Barter is Beautiful – 10 Tips to Get Started


Amanda Warren
Activist Post

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” – former co-worker

Birds were swooping down to stick twigs and cigarette butts in my tangled bouffant.

One biz that doesn’t seem to suffer during a depression is hair styling – even if more people are taking shears to their heads. But, even barbers need the cutting edge during an undeniable downturn.

I’m pretty geeked to have used barter for something I don’t like to spend money on – beauty stuffs. Hair in particular. Guys – you can use this example to barter for things that you like. Why spend money on any “extras” if you can offer something great in return and everyone wins?

I drove by this retro Floyd’s Barbershop-looking place and did more research. It took the skills of a private-I to hunt down their pages. The local online listings went to a completely different Facebook page and, it turns out, they have three separate pages done by three separate people. None of which are easily found or active. The prominent one has only nine “Likes.”

The owner is a guy out of King of the Hill and a master hair technician with 20 years experience. He blew me away, except I had to dig for his mastery too. He spent so much time working that he didn’t have time to dedicate to online promotion. I’ve worked with about 200 small business owners and this is the most common issue – no time for extra help (and little cash flow). Think of what that could mean for you…

Simultaneously he said . . . while I said . . . something along the lines of, “The social media needs help.” But, remember, this is only a template – you don’t have to only exchange online skills.

First, there was a lot of talk leading up to that. In the chair, it was a great opportunity to tell him what I do, what I enjoy doing. It was like a breezy, informal interview but also a chance to get to know each other as people and get a vibe. Finally, I simply asked if he’d like the idea of trading services or discounts for help in promoting his business. After a lot of friendly back and forth, he tells me a girl came in and offered her services for money, but that he’s more interested in my offer.

Why do you think that is? Maybe:

  • He knows I’d be a continuing patron regardless.
  • He likes that he can see evidence of my work.
  • He doesn’t have to render services or discounts until I improve the pages.
  • We could walk away from the deal at any future point.
  • It might be no trouble at all for him to issue me a gift certificate or a service for bringing in more clientele. 
  • He liked my confidence and I have reason to be – experience. Plus, I have nothing to lose either way. Did not have to sell myself – nothing is riding on this – I just talked.

Possible drawbacks that would prevent this trade:

  • Maybe it doesn’t seem as professional, and you get what you pay for. People are used to spending.
  • It’s possible there are business reasons (like transaction records) or liability worries for not giving gift certificates or service – a contract might be preferred.
  • It might be hard to quantify each person’s offer or figure out how much work on either side is fair.
  • He’s had people start helping him and leave off without a word.
  • He puts in so many hours as it is, he might decide to pay someone for this job instead of trade for a service.

So there are pros and cons, as there are when you spend hard-earned money for a new product or service, but that decision rests with each party. And it might be easier to start with people who do not have business fronts. But even New York shops barter with each other.

Here are 10 bartering points to help get started:

  1. Think of things you hate spending money on, but also think of things you don’t think twice about spending on. Your passions can propel you to strike a beneficial trade. 
  2. Think of all your experiences, skills, gifts, talents and interests – even ones that you wouldn’t put on a résumé. You might not think them important enough, but the bartering world has no limits. You probably know trade secrets no one else knows. Your hobby – gardening, for instance – could be your next line of trade, gifts or income. Some gardeners find themselves harvesting their flowers for weddings and home cooks might dabble in catering. Maybe you’re great with computers even if your job has nothing to do with them. Chances are, you can offer lessons for anything that you might know. Know about juicing and healthy foods? What’s to stop you from helping others in exchange for produce or something similar? 
  3. Never be afraid to ask – it’s not a sales pitch and the worst thing that can happen is a “No thanks.” Nothing is lost, there is no pressure.
  4. Try to decide ahead of time what a fair exchange looks like. I need to think about how time consuming this undertaking would be and if I want to spend my extra time that way. He needs to do the same.
  5. Think about the end goal and how it’s mutually beneficial. Think about that person. 
  6. Know who you are dealing with – pay attention to vibes from the beginning. If the other party holds back unfairly later on, just walk away. Don’t lash back; let their reputation have the bad karma, but don’t take that on with low blows or dragging it into court.
  7. Log everything you do paying special attention to the time it takes.
  8. Get into the habit of exchanges, but without always expecting something in return. It’s great practice. If your neighbor brings you extra eggs, garden or baked goods, you could bring over something that you like to produce. Maybe you are that neighbor and nothing comes back in return. Well, you’ve just given samples as gifts and shown your inner generosity and civility. It won’t go unnoticed. Humility is very attractive. Barter works with attraction versus promotion.
  9. Give it your best. Barter for exchange versus money does not mean less effort. You want a great reputation and you never know where this exchange could lead. It helps if it is truly fun for you.
  10. Most importantly – do things that you really enjoy. Let that come to the surface; you won’t even have to try. Mark Twain said: The key to success is to make your vocation your vacation.

Barter is exciting for the endless possibilities. A friend is having an entire wedding for under $1,000. The bride and groom are only asking for help instead of gifts and money, but not help that is entirely one-sided. The photographer, for example, can use his wedding “gift” in his portfolio regardless. I’ve practiced this type of exchange myself, first by doing my friends’ resumes for free and watching them get the job! Later, when I thought about doing it for a living, they gave me stellar testimonials.

Purely by coincidence, a salon was the example used in a difficult bartering question I posed to you last week. You all had wonderful ways to look at the problem and helped me understand bartering more deeply. Simply put, the balance scales of bartering are in the hands of the traders. That’s traders, not traitors – I imagine an unfair trader in a bartering system would be held accountable and shunned by the community, and would lose out on important trades. It’s amazing how much transparency there is when not dealing with giant corporations that lobby and collude with centralized, governmental power. Just people: one to one, making offers and agreements without force. And still getting the job done while rewarding each other fairly for their input. Imagine that!

When I think of all I’ve learned and done over the years, it makes me want to get back out there to hit the pavement – not for a job, but to barter!

That’s why I need my hair done.

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