Rogue Ink

April 28, 2008

Barter. It’s What’s for Dinner.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 4:04 am
Tags: , , ,

I don’t know if you’re one of those happy shiny people who just loves beginning a new business, but if you are, I think you should know that no one likes you very much.

I’ve been working myself into the ground this weekend trying to get a few things together for the launch on the 1st (scary scary scary scary scary scary scary). Note: the word ‘scary’ looks scary. Well played, whoever finangled that one. In the process of business-starting, I’ve encountered quite a few other people who are also just beginning their own business. A graphic designer, two masseuses, a website developer. We’ve been commiserating about how much all of this sucks, and we’ve all been offering what help we can summon, because when you’re stuck on a desert island with a bunch of equally frustrated and scared people, you want to be the guy nobody can bear to think of eating first.

Seriously. Think about it.

So I’ve been offering to revamp the masseuse’s promotional brochures and write the website developer’s web copy on his sample work, and the graphic designer is making me a logo and the website developer is making one of the masseuse’s website, and the masseuses have become everyone’s slaves. And it occurred to me that what we are doing is an informal form of barter. We’re trading one service for another, with no money in between. That is pretty cool, if slightly communistic, and useful in a few other ways besides business-starting.

No samples, no jobs. No jobs, no samples. Don’t you HATE that?

Barter is awesome for beginners in any field. If you’re a graphic designer just starting out, you can probably design a sample brochure or two without anyone ever hiring you, and build your portfolio that way. However, if you’re like most graphic designers I know, you talk as though you’re always on your instant messenger (I’m very, very sorry to all functionally typing graphic designers out there, but seriously, your brethren always spell ‘you’ as ‘u’ and it’s driving me mad) so it’s very difficult for that brochure to look like a professional sample when the design is great but the words are half-assed. Enter your buddy, budding copywriter.

The copywriter writes the copy, the graphic designer does the design. Neither of you has ever been hired by an actual company, but you both now have this very professional sample in your portfolio. Do this a half a dozen times, and you have a whole portfolio to show to your very first client.

Note: this is not cheating. This is a real demonstration of your skills, and that of your friend. DO NOT pretend you have been hired by some awesome company if you have not. But it’s fine to do a mock-up of a company that doesn’t exist, or to write for a company that does exist, just so long as you never claim to have been paid for the labor. That is a slippery slope of deception, and even rogues do not condone it.

The great thing is that if you do a good job on your sample, no one will ask if you were hired to do it. They’ll just think it’s a great sample and hire you to do a real one. Rogues totally condone that.

By your powers combined, you ARE Captain Planet.

Think about it. Who do you know whose profession compliments yours? If you’re already past the ‘needing samples for your portfolio’ stage, and thank the powers that be, I already am, snuggling up to people in peripheral professions (ooh, alliteration) can get both of you more business. Do I do design and copy? No, but I can recommend my buddy, Mister Awesome McDrawyPants. It’s a scratch-my-back-I’ll-clean-out-your-gutters situation, and it can mean more business for both of you.

If you can develop a good rapport or, hey, just to get crazy, a friendship with your complimentary colleague (I did it AGAIN! Alliteration meter is ON today!) then you can do favors for each other without needing an immediate tit-for-tat. You might do three writing jobs in a row for your designer friend, and it’ll be a few months later that you need a professionally designed webpage. Don’t freak out about it. To go all Californian on you for a second, karma comes back around. You know that at some point, you will probably need that friend’s services, and even if you don’t, they can help in other ways. Which brings me to . . .

We all have unnecessaries.

Stuff that you want, that you don’t need, that you occasionally spend money on because you really, really want it. This is stuff like dining out, someone to paint your bathroom, someone to do your laundry. Barter with people who can do those things for you. The masseuse? AMAZING find. Do I need a massage? No, but I really, really want one. And she needs a promotional placard written, and she’s willing to trade two hours of her labor for two hours of mine. That is two hours worth of massage, for something that takes me very little time.

Theoretically, I could work for my standard two-hour fee, and hand her the money, and then she could hand me the money right back and ask me to write the copy for her. The problem with that scenario is that it necessitates some outside party giving one of us money to begin this whole cycle. Barter is great because no one has to be rich first.

Or you could do all your trade in wampum. Just because it sounds awesome. I think the dollar should be traded out for the wampum. How much more psyched would you be to get your change if you knew it was going to be five wampum and thirty-two cowrie shells?

Now then, to business. Anyone out there a really awesome kung-fu master wants to trade some classes for some web copy? I’m also in the market for an electrician, someone who can mount a print on wood, a mask-maker, a pastry chef, a bee keeper, a blacksmith, and a belly dancer.

None of your business why.

Subscribe or the monkeys will get you.



  1. Bartering is brilliant. (Well, I think so.) I’ve done it with a ton of people to get all kinds of stuff I couldn’t afford at the time. From my first (really cool) cell phone to legal advice. Ironically, I got all my business contracts drawn up by a lawyer I did freelance writing work for. I’ve even written for therapists. Hopefully my words did more for them than theirs did for me, in the long term, but hey. (Where did you say one goes to sign up for the invisible counselor?) 😉

    Comment by Amy — April 28, 2008 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  2. I volunteer my mom for the bee-keeping. And no, that’s not a “your mom” joke.

    Comment by Rebecca — April 28, 2008 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  3. Don’t forget that the tax folk consider barter as income.. or at least here in the U.S. they do. Yes, I see Canada is just as obsessive:

    I personally don’t do it just for that reason: too hard to keep track of. If someone just doesn’t have cash, I’d at least swap off invoices for the time involved on both sides to keep it all above-board and documented.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 28, 2008 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

  4. […] After I wrote this but before I posted it, the lovely Tei wrote on bartering at Barter: It’s What’s For Dinner. When I saw this in my feedreader I told myself I really should go back and read it before posting […]

    Pingback by IttyBiz » Who Needs Money? Barter For Fun And Profit (Well, Fun Anyway) — May 1, 2008 @ 12:53 am | Reply

  5. Barter is the essence of “Craigslist.”

    Comment by asad123 — May 2, 2008 @ 2:59 am | Reply

  6. Bartering is essential to maintaining Christian community. As such, we don’t really expect (nor demand) repayment for anything but it is helpful to all if we can provide for one another without money changing hands because, well, we don’t have much of it. Add to that the rate at which the value of the dollar is sinking and the cost of goods increasing, and bartering/ horse swapping becomes invaluable.

    Comment by ninepoundhammer — May 2, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  7. Hm. I have not the faintest idea why I haven’t responded to these comments. I’m a bad monkey.

    Amy: Invisible counselors are located just left of Madness. You can’t miss it.

    Rebecca: YOUR mom.

    Tony: Yes, but I am not a law-abiding citizen. I am a rogue. ::dances away on nimble feet::

    asad123: True this. Also capitalism, though. Depends on what section you’re in. The personals are barterville.

    ninepoundhammer: I like that philosophy, I try to do it in my own life. Just give whenever I see a need and hope that someone will do likewise for me when I’m in a fix.

    Comment by Tei — May 2, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

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