When and How to Barter

If you’ve freelanced longer than a day then you know that moment.

  • Someone reaches out to work with you.
  • You get excited.
  • Then they drop the “T” word. “So I was curious if you would be interested in a trade?”
  • Either your get the stink eye (behind the privacy of your own computer screen) or your eyebrows heighten in curiosity.

I’ve felt both reactions and they’re both legitimate feelings! Trading your services for something that your client offers can be a great or horrible experience. Let’s look a little deeper into how you can navigate that question next time!

Do you even want what they’re offering?

The first step is to establish if it’s even worth it. If someone approaches to enlist your services but all they have to offer are their handmade mouse traps that retail for $300 then you’re probably going to PEACE OUT. The polar opposite would be that your client has a pretty amazing product that you had already been eyeing. If it’s something you would not normally be able to afford (because it’s not a necessity) then you still to decide if it’s a better deal than straight cash.

Are they trading because they’re broke?

This question is often overlooked. If a client is broke, can’t sell any products and doesn’t seem to be making an effort to sell then are they an ideal client for you? Here at The Wonder Jam, we like to work with small businesses that are successful, motivated and smart. A client that can’t seem to get anyone to buy their product might have bigger issues than just their logo or website.

What is the real value of their product?

It’s common knowledge that physical products sold online or in-store are marked up. Will they be trading you at wholesale, retail or at cost? If it costs your client $5 to make a necklace but you trade at their retail cost (let’s say it’s $80) then it’s a great value for them. It’s only a great value to you if you really want their offering. Trade is a great way for clients to work with us that normally wouldn’t be able to afford our services. We know going into that relationship that the monetary value is off but we still value what’s happening.

So let’s say you decide to jump into this “for trade” relationship…

  1. Make sure expectations set and in written form. Time to draw up that contract and state how much each product/service is worth! It’s also important for your client to grasp how much your services are worth.
  2. Let’s make sure you’re legal! The first time we traded was with our lawyer. This is funny because naturally he schooled us in how to legally barter. Both products or services are assigned a value and you have to invoice like you normally would! That’s right – there are no “tax free” trades! Keep that in mind when you’re accepting the assigned value on their goods or services.
  3. Commit to giving your client the best service. This seems obvious but it’s easy to stop considering a client who isn’t paying in a traditional way. If they are committing something of monetary value then they deserve the best experience too! If you don’t think you can commit to that then you probably made a bad choice in trading.

The Wonder Jam example: Our friend Tim and Simi were first just clients of ours. Then they became our friends. Earlier this year, Simi asked us to design her branding and website for her health coaching business. Instead of them asking to trade, WE did! We knew that Tim was great at making furniture and working with wood so we enlisted him to create four custom pieces for the cost of Simi’s design package. We are both happy and still friends. The end!


Have you ever bartered or traded? We’d love to hear your tips and experience!
July 24, 2014
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