Working Commission Only Jobs Taught Me the Keys to Succeeding

Roxanne Hale
Unsplash/Aneta Pawlik

I got my first job at age fourteen, cleaning houses for ladies in my neighborhood after school. Before I knew it, I had more houses to clean than I had hours in the day. So how does an introverted teenager build a thriving housekeeping enterprise without so much as owning a vacuum cleaner or a pair of rubber gloves? Necessity – my family absolutely needed the money. Also, I worked cheap.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that cleaning other people’s houses was seriously hard work, and I was limited by the hours available in a day. I began looking for other more lucrative ways to get paid for my time. From that point on, I sought out work that offered flexibility and a compensation ceiling that I could control. To date, I have never punched a clock or relied solely on a guaranteed salary.

Earning a Commission. Receiving tips and bonuses. Paid for performance. Self-employment. Freelancing. So, what have I learned in thirty years of working without a guaranteed salary?

I’ve learned three invaluable lessons:

#1 Hustle and Manage Your Time

Nothing clears away the clutter in your workday like working without guaranteed pay. You become a tight manager of your time and dedicate it to the efforts most guaranteed to maximize your income.

In my early twenties, I sold cars for a living. If I didn’t sell a car that day, I had basically donated my time for free. I quickly caught on to customer traffic patterns. I made sure I was present and working during the hour's customer traffic was highest. I wasn’t worrying about taking a lunch break, a smoke break, or sitting around chatting with co-workers. I was looking for customers who needed help buying a car. When I found one, I was extremely efficient and polite at discovering how ready, willing, and able they were to purchase a car that day.

Take-a-way: Smart businesses align their efforts with the activities that generate business income. In your daily working life, it pays to put the items with the biggest financial pay-off for you at the very top of your to-do list.

#2 Happy People Are Always in Demand

One of my favorite jobs in college was waitressing in a pool hall. I loved the laid-back environment, and the tips were far better than any hourly job I could get with my skill set at the time. I was paid $2.15 per hour plus tips. So naturally, I focused on increasing my tip money on each sale.

This is where I learned the importance of having a positive attitude on the job. It’s not always easy to bring a smile with you to work every day, but when your income is directly affected by it - it becomes essential. Some girls who worked at the pool hall assumed that flirting was key to improving tips with a primarily all-male customer base. They weren’t. You know what brought in the tips? Prompt drink orders, remembering customer's names and beverage preferences, and humor. Doing a good job with a smile.

Take-a-way: Happy people who can kill it on the job are always in demand. Being incredibly good and efficient at your work, all the while providing a little humor, goes a long way. Pay attention to what people need and expect from you and then happily deliver it.

#3 Be an Independent Thinker and a Problem Solver

In my view, a boss has always been irrelevant to me in my commission jobs because they weren’t exactly paying me. But I have always had a laser focus on what a customer expects from me. If I make the customer or client happy and bring in business, the boss usually has no choice but to value me. I like to think of bosses or managers as mentors or guides. I’m not waiting around for a boss to hand me work or give me a solution to a problem. I am looking for ways to make myself valuable, maybe even irreplaceable. One of the best ways to do this is by generating solutions to workday issues that you can present to your manager when you bring them the problem.

Remember, problems stand in the way of productivity. Productivity is how you earn money in results-based compensation plans. The quicker you solve your problems, the more productive you will be and the faster you get on to making money. Becoming an efficient and proven problem solver is one of the best ways to maximize your earning potential.

Take-a-way: The best employees are the ones who bring ideas and solutions to the table. Anyone just waiting around for some assigned work or instructions is probably capped at how much they’ll make. A good problem solver, however, is rare and rarely underpaid.


Today, I own a successful real estate brokerage with a team of agents working only on commission. I hire smart problem solvers with a wide network, a happy demeanor, and an eagerness to work on behalf of their clients because I know this type of agent won’t struggle under the pressure of commission-only pay – they’ll thrive.

In any industry, look for the person that can bring in new business, solve problems, or develop new ideas, products, and services (that a customer will actually spend their money on) and do it all with a smile on their face – those people will most likely be the ones capable of virtually unlimited earning potential.

If any of those skills sound like you, a salary will only hold you back.

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Roxanne Hale, owner, and broker of Arthouse has spent over 20 years in the real estate business. Here you'll find a collection of stories about buying and selling real estate & home building advice, housing history, and architecture & design tips. Oh, and some fun personal stories every now and then!

Homewood, AL

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