You want to make the leap from having a boss to being your own boss. The only problem? M-o-n-e-y!
I wish I could tell you there was a 1-800-Free-Money hotline. Or give you the name of some government office that writes big, no-strings attached checks so people like you can just up and quit your job to start a business.
But I can’t. So that means you have to find another way.
Strategy #4: Barter
When freelance photographer Roger William Theise found out I was from Massachusetts he positively gushed about a recent vacation to Cape Cod. He was especially taken with the charming seaside village of Chatham, home of the famous lighthouse.
So the Ithaca, New York-based shutterbug approached the keepers at one of the more upscale inns with a unique proposal.
Roger would take flattering pictures of the inn and once back at his studio he’d email the best shots. If the owners were unimpressed, they were free to keep the photos no questions asked.
However, if innkeeper liked what they saw, then Roger would be rewarded with a free one-week stay the following summer. It worked!
The enterprising photographer could have made the same pitch to owners of restaurants, clothing stores, fishing expedition boats, gourmet shops… The possibilities are endless!
More importantly, there’s no reason why the timeless practice of bartering couldn’t work for start-ups too.
What Do You Need?
If you have an idea you haven’t acted on – or began only to stall – ask yourself this question:
What do I need right this minute to get my business moving?
If you’re like most people, your first response is “money.”
It’s entirely possible that you’ll need a hefty business loan or an infusion of cash from angel investors later on.
But in the pre-launch phase most people tend to have more specific needs. Needs that have to do with gaining practical experience, training, knowledge or information, or all of above.
- training in how to use Quickbooks®, Adobe Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, or another type of software
- someone to write a grant proposal for that non-profit you want to start
- advice, mentoring, or coaching
- someone to help you put together a crowd-sourcing campaign so you can raise tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) in start-up costs
- marketing help
- professional editing of your screenplay, book, or information product
- the opportunity to assist or shadow someone doing the kind of work you’d like to do
- web-design or tech support
- A professional headshot or product shots
Some of these things you can get at no cost by reading QuickBooks for Dummie’s or tapping a grant-savvy friend or relative to walk you through the process.
Other times what you need is going to cost you. If funds are tight, then bartering might be the perfect solution. After all, everyone has something they can offer in exchange. You can:
- run errands
- cook or bake
- care for kids or pets
- prepare taxes
- organize things (files, garages, closets)
- hem clothes
- do research
- do basic home or auto repair…
In fact, if you know how to edit, take great photographs, write grant proposals or do any of the things on the list above – then you have something to barter.
5 Rules for Barters
Once you’ve determined what you have to give in return, consider these five rules of etiquette before, during, or after any barter.
1) Make sure the other party wants what you have.
If the person lives with a professional chef, your offer to prepare and freeze a week’s worth of dinners probably won’t fly. Nor does it make sense to pitch pet-sitting to someone who doesn’t own animals.
Instead, make a list of things you can offer in exchange and let the other person choose.
2) Make sure the exchange is relatively even.
Someone once asked me to wave their entire $3,000 seminar fee and wanted me cover their travel expenses to boot. What would I get out of the deal? A couple of hours handling the registration desk – something I could hire out for under $100.
I understand it’s not always possible to do a perfectly even exchange. After all how do you put a price on spending a weekend shadowing the director of a successful sports camp as some of my own clients have done? But common sense should lead you to propose something that’s more equitable.
3) Get the agreement in writing.
Taking the time to summarize the agreement in writing can save a lot of headaches or even resentments later on.
You don’t need a formal document. A simple email thanking the person and asking if the terms you’ve outlined reflect their understanding will suffice.
4) Do what you said you’d do – and then some.
Unfortunately I’ve been on the receiving end of less than satisfactory barter agreements. So while it should go without saying, make sure you follow through and do an outstanding job.
And if the value of what you’re getting exceeds what you’re giving then find a way to exceed the agreed upon expectations. Show up with or send some home-made treats or flowers. Offer to stay late. Or do more than agreed upon exchange. What you do is less important than that you express your appreciation.
5) Be gracious.
Bartering with someone you don’t know is a leap of faith. If you initiated the barter, make sure you take the time to send a hand-written thank you card.
What about you?
Do you have a successful (or horror) barter story to share? What tips would you add to this list? I’d love to hear from you!