The Art of Bartering

Barter [bahr-ter]; verb — to trade by exchange of commodities rather than by the use of money.

When I first set out to become an entrepreneur I was only 16 years old. Yes, I knew I wanted to own my own business or service of some sort before I even had the desire to obtain my driver’s license. I have never seen myself only working for someone else, not knocking it but just have different goals and dreams I wanted to accomplish for myself just like the owners of these companies who hire other people to work for them. But I didn’t know where to start and most importantly I had no idea how to pay for everything I needed in order to start my own business at the time. Well, time passed and by the time I was 18 years old, I was already beginning the stages of setting up my very own arts service. It all started with my first purchase of my first MACbook laptop computer. From then, I became a licensed business owner by the age of 21 years old. Since then, 4 years later, DE has blossomed into this beautiful service that is growing daily out here in the world. Awesome feeling overall for me I must say. But this was no easy nor smooth ride along the way. Sometimes I was faced with difficulties when it came to having the things needed for my service to grow and had no way to pay for those things starting out due to other living expenses and of course the fact that I was in college during that entire time of starting my own service. One way I was introduced to negotiating ways of getting things done and paid for was through bartering.

Now, starting off this method of exchange seemed to be frowned upon. As a matter a fact, I was always told to stay away from doing this with other business owners. At first, I took heed to what I was being told thinking to myself that maybe they are right, you don’t want to get scammed out of your services and worth and they probably know more than me since I was new to the entrepreneurship world. But I soon realized how I could benefit from this as an artist as long as our deals were fairly equal as much as possible. From there I set up a strict list of rules to apply to each bartering deal no matter what or who they were so things would go smoothly and both parties would be able to get what they wanted and needed from one another at the end of the day:

  1. Make sure your trades are equal. Each trade must be equal and fair. This means that both products or services must match up with one another in cost along with labor time. For example, I would never barter off graphic design services for a free t-shirt. The two do not match up at all and the labor for each don’t equal one another.
  2. Never barter services for products and other services that won’t be tangible after two weeks. For me to barter a service off to another business owner, what I am receiving in return must be something that I can either touch or re-use over time. For example, I would never barter off graphic design services for say a free hair or makeup appointment. That makeup will be washed off that same night before bed and that hairstyle will change within a week’s time, but you’ll still have the graphic designs that I have completed for you forever. The labor time may be fair and equal to one another, but that’s still not a fair trade and does not benefit both parties.
  3. Shoutouts on social media and blog sites can’t be considered a trade. I understand some may take shoutouts on these social media sites and blog sites extremely important and I get it and understand that recognition means the world to some. There’s nothing wrong with wanting and desiring to get your name out there into the world, I get it. But I, myself, could never ever accept this as a fair trade. There are way too many ways for you to get your name and business name onto a blog for free right now, and social media posting is absolutely free for anyone to do. You can simple DM someone now and ask them to post something for you and there’s your recognition right there. Second reasoning for not accepting something like this to barter is because it does not benefit both parties over time. For example, if I trade off graphic design services with you for this, you’ll always have those designs for a lifetime and they can be reused. I, on the other hand, only have a shoutout on an internet webpage and app that could easily be shut down at any minute. This is also not a tangible item that can be touched nor used on any resumes or anything like that at the end of the day.
  4. Radio interviews and magazine features are a trap for free promotion. Yes, the free promotion is there and it can be of some benefit for you but again just like in number three, these are not tangible items or services in exchange for design services. I have noticed over time that this free promotion notion is being used to lure in designers to either cut their prices in half or to have designers out here working for free completely and this just does not fly over here at DE. Understand that if your work is truly good, you will get those radio interviews and magazine articles without having to give your services out for free.
  5. Vendor fees waived is a great thing. If you’re a designer or an artist, you already know how expensive vendor fees can become for the events you may want to be apart of. I never knock doing design work for that particular event in exchange for vendor space during that same event. This could and most of the time builds a very healthy and strong relationship between you and curators of events where you can be apart of them. Not only are you receiving the opportunity to market yourself to attendees, sell yourself and your work, and build your portfolio, but you are also helping that curator and event planner with marketing and the image of their event all while helping them towards future events.
  6. Artwork for artwork is always a deal. The main service that I tend to barter with the most would be other art services. Of course they match up perfectly because both parties understand the labor put into each one, along with the needs for each service owner involved. For example, trading off my graphic design services to a rising photographer, in exchange for a business photoshoot for my graphic design service is always acceptable. The photographer has their graphic design work and I have my photography for future design work for myself. Great deal, tangible items and both are equal overall.
  7. Never barter off your services on credit. What I mean by this is never accept someone saying, “Well can you give me a small credit, I’ll pay you for it later on this month I promise.” They won’t pay you later on. As a matter a fact, you will never ever see them again once they get what they want from you which is free services and products. Never open that line of credit up unless this is something you specialize in or you have strict contracts put into place for it.
  8. Featuring your business or service in a music video or song is a joke. No for real, this is a joke. I instantly laugh at these requests that I receive monthly in my email where a rising music artist wants to exchange my graphic design services of mixtape covers for verse features. Just don’t do this. Say no.
  9. Don’t make this a regular habit. If you begin to barter off all your services and products, you will eventually begin to not only lose money but to lose your actual business as a whole. Trading off services on a regular basis instead of making money off of your time and labor regularly turns what you’re doing into just a hobby and not lucrative funding for yourself and possibly your family if being a business owner is an only source of income.
  10. Never pay a membership fee just to trade off your services for free. I saved this one for the last item on this list because this is actually something new I have run into within the last three years. I have found that some major companies and brands have lured in entrepreneurs and business owners, particularly owners of color, with these memberships and clubs specifically made for trading off services. Now, I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle. By all means, get yours. But this doesn’t help business owners in the long run. That’s not a fair and equal exchange money wise because you’re both still having to pay a monthly fee every month to be apart of these new trade off groups which are probably equaling the same amount of money you could be paying to one another for services. Ultimately, whomever you’re paying your membership fees is like a middle man/third party that are getting wealthier off of both parties trading off your services with one another. For example, say your membership fee is $200/month to trade off as many services and products as you can with about 9 other members of that same group of people who have also paid the same fee a month. In all, the third party involved has made about $2,000 already in one month off of just those 10 members of the group. You on the other hand are out of $200 and you’re now giving away your services for free to 9 other people whom are also out of $200 monthly. Yearly, both parties have lost $2,400 per person and that membership owner has gained $24,000 from the trade off of services from all members of the group yearly. With all of this being said, if you have the money to pay a monthly fee for a bartering membership among other business owners, then you have the money to pay your fellow business owners sitting right beside you that are just as hungry as you are for success directly. Don’t allow these third parties to swindle you out of your hard earned money and don’t allow them to discourage you from spending your hard earned money with other business owners who truly need it.

I get it. You want to be paid for your services upfront with no problems. But sometimes we go through things in life that prevent us from doing so. Sometimes we have to help one another here and there in order to help each other grow with our businesses. This does not mean that you are devaluing yourself and this does not mean that you are selling yourself short….IF you are doing it the right way and strictly have rules already set up for this sort of thing. I hope my set of bartering rules above help out a fellow business or service owner out there on the rise!

Have you ever used the barter system before? How was your experience? Would you encourage or discourage it for other business and service owners? Leave your thoughts below in our comment section, we would love to read your viewpoints!

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