My brother hired SP for $20,000. On the same day, he hired LJ for $30,000. They both had the same qualifications: college degrees, a bit of experience interning for investment companies, and the desire to make a lot of money.

SP stood out from day one. He was the first one to work every morning and stayed after everyone else, including my brother, went home at night. LJ was good but rather ordinary.

Flash-forward 13 years. SP is making more than $2 million every year and LP is making $38,000.

SP has already outpaced LJ by more than $10 million. By the time they both retire, SP will have a net worth well in excess of $50 million while LJ will be lucky if he has anything in his bank account.

What accounted for the difference?

It was not intelligence. It was not ambition. It was simply the fact that SP decided to become a superstar while LJ was content to be ordinary.

That’s how I see it. But let me try to prove it to you with some simple arithmetic.

Joe Ordinary is 25 years old, makes an ordinary $30,000 a year income, and gets ordinary 3.5% yearly increases. Over a 40-year career, he will make a little over $2.6 million.

Sarah Superstar, also 25, follows the career-building advice she gets in Early to Rise and averages 5% increases. Over the same 40-year period, she will earn $3.8 million — more than $1 million more than Joe.

If Sarah can keep her expenditures down and live on the same amount of money that Joe is making, she will retire a millionaire while Joe will be forced to live on food stamps and handouts.

That’s how big a difference a mere 1.5 percentage points can make when we’re talking about raises.

And that 1.5% difference, from the studies I’ve read, is what Sarah can expect by working hard and making smart decisions throughout her career.

There is no doubt about it: Earning just a few percentage points more each year can make you much richer.

But today, I’m going to talk about something even more exciting than that. I’m going to give you a blueprint for becoming a multimillionaire in no more than 20 years.

But your path to wealth must start somewhere. So in addition to that blueprint, I’m going to give you a plan to get an increase of at least 10% by the end of this year. Does that sound good?

Let’s start by taking a look at how salaries work in a typical business environment.

Businesses exist to provide products and services to consumers. Healthy businesses measure their success in terms of their long-term profits.

As an employee of a business, it’s your job to help your company produce those long-term profits. You may think your job is something other than that. You may think, for example, that your job is to answer the phone or deliver the mail or write marketing copy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your job is to produce long-term profits.

The secret to getting above-average raises each year is to accept that as your fundamental responsibility — and to transform the work you are doing now in such a way that it will produce those long-term profits. The better you can do it, the more money you will make. It’s as simple as that.

Salespeople generally make more than accountants, right?

That’s not because salespeople are smarter than accountants. Nor do they necessarily work harder. But the job they do is seen as more financially valuable than the job accountants do. That is the one and only reason they get paid more.

If you are working as a low-ranking employee right now, don’t worry. The plan I’m going to give you works just as well for you as it does for top brass. In fact, it works better!

Conventional business roles and conventional salaries are the reality for 80% of the workforce — for people who come to work and put in a full day and have a good attitude and hope for the best.

For most of the other 20% — people who are smart and willing to work harder — the business world will reward them with better raises and more in total earnings over a 40-year period.

But there is a smaller group — maybe 25% of that 20% (or 4% of the whole) — that will average much more significant raises and earn far more throughout their business careers. Enough to make it possible for them to retire rich.

There are more than a dozen employees I’ve worked with personally during the past 20 years who have taken this less-travelled road. None of them are older than 45 (most are in their thirties) and they are already all multimillionaires. If they continue as they have been — and there is no reason why they shouldn’t — they will all be among the top one-half of 1% of the population in wealth when they decide to retire.

So let’s talk about how you’re going to make that happen for yourself.

Start with this: Make a commitment to become the most valuable employee in your department by the end of June and the most valuable employee in your boss’s view by the end of the year.

These two goals are not necessarily synonymous. As you may already know, what your boss thinks about you and who you are may be two different things. The first job of anyone who wants to become a superstar is to actually start doing more valuable work. The second job is to gradually let your boss (and your boss’s bosses) know that.

So make that commitment now.

Then make a list of all the ways you are currently valuable to your boss. And then make another list of things you can do to increase your value.

That list will be a good source of ideas for you. In January, for example, you might make it a point to get your boss his most important report a day earlier than normal. In February, you might tell him he can delegate to you the sales calls he hates to make.

If you use your daily task list as explained in The Pledge, you should be making great progress by the spring and have completely upgraded your responsibilities by the middle of the year. Now is the time to start letting your boss know about your achievements (in the event that he hasn’t noticed already).

Guide all of your business decisions by one sole criterion: How will this action help my company increase its long-term profitability?

Meanwhile, be sure to stay humble and credit other people for their assistance when they have, in fact, helped you.

Be conscious of your boss’s ego, too. Give him credit whenever anyone compliments you on some achievement. A statement as simple as “I couldn’t have done it without Jeff’s help/wisdom” will usually do the trick.

And take the time to write your boss and key fellow employees the occasional memo thanking them for their help.

By following a two-tier strategy — contributing more to the business and making friends along the way — you will ensure that your path to success will be quick and easy.

As your responsibilities increase, your boss will begin to depend on you.

Eventually — and this may happen in six months or it may take a year — he will see you as an entirely different and more important employee than any of the others he deals with. He will begin to think of you as indispensable.

At that point, you should have no trouble getting your 10% raise. You might do much better than that.

But there is one more thing you must do along the way to make sure you get that raise: Establish relationships with other employees who have a higher rank than you. Ask them for their help and insight. Volunteer to help them do their jobs, and do that work after hours.

Your goal is to develop a back-up network of powerful people who see you as an up-and-comer. These people can be instrumental in getting you the raise you deserve if your boss, for whatever reason, fails to give you your due.

If you can, develop relationships with colleagues from other businesses in your industry, too. You never know — a few of them may offer you more than 10% to come and work for them.

Here’s a key point: The habits you have to work on now in order to get yourself that 10% raise will be the same habits that will help you double or triple your salary in the future. Superstar employees don’t do a hundred things better than ordinary, good employees. They usually do just a handful. You’ll discover and perfect your handful next year in seeking to please your boss, and you’ll be able to use those new skills to go all the way to the top.

A caution: Sometimes, what you have to do to please your boss is not the best thing for the business.

Some businesses — and this happens more often with larger, corporate businesses than with growing enterprises — become politically divided. In such businesses, it’s possible to get a job working for someone who cares more about himself and his own power than about the company’s future.

If you have such a boss, you should really try to find a better one. But if you can’t, you will have to be a bit duplicitous. You will have to do everything you can to please him while you are carrying out your plan. But at the same time, find someone else in the company, someone with power, who is willing to mentor you.

That person will be either tone of your boss’s equals or one of his bosses. Most important, he must be someone who is committed to the company’s long-term profitability. Remember, that is the bottom-line measuring stick for the success of any business.

Work to please your mentor at the same time as you work to please your boss. By pleasing your boss, you’ll get your big raise next year. And by pleasing your mentor, you eventually will be able to abandon your boss’s rotten ship and secure a much better position.

The greater your contribution to your company’s success, the higher the salary you will demand. And the best way to be a big contributor is to practice a financially valuable skill.

There aren’t a whole lot of financially valuable business skills to choose from. Though it’s good to know how to analyze a spreadsheet or engineer a new design, if you want to make dramatically more money than you’re making now, you are almost certainly going to have to start doing at least one of the three things businesses traditionally pay big bucks for: selling, marketing, and/or managing profits.

Yes, I know you’ve heard this from me before. And, no, I won’t be angry with you if you decide to stick with what you already know. I’m just pointing out that, in going after the goal of increasing your income, you might consider changing your profession. It really will jet-propel your progress.

But even if you choose not to do that, you can and should be able to boost your salary by 10% next year. And here is how you are going to do it:

  1. Make a resolution to be more valuable to your boss and/or your business. Do it now. Write it down.
  2. Make a list of all the ways you are currently valuable to your boss and/or your business.
  3. Make a list of a dozen or so ways that you can increase your value to your boss and/or your business. And pick at least one of them as your objective for January.
  4. Figure out some way to communicate to your boss or to your company’s president that you want to make a bigger contribution this year. (No need to tell him you want a higher salary. He will “get” that without your saying so.)

If you set for yourself the goal of getting a 10% raise next year and you get just half of that, you will still be much richer when you retire than you will be if you ignore this advice and go back to accepting the ordinary.

So please — start with that 10% goal. Decide to be a much better employee by next June and have a network of people in place who understand your value by the end of the year.

Then get that raise and watch your wealth grow.

P.S. Good for you! You’ve just made a commitment to get a big raise next year. And I’m sure you have some other big goals for 2011 — maybe losing weight, starting a business, or learning a financially valuable skill.

Of course, it can be tough to go it alone and stay motivated. But if you had a coach pushing you forward, your chances of success would increase exponentially. We have such a coach here at ETR. His name is Bob Cox. And he’s mentored four men who went on to become billionaires.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.