A Step Towards Transparency: Sweet Fish’s Compensation Blueprint

Most compensation structures are a mess.

For 5 out of the 7 years Sweet Fish has been around, ours was too.

Startups do their best to be fair and clear, but without a plan, compensation decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, are wide open to bias, and leave team members with no idea about what they can potentially make if they stay with the company.

When we first saw the Career Framework from Buffer, we were inspired to say the least. The Buffer framework, which in turn was inspired by Radford, lays out a series of vertical Levels team members can achieve in the organization, as well as horizontal ones.

Each vertical level brings more responsibility (and pay), while each horizontal level means the team member has demonstrated growth and expertise within the role they currently have. This helps people make more without moving positions in the company.

We knew right away we wanted to design a transparent comp plan for our own team. It took about half a year, but we finally rolled it out in December 2020. This is the revised 2021 edition, and we’re darn proud of it.

The Sweet Fish Compensation Blueprint

Money isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something. After all, you’re not volunteering at Sweet Fish. You’re working hard, and you deserve to get paid.

Compensation, raises, promotions—they can be tough topics, both for leaders who make these decisions, and for the team members who are affected by them. But they don’t have to be! As much as possible, we’ll try to clearly lay out how compensation is structured at Sweet Fish, how and when we handle changes in pay, and what kind of opportunities you have for making more money and moving up in the organization.

Salaries

Each position at Sweet Fish falls within a well-defined range that determines the minimum and the maximum salary for that role.

Your compensation depends on 3 factors: 

  1. Your Team.
  2. Your Level in the organization. 
  3. Your Stage within that Level.

Team

Your Team is the part of the business you and your immediate peers serve in. For example, Producers, Launch Specialists, Lead Producers, and Podcast Production Managers are all job titles within the broader Podcast Production team.

Different teams have different salary ranges at Sweet Fish. These ranges are established and are based on the current market value of the roles on the team. (The ranges are subject to change each year, but we will not lower your salary if the market value falls.)

As of this writing, here are the teams and associated salary ranges, from the lower end of the Specialist range on up to the top end of the Director range:

  • Podcast Production: $50,733 – $116,480
  • Podcast Talent: $45,643 – $104,793
  • Host: $40,706 – $93,457
  • Writers: $42,050 – $96,545
  • Designers: $41,774 – $95,910
  • Sales: [This one’s a little complex, with commissions and all ;). Reach out if you want the full breakdown.]
  • Social Media: $47,733 – $109,592
  • Community Management: $45,528 – $104,530
  • Operations: $48,291 – $110,873
  • Audience Growth: $60,570 – $159,100
  • People Ops: $56,322 – $142,787

Note: If a new team is added throughout the year, we will create a salary range for it based on the market value of its roles.

Levels

Levels at Sweet Fish refer to your job title and your level of responsibility in the organization. There are two tracks you can choose between. The Levels on each track offer the same salaries as the corresponding Level on the opposite track.

First, Choose Your Track

At Sweet Fish, there are two career tracks you can choose:

  1. The Individual Track 
  2. The Manager Track

You should choose The Individual Track if you are a great individual contributor and want to contribute at a high level, but are unsure if you want to manage people.

You should choose The Manager Track if you have a desire to lead people, manage direct reports, and inspire and motivate your team to do their best work together.

You choose which track you want to be on after 90 days at Sweet Fish. Here are some things to know about each track:

The Manager Track:

  • You spend 60-80% of your time managing (once you have direct reports).
  • Level 3 Leads may have up to 4 direct reports.
  • Level 4 Managers may have up to 8 direct reports.
  • Your direct reports may be on either track. 
  • Promotions to Level 3 and above on The Manager Track are “open promotions,” meaning anyone internally should be given a chance to apply and interview for them. 
  • Promotions to Level 2 are “closed promotions.”

The Individual Track:

  • You spend at least 80% of your time doing fantastic individual work.
  • Expectations get higher with every level. For example, you’ll handle more high-profile customers, have more complex responsibilities, and produce more than Level 2 Specialists.
    • Level 3 Senior Specialists are expected to produce 1.25x the work of an average Specialist.
    • Level 4 Aces are expected to produce 1.5x the work of an average Specialist.
    • Level 5 Directors & above are expected to produce 1.5x the work of an average Specialist and to oversee entire departments.
  • It is possible to have one or two direct reports even on The Individual Track.
  • All promotions on this track are “closed promotions,” meaning they are not open for others to apply for (since they are based on individual performance).

Both:

  • People can be hired at any level.
  • It is possible to jump tracks at any time.
  • Here are the time guidelines for moving up levels: 
    • 0 years = Levels 1-2
    • 1 year = Level 3
    • 2 years = Level 4
    • 4 years = Level 5+ 
    • Exceptions are possible based on the needs of Sweet Fish (Manager Track) or for exceptional performers (Individual Track).
  • Important: Advancement is earned, never promised. Time served alone does not guarantee promotion.

The higher your Level, the more responsibility you are given over a broader range of the business. For example, Level 2 people are responsible for their own work but do not typically manage anyone. Meanwhile, Level 4 people are either responsible for leading and supervising teams of people or they are responsible for a greater scope of work than Level 2 people. Level 5 people lead and supervise departments, and so on, up to the highest Level.

Getting promoted at Sweet Fish means moving from one Level to the next. For example, when a Writer gets promoted to a Lead Writer, she moves from Level 2 to Level 3.

Stages

Stages define the ranges within the same Level. Each person at Sweet Fish is either at Stage 1, Stage 2, or Stage 3 within their Level. You can move up Stages as you grow your skills and expertise, even as your job responsibilities remain the same.

Advancing from one Stage to the next is not a promotion: it is a raise. For example, if you move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 within Level 3, your job responsibilities remain exactly the same—you’ve simply increased your expertise, and your compensation has increased as a result.

Team members move from one Stage to the next by increasing their level of expertise. Stage 1 is the base level of expertise, Stage 2 is Intermediate, and Stage 3 is Advanced.

Important notes:
  • If you get promoted to a higher Level, you will typically enter that level at Stage 1. 
  • However, it is possible for someone newly hired or promoted to enter any Stage on the chart.

FAQs

How often will I be up for a raise?

Once a year, on your work anniversary, which we call your Career Day. Your manager will sit down with you to talk through your current compensation as well as any adjustments that will be made.

Is it possible to get a raise outside of the annual Career Day?

Yes. You can make a case for a raise (or promotion) to your manager at any time. Here’s a helpful resource on how to ask for a raise, and you can apply it to asking for a promotion as well.

Do I have to move to a new Stage to get a raise?

No, although that is the primary way to get a raise. The other way to get a raise is to move to a higher Level [promotion].

How often will I be up for a promotion?

There is no set schedule for promotions, although the following general guidelines apply:

  • 0 years = Levels 1-2
  • 1 year = Level 3
  • 2 years = Level 4
  • 4 years = Level 5+

Important: Promotions are given based on the needs of the business, not individual needs. Simply being at Sweet Fish a certain amount of time does not guarantee you a promotion, nor does your desire for advancement. Instead, promotions open up as new positions are identified and made available, at which point you would be considered based upon your qualifications. 

Note: You have more control over advancement on The Individual Track, since you don’t have to wait until a new management role is created in order to be promoted. If you can commit to the increased responsibility of the next Level, and your manager agrees that fit and need are aligned, you may be promoted.

We care about your career goals, so if there are no promotions available or given at a time when you are actively seeking one, we want to help you in one of two ways:

  • Identifying the skills and knowledge gaps you need to fill to be considered for promotion, and then giving you the resources to fill it.
  • Helping you identify opportunities outside of Sweet Fish that would help you satisfy your career goals.
What factors go into whether I get a raise?

You have the opportunity to advance to the next Stage in your Career Day meeting, depending on several factors (see below). 

The decision of whether to increase your compensation each year, including advancing you from one Stage to the next, is influenced by the following factors:

  • Surveys and feedback from your manager
  • Customer feedback (if applicable)
  • How well you’ve performed the responsibilities listed in your job description
  • Adherence to our three core values
  • Whether you meet the criteria for the next Stage at your Level
What if I don’t advance to the next Stage?

If you’re told in your annual Career Day meeting that you won’t be advanced to the next Stage at that time, don’t lose heart! 

In that meeting, we will walk you through the decision and how it was made, and will lay out a plan for you to improve in whatever areas are necessary for you to advance in the future. 

Keep in mind, though, that each progressive Stage is harder and harder to reach. Most team members will be able to advance from Stage 1 (Base) to Stage 2 (Intermediate). Some (but not all) will be able to advance from Stage 2 to Stage 3 (Advanced). 

What other factors could prevent me from getting a raise?

The financial success of Sweet Fish obviously has an impact on our ability to provide increased financial incentives. This blueprint serves as a guide, but it is possible that extenuating circumstances may impact our ability to make desired changes. In that case, we’ll be as transparent as we can about the factors that affect our decisions.

Who makes the decision about whether or not I get a raise or promotion?

Raises and promotions are both determined by your manager.

Why might someone be hired at Stage 2 or Stage 3 instead of Stage 1?

There are two primary reasons this might happen:

  1. They have lots of relevant experience.
  2. They have a significant breadth and depth of relevant skills.
What is pay equity?

According to SHRM, pay equity means “paying employees fairly and consistently, without discrimination on the basis of gender, race or other protected categories but taking into account job-related factors such as education, work experience and tenure.”

Sweet Fish is committed to a pay structure that is fair, and this blueprint and compensation plan are designed to be as clear and objective as possible.

How often will the pay ranges be reviewed and updated?

The entire compensation structure will be reviewed annually. Please feel free to provide feedback to the People Ops team, so we can keep making it better!

Ryan-Drawdy

Ryan Drawdy

Director of Culture and People Ops at Sweet Fish Media

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