When Should a Freelancer Barter?
Every once in a while, I have a prospective client ask me if I’d be willing to accept payment in barter, rather than in money. Most of the time, my response is ‘no.’ My landlord doesn’t accept payment in barter — I checked — so, I have to bring in cash in order to pay my own bills. But there are some barter deals I have taken, and they’ve really paid off for me. I get a fair amount of my design work done by bartering with another freelancer: I trade writing for his site in exchange for him designing my site. There are certain situations where barter can really pay off for a freelancer.
Bartering For What You Want
There’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to deciding whether a deal is good for you: if you aren’t planning to pay cash for something in the near future, it isn’t worth bartering for. I’ve received some pretty weird offers for barter over the years. It’s pretty easy to refuse the obviously strange offers, but it can be harder to decide whether reasonable offers are actually worth your time. A deal where you swap a few hours of graphic design work for having your business cards printed can seem like a good deal, for instance. But what if you’ve just recently printed new cards? If you aren’t planning to print new cards any time soon, that deal won’t work out so well for you — in the worst case scenario, you won’t be able to use up all of your cards before you have to change some of the information and have them reprinted.
It’s very easy, unfortunately, to find barter offers that actually won’t help you out in the long run. Avoiding such deals is important because you still need to earn a living, whether you’re paying for it barter or in cash.
If you do have something in mind that you really need, it may be worth checking if any of the companies that can provide you with that service or product need your skills. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get a yes, of course — other companies turn down barter opportunities for the same reasons you do — but it’s worth making an offer.
Bartering For Other Reasons
There are a few occasions, when it’s worth considering a barter situation which you might otherwise turn down. Maybe an existing client has come to you a budget problem with a project: accepting part of your payment in barter may be a way to keep the client without giving him the idea that you can offer a discount on every project. Maybe you know that a prospective client needs your skills, but just doesn’t have the money on hand for the project.
There are more than few situations in which you or a client could suggest bartering as an option. It’s worth considering the situations you’d be willing to take on a barter agreement ahead of time. Having a good idea of your own policies on the situation can make it easier to both accept those opportunities that are beneficial and turn down the ones that won’t do anything for you.
Some Freelancers Never Barter
Bartering can be a hassle: figuring out what services or products are equivalent to each other, making sure you get your full ‘payment’ and other situations can take more time to resolve when you aren’t dealing with cash. That fact has lead many freelancers to entirely avoid projects that involve barter. Such a decision can be very reasonable: if you’ve already got plenty of work on your hands, it makes sense to stick with what brings in money, rather than trying to figure out bartering options.
Refusing to barter can also simplify your bookkeeping: in countries, such as the U.S, you’re expected to report any products or services you receive through barter on your taxes as income. The paperwork necessary to do so adds more work to preparing your taxes.
No matter what your concerns with bartering are, it’s up to you to decide whether you’re willing to barter, as well as just what you might want to barter for.