Creative Money Maker: Barter Better

What does bartering have to do with creative money management? Over the past few columns I’ve talked a lot about value: valuing yourself, your time, and the work that you make.

Bartering and trading is a way to recognize the value of the work you and others make and exchange that value in a way that is mutually beneficial. To simplify further: bartering is a way to add value to your project or business without exchanging money.

Bartering is great if you have high quality skills or goods to offer, but don’t have a lot of cash on hand. The key to successful bartering is to ensure that what you are offering and what you are receiving are of equal value to each party involved.

For example, when I was regularly publishing a zine I would always offer my zines for trade to other zinesters. I would trade my hand stitched zine with hand printed covers for zines that were just a few photocopied pages because for me personally that the value of a self-made publication based on passion and artistic vision was equal. In addition, it was also important to me to get my zine into the hands of as many readers as possible and build relationships with other zine publishers.

Trading zines at the Portland Zine Symposium 2009. Photo from Last Hours

Just like pricing your work or your time, bartering well is a skill that you can develop. I asked Tim and Shana, the founders of the Punk Rope fitness program, about guidelines for bartering, which they have used to to build and expand their business.

Tips for successful bartering

From Tim Haft and Shana Brady of Punk Rope

  • Set realistic expectation what you can offer and what its worth
  • Be specific as possible on your terms
  • Be prepared for negotiation
  • Be careful when bartering with friends and mixing business and social relationships
  • Identify people who have the skills that you need. Go to the true experts
  • Examine the motivation of the person offering to barter
  • Avoid one-sided arrangements that only benefit one party

Bartering is still a transaction, even though no money is changing hands. When entering into a barter agreement be very clear when you are trading goods and skills and when you are asking for, or offering, a gift to a friend or colleague.  If you are trading be sure to make an agreement about what you are offering, what you will receive, and when you expect to deliver on your promises in writing. While it may seem overly formal at first, having an agreement in writing will help clarify an agreement should questions or complications arise.

Shana - Double Unders

Shana Brady of Punk Rope competing in double unders in the Punk Rope games

You have control over what you offer in trade. You don’t want to lose money when bartering. If there’s something you make you can’t afford to give away, even for something of equal value, brainstorm about what else you can offer. For example, if you can’t afford to give away your handmade blank books, maybe instead you could offer book binding classes or design advice?

Bartering is a great way to build knowledge and goodwill about your project. You may find you get more out of it then the monetary value of what you received or offered in trade.

If you are curious about more models for bartering check out Trade School, an alternative, self-organized school that runs on barter and offers classes all over the world.

Overall, bartering is a creative way to build the value of your project and is another important tool in the creative money maker tool belt.

What are some successful examples of bartering you have experienced?

What are your guidelines for bartering?

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