Freelancers: To Trade or Not To Trade?

Damien Golden(That is truly the question!)

I’m not talking about stock market trading. I’m referring to when you supply an estimate or proposal to a potential client and they say “Can we do some kind of trade or partial trade?” If you haven’t heard this request yet, you certainly will at some point in your creative career.

What I have found over time is usually the trade is not for me. When it’s not for me, I’ve learned to say no with tact and I have my one-liners prepared and close at hand.

If you were at the Creative Freelancer Conference (CFC) you may have attended Alisa Bonsignore’s session. She covered some ways to professionally say “No” as part of her communication tips session.

On the other hand, the trade may be beneficial. If so, I might say, “Let me review that option with my business partner and I’ll get back to you.” This allows me time to review the entire scope, write the pros and cons and of course review with my business partner.

Sometimes a partial trade or barter can be a good fit. Great case in point: we needed our landscaper to grade our yard, put in irrigation and sod. His price tag was hefty, but he needs a website – ah-ha! Partial payment and part trade work well for both of us. Now we’ll need to draft the agreements and get everything in writing.

The most important details, if you do decide a trade is beneficial for you, is to make sure you can fit it into your schedule, can afford it and get everything in writing. A trade obviously means your income will be in the trade, not dollars, so can you afford it? Can you afford to turn away a paying client while you work on the “trade” project? If you can and the trade looks good, make sure you have everything detailed in an agreement or contract so you are both on the same page as to expectations and scope of all the work to be completed under the trade.

Also, you may have some tax deductions associated with it, so make sure you touch base with your accountant before hand. (First, read this article on the topic by “indie” accountant, June Walker

Also, at CFC this year, Jessica Hische, in her session on The Dark Art of Pricing, talked about when and how to work for free, based on her viral infographic, “Should I Work For Free?

I read a good blog recently by Pam Saxon from a few years ago on The Marketing Mix Blog  about trading services. Check it out if you are faced with a trade opportunity and are unsure of what to do. Pam offers tips and examples which are helpful.

I’d love to share your trade secrets, I mean, hear your “trade” stories, so chime in and share your point of view.

2 thoughts on “Freelancers: To Trade or Not To Trade?

  1. Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

    Over 30 years ago, I learned that “trade” only works if there is true value in the agreement for BOTH parties. Too often I have seen designers allow themselves to be given the short end of such deals. Partial payment is always a good idea. In the past I have traded for such items as landscape services, a gym membership, restaurant gift certificates, credit for a high-end home furnishings/gift store and wine from a winery. It’s important to evaluate each “trade” request to determine if the client’s service/product is something you actually find of value and will use.

  2. Kimberly

    I’m with you Damien, the trade isn’t really for me either, but I approach it on a case-by-case basis.

    I haven’t done a trade in a long time, but I seriously considered it recently when I was looking to get a couple of simple graphic design elements done for my tragic-looking website. I’m in a private Facebook group with a bunch of creatives, and I thought long and hard about posting in the group that I would trade copywriting services for graphic design work. I actually went round and round for days about it, but then decided to just straight up hire someone to do the work.

    It’s alot easier that way for so many reasons — no awkwardness over if the trade is “fair,” no trying to fit another copy project into an already busy schedule, and so on. Like you mention here, you have to ask yourself if you have the time, and importantly, if you can afford it, and the answer for me on both those counts was no.

    After talking to a designer this week and initiating the work, I feel a huge sense of relief — the work is going to get done, and all I have to do is pay for it! :)

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