Barter for Business: Getting Started

Whether you are a writer or a chef, times are tough. Writers have it particularly tough because everyone can sit in front of a keyboard and use it. The advantages of using a professional writer—knowing the difference between Googling something and research, finely honed grammar skills, and the ability to move logically through a series of features and benefits—are often eclipsed by perceived value of low price or speed.

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Many writers have been working by bartering for what they need. A writer will trade with a designer –one writes copy and the other designs the piece. Trading talent can range father afield, a writer will create your  marketing piece for carpeting or vegetables.

How to make it work? How much writing is a pile of rhubarb worth? Before you trade, you have to have at least two discussions with the person you are trading with. One should be in person. Because the real part of working with a stranger is not the money or the projects, it’s values. If one person is easy-going and laid back and the other is a roaring Type-A personality, the trade won’t work out.

If one person is hard-minded and doesn’t mind ethical shortcuts, and the other person is a people-pleaser, there is a mis-match in which one will feel the other is a goody-two-shoes and the other will feel dirty.

Here are some tips for barter success:

1. Meet in person to get a feel for the other person. Meet in a public place, like a coffee shop. Is the potential barter-partner polite to servers? Do you get stuck with the bill? Does the person constantly check their phone and text while talking? For me, those would be deal breakers. For you, it might be the ideal partner.

2. Check for similar tastes in language and design. Like clean lines, lots of white space, simple lines in clothing and products? If the potential partner shows up in frills and lace, has a fussy hairdo,  wears a ton of clanky jewelry, make sure you check samples of previous work. The choices people make show up in many ways. If you don’t have the same ideal result, you won’t agree on the project.

3. Ask some questions to see how you mesh financially and work ideas:

  • Who will work on my project? (Will you hand the work over to a high-school friend?)
  • How much time do you think this will take? (Helps you judge experience and effort)
  • How do you charge (by the hour or by the project?)
  • How much do you charge? If there is a big difference between your hourly charge, someone will get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

4. Agree to the content of the final product. If you think you are getting a ready-to-print piece, and designer thinks you will handle pre-press details, you will both be disappointed. This is the time for each of you to ask lots of questions and give detailed answers. If neither of you know the other’s field, ask specific questions:

  • What will you give me as a final product?
  • What are the steps for you in completing this piece?
  • What will you need from me–time, examples, copy, photographs?
  • What is your deadline?
  • Will I have any reivew or input to what you produce as a final piece?
  • When and how should we meet to discuss progress?

5. Don’t stay unhappy, don’t even become unhappy. If the person to complete the barter portion first feels unhappy, the other end of the barter may not be completed well.  Set up checkpoints along the way to make sure both parties are satisfied, and agree how to resolve disputes. If you meet regularly, and speak respectfully and honestly, the project stays on track.  If you are not getting satisfaction, speak up and ask how you can get what you want. Don’t brood; speak up early.

Barter can be a deeply satisfying way to trade talent and get satisfying results without attacking your bank account. It’s not new, but it does require some management skills.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches busness communications and journal writing.