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Bartering without the suck and without getting sucked dry

If you’ve been in business for more than a minute, you’ve had at least one conversation about bartering.

It’s a festival of confusion and angst. Folks loathe the idea of giving their service in trade. At the same time, they love the idea of getting services from someone else in trade.  It’s definitely one of the things I get asked about the most.

Variations of the question include…

“Will you trade services with me?”

“Should I offer to trade services with her?”

“Isn’t that whole trading thing a no-good, terrible, awful idea?”

“People won’t respect your work if you give it to them for free!”

Why barter?

Maybe you have a baby business that needs services you can’t quite afford yet. Maybe it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. Maybe you actually enjoy working within high-quality, mutually beneficial relationships. Maybe.

Still, the answer most people get when they ask about bartering is a big giant, “Oh! Hell no!” which might be accompanied by a finger snap and head whip.

You might even notice yourself getting defensive at the mere idea that someone would think so little of you and your value to ask you to do business in *spit* trade.   My answer to that might surprise you because….

I whole-fucking-heartedly disagree

I’m actually a huge supporter of bartering for services you need.

In my opinion, learning how to successfully barter with each other is at the foundation of  a healthy economic understanding. It grows from the smallest scale at home where sisters trade toys for chores and into neighborhoods where Jim mows the lawn for the widow down the street and in return she makes him fresh bread and give her fresh veggies from her garden.

That kind of sharing-of-our-abilities expands into the community. It’s good for us.

Encouraging voluntary cooperation and spontaneous order are fundamental to the development of mutual respect and admiration that supports a successful economy (tiny or huge).

It’s where we started.  Happily, I believe it’s where we’re returning.  But, to avoid deeper political vamping, I’ll stop there and just say….Yes. Please remain open to the idea of bartering.

*As an aside, if you’re into asking yourself the hard questions:  If you’re offended and feeling like someone asking you to trade is devaluing your services, what does that say about your opinion of their services?

Barter because your stool needs rockstars

In my consulting work with clients, we spend a lot of time in the beginning talking about something called the Trinity of Management. I won’t give a whole long lesson here (because this is about bartering), but the gist is important.

The Gist of the Trinity of Management

You cannot grow a successful business all alone. Sorry, but you just can’t.

Imagine your business is a stool.

Slide Snapshot 5

For your stool to stand, it needs three equally strong (read: amazing, spectacular, better than awesome) legs. Those legs are product, marketing & money.  All of these aspects of your business have to be taken on with equal enthusiasm, love and passion.

Slide Snapshot 12

Passion is the key word here

No one…no one ever anywhere at all….has had equal passion and ability in all three of those areas.  Sure, you could probably do an okay job with your finances when manage to scrounge up the fucks you need to care about it once a month or once a quarter. But that’s not the passion your business needs to succeed.

You absolutely have to bring in other people to serve those roles.  

You might find that passion in a family member, employee, VA, contractor or a partner. But, especially in the early stages, you probably can’t pay them accordingly.

So, it’s a chicken and the egg thing

Do you stay small and try to grow all by yourself (remember how that isn’t possible?) until you’re making enough money to pay someone else to passionately do these things for you?

Yeah, sure. How’s that working out for you?

The only smart answer is smart, strategic bartering. But what the hell is smart, strategic bartering?

Bartering is like beer making.

If you’re not doing it right, it will almost certainly go horribly wrong.

However, if you follow a proven process, the end result can be  insanely more rewarding than anything you could ever hope to buy off the shelf.

After years and years of screwing this up the hard way (the bartering, not the beer making), I’ve created my own set of hard fought keys for bartering without it all going to hell in a handbasket.

So, here ya go…

How to create a mutually beneficial bartering deal

First, decide if it’s mutually beneficial.

I only barter for something that a) I need and would be paying for anyway or b) I need but can’t afford right now and the lack of that thing is holding me back.

Example: I would barter for house cleaning, VA services and possibly, given the right fit, babysitting or a PR person.

Second, find the right person for the barter.

This should *not* be someone who has never paid you and would never pay you for anything. It needs to be someone who knows and respects the value of your work. Which typically means it won’t be a stranger that emailed you out of the blue and said “hey, let’s trade!”

And, remember this when you’re asking other people to barter. It goes both ways. Only barter with someone you would hire and are likely to hire for additional work in the future.

Third, everyone gets their real rate. Period.

When I do a barter, we’ll trade estimates or proposals for the work we need done as if we’re “real” clients (because we are). Any imbalance in the two proposals is either paid for with cashy money or added to the scope *before* any work begins.

Now, we’re all on the same page, everyone knows what to expect and we’re treating each other like the real clients that we are.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Right?

Every time I’ve done a barter arrangement this way, it’s worked out great and we’ve been repeat clients for each other in the future. When I’ve done barters without these parameters, it tends to strain the relationship to the point of extinction and someone inevitably ends up feeling taken advantage of.  Which is a total suckfest.

Whether it’s paid or traded, we’re all simply sharing our gifts with each other.

Bartering is one of the most beautifully organic ways for us to meld our superpowers into a new kinda magic.

Money has become such an integral part of how we see our business success that we could easily let the numbers get in the way of a truly wonderful opportunity.  Don’t let that happen to you.

My advice is to be open to the idea of bartering, but definitely be smart about it.

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2 Responses to Bartering without the suck and without getting sucked dry

  1. Meg February 26, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    I loved this post! Have been reading a lot lately from various business building ‘gurus’ that bartering services/products is a no-no … and that if you want to take your business seriously you must pay actual money and should be somewhat insulted if people ask you to barter/trade …

    The whole idea of barter being somehow unprofessional, a sign of thinking small & a barrier to successful business growth has kind of sat wrong with me. After all, if you do it right (and I love the idea of exchanging quotes and making it an official ‘real’ transaction – I’ve always been really ad hoc about it – but am definitely changing my ways from now on!!) it is simply an exchange of value – which is what money is supposed to represent … right?

  2. Kitty Kilian March 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Yes. Exactly – the key is to trade with people who respect one another’s work. I also – apart from this – sometimes just give. But then again, only to people who are deserving 😉 And who will benefit.

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