Bartering: The Age-Old Commodity Exchange System

By Kelly Tabbutt

Learn about bartering, and how it can help your freelance endeavors, in this post.

Could bartering help you level up your freelance business? Learn about bartering as a freelancer in this post.

What Is Bartering?

Bartering is the oldest form of procuring the goods and services that people need or want. Long before money existed as a universal medium of value, people traded their skills, services, and goods with others who had complementary skills, services, and goods. Bartering dates back to 6000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. Bartering gained renewed popularity in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when people did not have money, so they traded to obtain goods and services.

Bartering is the act of exchanging something you have. This can be either a good or a service. Goods usually refer to something valuable that you have or have access to that is expensive or difficult to find. A service, on the other hand, is not a physical good, but work that fulfills a need for someone else. Basically, in bartering, you are offering what you have or can do, which is valuable to someone else, in exchange for something that you don’t have or can’t do, which is valuable to you.

There are three kinds of bartering, which differ in terms of the number of people that are involved in the system of trade. One can barter with one or more people. Furthermore, exchanges of bartered goods or services can be straightforward or more complex. In standard bartering, you are trading directly with another person. This is probably what most people think about when they hear the word “bartering.” There are also types of bartering which includes more than one recipient, including triangular and multilateral bartering. In triangular bartering, there are three people involved in a triangle of trade. Person A would offer what they have to person B, who needs or wants that good or service. What person A received from Person B would then be offered to person C, who would, in exchange, provide person A with the goods or services sought by person A. Multilateral bartering is similar to triangular bartering, but involves more people in a system of indirect exchanges.

Why Do People Barter?

People barter to obtain something that they need or want. Instead of paying for the good or service with money, they pay via an equivalent exchange of goods or services. This is considered an equal or equivalent exchange.

In bartering, you’re basically putting in time and effort to get something you need for free. Bartering can be very valuable for people who are on a budget, yet have time to contribute goods, skills, or services. No money is exchanged in bartering. Keep in mind that, in bartering, you are trading your goods or services (e.g., your time or skills) for an equivalent good or service.

If you are offering a good or service in a barter transaction, you could ask the recipient to leave you a good review, or for them to write you a testimonial to go on your website or LinkedIn. So, this way, though you do not make money from the transaction, you will have gained value from the exchange.

Ways Bartering Helps Freelancers

As explained in the article Should You Barter Your Freelance Services? in the February 2021 Fancy Comma, LLC newsletter, bartering can be especially advantageous to those who are starting out as freelance writers. When you are beginning as a freelance writer, particularly if you are starting out on the route of small business ownership, you will likely find yourself short on cash and contacts – but likely with an abundance of underutilized time and talents.

Bartering is a great way to set up an exchange relationship with a valuable partner, colleague, or client. Even if that person does not have something valuable to you at the moment, it can be valuable to create the foundations of a bartering relationship by offering goods or skills or services with them now for your future needs.

Bartering your skills and services to others is also a great way to get your name and “product” out there to a broader audience. Think of it as a form of networking. Trading your freelance skills and services in exchange for things you need or want – or even in exchange for things you are lukewarm about – is an excellent way to spread the word about your sought-after skills.

Bartering is, obviously, most useful for those who a) have valuable goods or skills or services – such as writing or copyediting skills – and b) need goods or skills or services that they don’t have the time or money (or both) to get themselves. So, bartering is best for those who are trying to build their network and get their business off the ground. Bartering can also be useful even after you are established: to maintain connections and establish new connections, or maybe just to get ahold of a something you want, but can’t justify dipping into your savings for.

What Do People Barter?

People can barter anything that is valuable to someone else. That’s assuming that what the other person has to offer in exchange is valuable to you. Or, that the other person has a connection to someone else who wants something you have or something you can get by trading what you have. Your skills, your time, and your energy are all very valuable commodities. The trick is finding someone seeking those commodities who is willing to deal.

In the case of freelance writers, this could be coming up with blog ideas; creating advertisements, copyediting written material, social media, or website content; researching topics or fields you are knowledgeable in; or anything related to your skill set as a freelance writer. For business owners, you can also offer the skills and efforts of your employees, or possibly connections to other clients (assuming the clients are on board with the exchange). Investopedia provides some helpful examples of goods and skills or services that are commonly bartered.

Bartering as a Freelancer

How might one barter successfully as a freelancer? Let’s say you are a freelance writer who needs help setting up a website. You approach a web design guru for help, suggesting a barter: you’ll write a blog article or two, in exchange for assistance with your website design.

You can also see if freelancers are willing to barter small, one-off jobs in exchange for a testimonial regarding the quality of their service. For example, let’s say that you meet a freelancer who is thinking about offering a new writing or editing service to clients. You can serve as a test subject for the freelancer, and promise to write a glowing LinkedIn recommendation or website testimonial after the service has been rendered. Writing testimonials can be very lucrative for freelancers, as it can help spread the word about their good or service, and help get more clients.

Testimonials and reviews are valuable assets for freelancers and could be an excellent bargaining chip. You can barter your work in exchange for testimonials yourself. Ask the recipient to leave you a good review or write a testimonial. So, this way, though you do not make money from the transaction, you will have gained long-term value from the exchange.

Some Final Thoughts on Bartering

Bartering can take some artfulness, timing, and social savvy. The art of bartering is first and foremost about knowing what you need, and how you can broker a fair deal. This means that you need to know both the worth of what you have to offer, and the worth of what you need or want in exchange. The idea is to trade your valuable commodity (good, skill, or service) for an equally valuable commodity.

Bartering sounds complicated, but at its core, it is an exchange of value. So make sure that you have something to add, and that your bartering partner has something you need. It can be a great way to advance your business’s goals while networking with other freelancers.


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