Why People Accept Low Paying Jobs and Why I Once Did It

The idea for this blog post came up after reading through a discussion in the SEO Organization Philippines Facebook group about why some people accept low-paying SEO jobs. After reading through the comments, I thought it might be a good idea to share my thoughts on it.

Here’s a screenshot of the Facebook group post (translation in caption).

Why People Accept Low Paying Jobs

Translate: Why is it that there are people who accept salaries lower than Php20,000 (About USD 440) [monthly]? Do you you now much your boss makes because of you?

117 comments and growing as I type this blog post? This topic is wild.

So why? or perhaps, why not?

The quick answer to this question is because it’ll meet the needs for the moment.

I want to make it clear that people have different reasons as to why they’d accept such a low-paying job. What you’ll read below is a summary of my personal journey from a low-paying salary to where I am today – Lead Developer and Business Partner of WishList Products, known for the very popular membership plugin WishList Member.

Let’s travel back to sometime in 1997 when I was desperate for a job.

Thin and bushy haired Mike Lopez c.1997Thin, bushy haired, single and wearing clothes probably more than 4 years old. I needed a job to survive. I decided to leave home, stand on my own two feet and prove to myself that I can do it – be independent. Heck, I was already 20 years old anyway. It’s about time.

I have some computer knowledge and am very good at typing. Those were my assets. Scouting for a job, I walked inside a computer shop in Lagro, Quezon City, Philippines and asked if they had a job opening. It was a small computer shop with two computers.

I told them my story of leaving home, being independent, all that stuff but to my dismay they weren’t looking for help. The owner of the place however made me an offer. Free meals 3x a day, he’d let me “live” in the shop and give me 600 pesos (about 12-15 USD) monthly allowance.

I didn’t think twice. The thought of eating for free, having a place to stay and the chance to get my hands on a computer and gain experience drew me in. And 600 pesos allowance? That’s more than enough for what I need.

The owner of the place, Rene Lamzon, became my godfather when I got married one year after. I couldn’t thank him enough for that opportunity.

I learned a lot from Ninong Rene’s cousin, Tito Nandz who taught me a bunch about desktop publishing and Ninong Rene’s son Kookie who taught me a lot about computer hardware.

How much did I gain from this job? Well, let’s try to estimate its value.

  • Free meals 3x a day : P3,000 (P100 x 30 days)
  • Free rent, water and electricity : P2,000
  • Allowance : P600
  • Knowledge gained : Priceless

So that’s P5,600 pesos a month or something around USD 120 back then. Little did I know that this was my first major step in to becoming what I am today.

1998… I got married one year after to my lovely wife Evelyn and we decided that we should start our own computer shop. Learning the tricks of the trade from my Ninong Renz and Tito Nandz and the monetary gifts we got from our wedding we braved the world of desktop publishing with one computer and some money for rent.

I opened the shop and started getting customers. Other computer shops in the area started referring their customers to me when they have too much in their hands. I even had my brother Paul bring his computer to my shop so we can accept more customers. Life was good. We were staying with my in-laws so no rent to pay except for the computer shop.

1999… we had our first baby, Kei. Right away, expenses skyrocketed and the income we were making with our computer shop were no longer enough. I had to find a bigger source of income.

A church friend, Ms. Jeng Convocar, referred me to his Australian boss Mr. Simon Harrison. He was looking for an IT/Marketing Assistant for his fashion jewelry business. I don’t about marketing but I sure know some IT so I went ahead and made a simple one-page résumé.

Other applicants had way better résumés but I ended up getting the job anyway. That’s probably because I told Simon that he can try me out for one week. If I can’t do the job then he can let me go without having to pay me a single cent.

This job paid me P10,000 a month (220 USD). Not bad and it’s my first real office job. I was in-front of the computer all the time, replying to emails and doing stuff that Simon needs me to do on the computer. This also gave me a good chance of practicing my English.

Then it came. Simon needed to upgrade his website so he can showcase his fashion jewelries and accept orders online.

He sent me over to this guy who made his website before to get all the info I can get so I can do the website upgrade. He’s name is Benj Arriola.

Benj made the website using Miva and all I knew was HTML. Time to level up my computer skills. I started learning Miva and had a shopping cart to show in one week’s time. I had to do a few tweaks here and there but Simon was generally happy about it.

This impressed Benj as well. Apparently, he saw me as a really smart person and started outsourcing some of his web development jobs to me.

2000… New doors were opened and I had to move on. I quit my job and became a freelancer. Freelancing is another story on its own. It’s fun and scary at the sam time. You’ll never know when you’ll get a job and if you do, it can be a big project or a really small one. But it was enough.

2001… we had our second baby, Vhi. Somehow newborns can motivate a dad to achieve new heights. Plus Kei had to go to school already.

I needed bigger income and right when I needed it, Ninong Rene contacted me. He was offering me an IT job and this time it was P20,000 (440 USD). I grabbed the job and went to work.

After a few months working on my new job, the company started to go downhill and it was once more time to move on.

Providence is good. This time another friend, Reine Sison-Gagno whom I met through Benj referred me to another company – a US based one called Distributed Website Corporation. Instead of giving me a fixed salary, I was to be paid based on the number of hours I work but I took it anyway for the following reasons:

  • I work from home. I get to spend more time with my family and no more time wasted traveling to and from work.
  • I work at my own pace. Not that I became a slacker but I love working at my own hours.
  • I get paid in US dollars.

Cool huh? And my hourly rate? Let’s just say it was higher than my previous hourly rate. I had to level up plus this is a US company. I think they may have thought that my hourly rate is really cheap anyway.

An added bonus to this was I was able to give some extra work to some of my friends whenever DWC needed a quick non-programming job done.

By the way, by this time I was no longer thin and bushy haired. I was fat (blame it to working from home) and Evelyn made sure I always looked handsome.

I then moved on to do a big freelancing project (referred by Benj) but since it’s a freelance job, the good life ended when the project was done.

2007… Once again, I was in limbo then Reine contacted me again. She said a company in Makati is looking for IT people. Once more, I crafted a single page résumé and went in for a job interview.

This is where I met Tracy Childers. He was head of the development team and he was the one interviewing me. Heck, I was being interviewed by an American face-to-face and all I had was a one-page résumé? Like, REALLY?

He asked me to do a test project for him and that he’d hire me if I can do it.

Guess what? I did it and landed the job.

But as all life stories go, we have good parts and sad parts.

The good part, we had our third baby, Jae.

The sad part, the company I was working for started laying off some people and they thought the IT department has to go.

Good thing Tracy took me under his wing and hired me as a contractor for his company Athens Dev where I did whatever web development job he needed me to do. I get to feed my family again.

Tracy then told me that he and his partner Stu McLaren had a project where I had to do a WordPress plugin that will convert a WordPress site into a membership site. They ended up calling it WishList Member.

2010… Stu and Tracy then visited me here in the Philippines and over a cup of latte in Starbucks, they asked me if I wanted to be not just their lead developer but their business partner.

I said yes.

Stu, Mike and Tracy c.2010

WishList Products business partners – from left to right: Stu McLaren, Mike Lopez, Tracy Childers

Obviously this is a very long blog post to answer a simple question but I hope you liked it and saw my point. People accept low-paying jobs because they need it either to pay their bills or to acquire knowledge. Perhaps it was the best paying job that would hire them at the time.

In my case, my first need was a job that will let me be the independent person that I want to be and that small computer shop in Lagro Quezon City met that need. From there my needs grew and so did my goals (getting married, kids, etc) and therefore I had to move on.

Hadn’t I accepted my Ninong Rene’s offer, I wouldn’t have sharpened my computer skills and most probably ended in a totally different path. That simple offer took me directly to where I am today, a part business owner of none other than WishList Products.

We mostly make our choices based on our needs. Once the needs are met, we begin to make choices based on our wants. So whether the salary being offered is small or high doesn’t really matter.

Ready to pop

4th baby coming and daddy’s ready for it.

2014… Evelyn is a few days away to giving birth to our fourth baby and I think it’s time once more to level up. This time I won’t be looking for another job nor would I be focusing on salaries. I’m a businessman after all.

Do you have a story similar to mine? Are you in a low-paying job right now or did you once work for one? Share you story in the comments section below. We’d all love to hear it.


5 thoughts on “Why People Accept Low Paying Jobs and Why I Once Did It

  1. John Morris says:

    Awesome story. I think it’s the same no matter where you’re from. When I started out, I did projects for free for a lot of years. Part of it was I knew I needed the experience… but a big part of it was also fear. When I finally started charging I started at $25/hour… which was a good wage for most jobs but pretty low for a coder in the U.S.

    It didn’t take long before my confidence grew and I was charging $50/hour… then $90/hour… then finally started charging by project and currently charge $5K a site.

    All that to say… I believe you’re right that a big part of it is needing the money… but I think another big factor is confidence.

    That’s why I always advise new coders to start taking clients as soon as possible and charging right away. It’s the only real way to grow your confidence… by actually doing it.

    Again, great post. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story but nice to hear it all together.

  2. Jay says:

    This is really an inspiring rag to riches story Sir Mike especially in our industry. I hope I can tell you mine someday which is a bit longer. But I’m still starting in this game.

  3. Benj Arriola says:

    It’s easy to figure out if a person you are talking to is smart or not. I knew Mike was smart after a few conversations. So no doubt he will get places.

  4. We have the same story Mike. I also worked in a computer shop but I have no allowance back then. Just free meal, free computer access but the best part was the knowledge I gained. I also referred to a client by the shop owner. First I was hesitant to get the offer because I have no confidence and the right skills to create a website but I risked and gave all my time learning web development for just 3 days and I finished it in 5 days. Btw, the site was only 5,000php but I was very happy on what I did.

    That pushed me to love Web Development and also that’s the reason why I managed to graduate in college on my own. I study during the day and work during the night. Then the money I earned from working online was what I pay for my tuition.

    I can tell you my story all day long, but this one was the turning point of my life that I can’t forget.

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