If you have to work, why not make as much money as you possibly can? That perspective alone is why some people consider asking their bosses for a raise. If you're one of them, and you're considering asking for a raise, keep this in mind: Even if you truly deserve a higher salary, how you go about asking your boss for a pay increase can make all the difference in whether or not you get one.

So first let's start with the basics.

1. What you need doesn't matter. Kids, bills, major expenses... no matter how valid or pressing your needs, none of those things are your boss's problem -- so don't waste time focusing on what you need.

The only way to successfully ask for a raise is to focus on what you have done -- and, therefore, the higher salary you have earned.

2. How you perform, compared to your peers, doesn't matter. Well, it does, but comparing yourself to other people when you ask for a raise never works. Your goal is to make an irrefutable case, and comparing yourself to other people -- no matter how valid the comparisons -- opens up a can of worms you will never close.

Besides that, your boss should refuse to talk about another employee's performance. That's between him and the other employee -- not you.

So don't go there.

What matters is you: What you do (and how you do it), what you have achieved, what value you create for the company... when you ask for a raise, it's all about you.

So what should you do? Before you ask for a raise:

1. Become, without question, the absolute best performer in your position. Don't just be good. Be great. Be so great that everyone knows how outstanding you are. Make it go without saying.

2. Be the person who comes in early... and gets right to work. Don't sit and organize your thoughts. Don't get a jump on your email. Don't "ease into" your day. Instead of taking care of your stuff, do something visibly worthwhile for the company. Take care of unresolved problems from the day before. Set things up so it's easier for other employees to hit the ground running when they arrive. Chip away at an ongoing project others have ignored.

Don't just be the one who turns on the lights -- be the one who gets in early and gets things done. Not only will you stand out, the example you set may soon spread.

3. Create your own side project. Excelling at an assigned project is expected. Excelling at a side project makes you stand out. The key is to take a risk with a project and make sure your company or customers don't share that risk.

For example, years ago I decided to create a Web-based employee handbook my then-employer could put on the company Intranet. I worked on the project at home and a few managers liked it but our HR manager hated it... so it died an inglorious death. Bummer. I was disappointed but the company wasn't "out" anything, and soon after I was selected for a high-visibility company-wide process improvement team because now I was "that guy."

4. Don't just raise issues. Solve problems. Plenty of people take verbal stands. Fewer take a stand and put effort behind their opinions. Instead of simply showing everyone how smart you are by pointing out a flaw, fix it.

5. Be the last person who knows about the latest gossip. Not only do employees who create a culture of gossip waste time better spent on productive conversations, but they also cause other people to respect their co-workers a little less... and great leaders never do anything that diminishes the dignity or respect of any employee.

6. Be the person who drives important results. No matter what the business, one or two things truly drive results. Maybe it's quality. Maybe it's service. Maybe it's being the low-cost provider. Maybe it's making a personal connection each individual customer.

Other aspects are important, but for every business, one or two are absolutely make-or-break. Focus the bulk of your efforts there, because that will help the company succeed... and because the people who are invaluable to a company's success are always worth more.

7. Do the next job. Most people wait to get a raise before they'll consider working harder. The smart approach is to work harder and earn the raise.

Be the person who says, "I want to earn more... so I will do everything possible to prove that I should make more money. Always think hard work first, reward later. That alone will set you apart, because no one else thinks that way.

Do all that, and you're ready to ask for a raise.

In fact, it will be an easy conversation. You won't need an unusual strategy. You won't need to be creative and come up with a savvy angle. You won't need to somehow "work" your boss.

When you have already done the work, you won't need to say much at all, because your boss will already know how valuable you are. Just say, "I would like to talk about an increase in pay," and if necessary list all the things you have accomplished. You won't have to go into great detail because your boss will already know how much you've accomplished.

Everyone will know how much you've accomplished.

Will this approach ensure you get a raise? Possibly not.

But think about it this way: All the hard work you put in, all the time you spent gaining skills and knowledge and experience and expertise... if you ask for a raise and don't get one, that time wasn't wasted.

You'll be a proven superstar -- and if your company doesn't want to pay you what you're worth, another company will.

Because you earned it.