When we were kids, everything was negotiable.
Picture school lunches. Everyone was scoping out everyone else’s food, throwing out offers and trying to end up with the tastiest selections. I was once part of a five-way trade so complicated, it was a wonder we even had time to eat -- though I did end up with a miniature Snickers, so no complaints here!
For some reason, we stop bartering as adults. We measure everything in terms of cost, but we forget about how much money we can save with a little creative negotiation.
Channel your inner kindergartener and get ready to do some trading. Here are a few ways that you can use bartering to save money.
No matter what you are bartering for, follow these three simple steps:
This pitch is more likely to work if you build a relationship first. Don’t just stroll into a business and start talking about exchanging products and services. Take the time to get to know the person and the business first, before broaching the idea of a trade.
Before you start thinking of bartering strategies, consider why you might barter.
Whether you’re a freelancer, a small business owner or a master of the side hustle, having a business requires resources. It’s true that it takes money to make money, but the fewer dollars you have to spend to make your business work, the more you get to keep.
As a writer, I’ve done my fair share of bartering. When I needed to build a website, I reached out to one of my talented friends and offered my writing services in exchange for his development know-how. Sure, I could have done it myself with a lot of Googling, but I wanted a professional.
While my friend usually charges thousands of dollars to build a site, I didn’t have to pay a single dime. He agreed to trade his services for five blog posts, a long-form article and some website copy he needed for his clients.
Need another incentive to try bartering for business services? This tactic could also help you land additional work and new clients.
Not only did I get a fantastic website, but my friend’s clients were so pleased with the content, they ended up hiring me for a long-term (and well-paid) freelance gig.
Not all bartering needs to be business-related. Products or services you want just because are good targets, too. Things that entertain you and make you look and feel good may not be necessities, but that doesn’t mean you always have to live without them.
Local businesses are especially good targets for some bartering. Chains often have corporate regulations to follow, but local businesses may have more leeway.
Want an expensive haircut from a boutique salon? Keen to sign up for that pricey organic CSA? Barter with your skills! Offer your services as a handyman, marketer or whatever your skills may be in exchange.
You could even work out a long-term arrangement, if your skillset allows it. For example, if you work in search engine optimization, you could trade monthly SEO work for monthly haircuts.
Though getting things for free is ideal, you may not always be successful, especially if you’re targeting an expensive item or service. Instead, use your bartering skills to snag major discounts.
A furniture store may not be able to give you a free bedroom set, but offer a few hours of skilled work in exchange for a reduced price. A bookkeeper likely won’t work for free, but might give you a lower rate if you help him establish a social media presence.
When bartering for a discount, make sure that you have a fair exchange in mind. You always want to make sure that the discount is worth the work you’ll put into it. In other words, don’t do hundreds of dollars worth of work for a $50 discount.
Remember the five-way school lunch trade I mentioned earlier? Well, I was able to earn that Snickers because I was working with friends.
Relationship-building is crucial for bartering. People who know and trust you are much more likely to accept a barter agreement. To foster those connections, join small business associations, networking groups and meetups whenever you can.
Barters don’t just have to be one-on-one. Yes, adding more people makes things more complicated if you’re working with strangers, but that’s why it’s important to have a strong network.
When you meet others, think of how you might be able to help one another. Even when businesses seem entirely unrelated, once you get to know people, you can think of creative ways to work together.
Consider a dog groomer, a small printing press and a website designer. The dog groomer needs some postcards printed for a mail campaign, the printing press needs a new website and the website designer has pet dogs that need grooming. It’s just a matter of talking and figuring out fair details, whether they’ll exchange discounted services or purely trade services.
Not sure how to get the conversation started? You could even use this article. Post it in your LinkedIn groups or community discussion boards and ask members if they have anything to offer. You may be surprised how easy it can be to begin.
For maximum barter potential, expand your network outside your field. If I only got to know other writers, I wouldn’t have anything unique to offer. Since I know people in a variety of industries, I can create unique and beneficial connections.
Go to networking events and get to know people. Today’s casual acquaintance might be the key to tomorrow’s bartering gold mine.
Your Turn: Have you ever bartered for a freebie or discount? Tell us about it in the comments!
Erin Palmer is a writer and content marketer who is always up for a good trade or a good laugh. Barter or joke with her on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.