much as you can.We’re talking about having the best representation possible at all times.

Because if you don’t have an agent looking out for your best interests, you’re likely to get fleeced time and time again.

How do you become a good agent? Read the posts on this site. Follow people like Ramit Sethi (or me!) on Twitter. Consume some of the millions of posts and articles out there aimed at helping your career grow and evolve.

Someone’s got to do it.

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