This Marketing Pro Increased Their Salary by $100K by Moving From Sports to Start-Ups

"If you don’t ask, the answer is automatically no"
(illustration: Ashley Floréal)

Want to make more money at work? Of course you doFor our series The Top Up, Canadians across different industries tell us exactly how much they earn—and how they navigated every raise, promotion and job change to get it. Each month, a different executive shares their journey and their best advice for how you can better negotiate your salary, too. This month, a Toronto-based marketing director who works at a real estate start-up tells CB how they used networking and industry hopping to land a higher salary and better job.

Want to help lift the veil on salaries in your industry? Email us at [email protected] to share your story anonymously with our readers.

Current job title: Marketing director
Industry: Tech
Location: Toronto

First full-time job salary: $30,000 in 2012 as a marketing coordinator for a software development company 

Before I graduated from Queen’s with a bachelor of commerce in 2012, I had a four-month paid marketing coordinator internship with a software development company where I copy edited, researched competitors, built slide decks and reviewed RFPs. The company hired me when I graduated, offering me $30,000 for a role as a marketing coordinator. I was right out of university and didn’t feel like I had much negotiating power, so I accepted the salary. I was commuting to the office in downtown Toronto from my parents’ house outside of the city, which was an hour and 45 minutes each way on public transport.

Six months into the job, I decided I didn’t want to stay. I wanted a marketing job in sports, entertainment or media. I’ve always been a big sports fan—I grew up watching Leafs and Raptors games. So I started networking, asking industry people to coffee, and applying for jobs.

Second job salary: $30,000 in 2013 as an account coordinator for an ad agency

One of my connections referred me to an ad agency where he worked. I was offered an account coordinator role. I tried to negotiate my salary, but they didn’t budge. I tried negotiating an extra week of vacation, which was also a hard no. I requested a better title and was shot down. I was disappointed and it was awkward, but I still accepted the job. A lot of ad agencies handle branding, sponsorship and marketing for sports and entertainment companies, so I thought the role could get me closer to my goal.

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A month in, I got a second job: a part-time gig at the concession stands of a major sports venue. I earned $16 an hour and worked about 12 hours a week. It was so I could afford to rent a place downtown Toronto. The daily commute had been eating up 20 hours of my week. 

After a year at the ad agency, the morale of the company was sinking. Then two of the senior leaders resigned within a week of each other, which only worsened things and hastened my timeline to leave. 

Third job salary: $33,000 in 2014 as an account executive for a sports organization

I got wind that the sports venue where I worked the concessions was hiring a full-time office role as an account executive, covering a maternity leave. I applied as an internal employee, which gave me an edge. The salary jump wasn’t high, so I tried to negotiate. They basically said, “Take it or leave it. We have thousands of applicants waiting to take your role.” It was a dream job for me, so I took it. Getting a big name on my résumé would give me leverage down the line.

The job involved managing accounts and sales for people that had purchased ticket packages, and upselling. I also managed collections, which meant following up with unpaid accounts. That wasn’t the most fun part of the job, but it taught me how to have tough conversations. 

“My salary was so low that I had to work two jobs to afford rent”

The organization didn’t allow me to hold two jobs with them, so I quit the role in the concessions stands and got a different part-time job, through a LinkedIn job posting, working about 16 hours a week for a sports media company doing social media and content creation. The job paid $15 an hour. Having two jobs was stressful, but my salary was so low that I had to work two jobs to afford rent. 

Fourth job salary: $65,000 with a 10 per cent annual bonus in 2015 as a social media strategist for an online bank

Around the time that my contract at the sports venue was ending, a connection reached out to me. He was launching a new online bank and asked me to join. I thought working at a bank would be boring. But I was also tired of making $33,000 a year. If I was giving up working in the sports and entertainment industry, then I may as well get paid better.

I asked for $65,000 and they gave it to me right off the bat. I was floored. I had been working in a low-pay role for such a long time that I thought asking for $65,000 was like asking for the moon. In retrospect, it was probably a normal salary for a social media role at a bank. My compensation also included an annual bonus that was based on performance. 

First raise: $25,000 with a 15 per cent annual bonus in 2018 as the senior manager of the bank’s contact centre, bringing salary to $90,000

I joined the bank thinking I’d only stick around for a year. But it was actually a really interesting industry to be in. It’s not everyday that you get a behind-the-scenes view of launching a new bank in Canada. But I’d learned through all my networking that in social media, there’s a limited path forward to getting seniority and big raises. I thought there was better earning potential in communications, so I pivoted to an internal communications role, earning the same salary. I worked side-by-side with the customer service call centre, creating scripts and briefs to advise agents on what to say. 

A year later, two senior people at the contact centre left. The director told me to apply for a senior manager role. I didn’t feel qualified for it, but I got the job, which had a higher salary. I think they liked that I told them about my goals—more responsibility, more direct reports and more pay.

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This was my first role with direct reports and I had 10, which was very stressful. They were constantly asking questions, leaving me zero time to get my own work done. A few months after starting the job, I was able to hire a manager to work under me and the direct reports went to her. That freed me up to think about strategy and plan our next moves. 

I looked for heavier-hitting, meatier projects that gave me more visibility into the senior leadership team. I wanted to make sure I was working on projects that had high importance to the bottom line of the company. If I could show my impact, I could negotiate a raise.

Second raise: $15,000 with a 15 per cent annual bonus and $10,000 in equity per year in 2019 as a senior marketing manager, bringing salary to $105,000  

After a year-and-a-half of working in the contact centre, I was feeling burnout. I told my manager how I was feeling, and he told me about a role on the marketing team, which I applied for and got. They offered me $105,000, which I thought was fair. This was a lateral move from my previous role, but I would have a direct line of contact with the vice president of marketing. 

This position came with equity that vested in two years. It’s a strong incentive to stay with the company, but I didn’t think of that equity as part of my income. I operated like it didn’t exist and it didn’t factor into my decision to take the job. 

Third raise: $6,000 with a 15 per cent annual bonus in 2021 as a senior IT product manager, bringing salary to $111,000

After two years in the marketing role, I felt like I’d learned everything I could and was looking for a new challenge. I had another honest conversation with the same person who helped me move from the contact centre into marketing. He was working on the IT team and brought me on as a senior product manager in internal communications, where I’d help staff at the bank learn new collaboration tools, like Slack and Microsoft Teams. 

RELATED: Five Signs That It’s Time to Quit Your Job

We had very clear pay bands and I was on the lower end of mine. I figured I would ask for something at the midpoint, which was $115,000. They came back with $111,000. 

Fifth job salary: $120,000 with two per cent equity in 2021 as a marketing director for a real estate start-up 

I’d only been in the IT role for five months when someone in my network approached me about working for their real estate tech start-up as the head of marketing. I’d be overseeing customer acquisition and engagement, PR and managing creative resources. I was very against it initially because it felt risky: It was a bootstrapped start-up with just four people. I had just purchased my first property and had my mortgage to consider. 

“If you don’t ask, the answer is automatically no”

But I felt being at the start-up would accelerate my learning. I was very comfortable at the bank, but I knew that doing scary things is so important. I figured that in the worst case, I could re-enter the job market using my existing network.

Based on market rates and my prior work history, the start-up offered me $120,000, plus two per cent ownership in the company if I stayed with them for the next three years, which I accepted. It was fully remote, which was another bonus. I’m still at the start-up now and it’s grown to 20 people. During my first annual review, HR offered me a cost-of-living raise, bringing my salary to $130,000.

Best negotiation tip: Shoot your shot

When it comes to negotiating salary, always shoot your shot. If you don’t ask, the answer is automatically no. The hiring manager knows there’s an expectation for negotiating. I know friends that have gone through their entire careers without negotiating, which means they have left money on the table.

As told to Andrea Yu
As told to Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.