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The Value of Bartering Your Freelance Services


What would you do if you were about to start a freelance business, and money were no object? OK, some people would just skip starting the business altogether if money were no object, so let’s pretend that you’ve been given a whole bunch of cash for the explicit purpose of starting a freelance company. What types of things that you feel like you can’t afford right now would you put on your wish list? Tamara and I have been pretty clear about the things that we would really like to add “when we can afford it.”

  • A Marketing Professional
  • An Attorney
  • Someone to Find Us Work
  • An Accountant

Want to know a secret? We don’t have a boatload of money (hey, we’re a brand-new company), but we already have three of the four things listed above. It turns out that even though we don’t (currently) have a stockpile of cash, we can afford these things. Chances are that you can, too. How did we do it? We used the age-old barter system.

If you’re a freelancer, then the assumption is that you have a skill others are willing to pay you to use. But, maybe these other people feel like they can’t afford a new web site/brochure/business consulting/whatever-your-service-is right now. If you can’t afford legal advice but need it, and they can’t afford a newsletter but need it, then perhaps the two of you could fulfill one another’s needs without any money actually being involved. Here’s how some of our situations came about:

Marketing Professional
We met Naomi at IttyBiz through this little-ole Freelance Parent blog. Tamara and I both love her irreverent writing style and often chat back and forth about her posts. (Oh, my gosh, check out her current “Marketing School.” It is so awesome . . . and free!) One of the main reasons that I went to Tamara with the idea of hiring Naomi is because she has her prices listed on her site. I looked at them and said, “Hm. If we scrimped a little, we might be able to hire her to help grow our business.” When we approached her a few days later, she was actually the one who suggested that perhaps we could trade some of our services for hers. Talk about a win-win situation! By the way, we’ll be talking about the marketing process as we get things rolling with Naomi, so stay tuned.

An Attorney
It just so happens that one of my husband’s best friends is an attorney who specializes in Intellectual Property. Cool, eh? It is, until you discover his hourly fee. Ouch. Fortunately for us, though, Kevin also manages a band; and they really need their press pack redone. Hey, I can do that! So, we worked it out that Berry-Brewer would rework The Soul Proprietors’ press pack in exchange for legal services from Jablonski Law Group. The work is slated for the near future, although this also resulted in us getting a job from the law group, which we did at our “friends and family” rate. Speaking of pay, our hourly wage isn’t quite the same at the attorney’s, so we worked out what we called “an equitable trade.” Neither an hour-to-hour, nor a dollar-to-dollar trade seemed quite fair.

Someone to Find Us Work
Our plan is to continually improve our client roster so that we are in a position to bring others along as our company grows. The idea of helping other talented freelancers (who just might be parents) is very important to us. On the other hand, we’re still just figuring a lot of this stuff out. We spend a disproportionate amount of our time seeking out new clients. While we understand that this is just part of the freelancing game, we also understand that we need to be handing our spouses the occasional paycheck. For that reason, we are not opposed to supporting other freelancers who find they have a little too much on their plates. We’ve had a couple of folks contact us as a result of this blog to see if we’d be interested in taking on some of their “overflow.” The result is that we can build a good reputation with others in our field, in addition to bringing some meat back home to the cave without having to go out and club it ourselves.

An Accountant
This is the one person still left on our wish list. As we continue getting our ducks in a row for the upcoming year, I suspect that we’ll start approaching an accountant or two with offers of some really great copywriting in return for help with our business finances.

Since it’s unlikely that someone is just going to hand you a big wad of cash to build your freelance business, it’s not a bad idea to figure out how to barter your services for the things you need. The idea of approaching someone with this kind of offer can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider this: We have not yet suggested to anyone that we trade our services for theirs. Every one of them has made the offer to us. What a great reminder that we really do provide a valuable service. Keep this in mind when you start talking to your accountant or attorney. You’re not asking them to do you a favor, rather you’re offering them a valuable service at a cut-rate price.

Have you been able to barter your freelance services? Inspire us in the comments with stories of your cunning! I’m currently trying to figure out how to parlay my writing ability into a professional paintjob for the nursery we’re putting together . . .

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    On December 3rd, 2007 at 5:26 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    When bartering, one trick to remember is to never make the person feel like you’re doing him or her a favor. You’re providing something the person needs, and that person is providing something you need - it’s equal exchange. You’re not benevolently helping out a person in a bind. Making someone feel like you’re doing them a favor is the surest way to get their back up… and not get what you need.

    My two cents ;)

    On December 3rd, 2007 at 5:52 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    James - Absolutely. I was so worried about making sure you don’t sell yourself short that I didn’t even think to warn against puffing yourself up too much. That would be a definite turn-off!

    On December 3rd, 2007 at 6:23 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Me, sell myself short? Nevah, my dear :)

    On December 3rd, 2007 at 7:23 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    For the sake of my dear mother’s concerns, I’m going to pipe in here and assure all our readers that we intend to declare any and all bartering services with the IRS. Just because you don’t exchange money, it doesn’t mean the government doesn’t want its share!

    On December 3rd, 2007 at 8:59 pm, Naomi Dunford said:

    Look! There’s me! On your site!

    I really am looking forward to working with you guys. This is going to be fun. :)

    On December 4th, 2007 at 4:46 am, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Naomi - Yep, that’s you! We are really excited to get to work with you, too.

    On December 5th, 2007 at 12:44 am, Melissa Donovan said:

    I think bartering is a great program. Do you really have to declare it on your taxes? That just doesn’t seem right.

    -Melissa Donovan
    Writing FORWARD

    On December 5th, 2007 at 7:06 am, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    I question that bit about declaring barter services. In Canada, you are taxed on your revenue and income, and there is no income associated with barter. It may represent a monetary amount, but if my neighbor gives me a pig in exchange for a sales letter, I’m not going to cut the snout off to send to Revenue Canada, nor am I going to determine the current market value per pound of pork to declare that as income.

    I have to call my accountant today anyways. I’ll ask.

    On December 5th, 2007 at 12:50 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    RE: Taxes
    Here is a direct quote from the IRS.

    “A barter exchange is any person or organization with members or clients that contract with each other (or with the barter exchange) to jointly trade or barter property or services. The term does not include arrangements that provide solely for the informal exchange of similar services on a noncommercial basis.

    The Internet has provided a medium for new growth in the bartering exchange industry. This growth prompts the following reminder: Barter exchanges are required to file Form 1099-B for all transactions unless certain exceptions are met.”

    I don’t know EXACTLY how the taxes work on bartering (ask me again in April), but I do know that we aren’t comfortable sneaking behind Uncle Sam’s back and pretending it didn’t happen. Score one more for the Canadians!

    On December 5th, 2007 at 12:55 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Tamara, I assure you that - as a Canadian speaking for most Canadians - that we do not sneak around or pretend something didn’t happen.

    So please, don’t send scores for policies we don’t uphold.

    On December 5th, 2007 at 1:21 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    The Canada Revenue Agency states:

    “In the case of services bartered by a taxpayer for either goods or services, the value of those services must be brought into the taxpayer’s income where they are of the kind generally provided by him in the course of earning income from, or are related to, a business or a profession carried on by him.”

    There ya go :)

    On December 5th, 2007 at 1:44 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    James, I assure you that - as a cynical American speaking only for herself - I was totally making a statement about the superiority of the Canadian government in not being as gimme-gimme about taxes. I apologize for any confusion!

    On December 12th, 2007 at 2:34 pm, Kathy Scovill said:

    I’m so excited to have found your site (posted on copyblogger as part of the Top 10 Websites for Writers). I too am growing my freelance writing business while parenting my two children. I was recently able to barter my writing services with a local non-profit agency. I created their sponsorship direct mail brochure which goes to every business in my local community. In exchange, my name and contact info is included on the brochure. I receive free advertising to my target market and they receive a completely revamped sponsorship brochure. Now I also write their grants for actual cold, hard cash!Thanks Lorna and Tamara for a great site!

    On December 12th, 2007 at 2:43 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Welcome, Kathy. We’re happy to have you here. What a great opportunity you made for youself by bartering with the nonprofit organization . . . It sounds like it’s turned into more (paying) work for you, which is the ideal outcome!

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