Should you barter your freelance services?

Bartering involves exchanging goods or services with no money changing hands. Can bartering help your business?

When you’re just starting out in freelancing, you don’t have money to pay for a lot of extraneous services. That’s why bartering can be helpful.

What is bartering?

Bartering involves exchanging goods or services with no actual transfer of money. As a freelancer just starting out, I had tons of free time — it was money I was lacking. So, I’ve bartered a lot.

What kinds of things can I barter?

Here is a list of things I have bartered:

  • Editing a 200+ page book to obtain resume editing and career coaching

  • Providing writing services to get KN95 masks for a local hospital in the early months of COVID-19

  • Free website copyediting in exchange for a glowing LinkedIn testimonial for a freelancer seeking to branch out her service offerings

How can I barter with my colleagues?

A successful barter involves approaching another freelancer to strike a deal regarding exchange of services. You want to make sure you’re both getting as much out of the deal as possible. Here are a few tips:

  1. It’s a good idea to ask about bartering first before making an offer. Make sure the other party is okay with bartering. If they are an up-and-coming freelancer or small business, they may be more likely to accept, especially if they need the service you are offering.

  2. Consider both parties’ needs and the cost of the work.

  3. If you are doing service-based work, do a good job so that you can ask for a glowing testimonial.

  4. Remember that this exchange of services is also a type of networking — something essential in freelancing.

Wait — so you’re telling me people barter their services often?

I asked a few people around the web about whether they’d ever bartered their services before. I was surprised to find that bartering was more common than I thought! Here’s what they had to say:

“My logo was one thing I bartered. I also once bartered for SEO assistance.” — @PRisUS

“I don't usually, but one summer I cleaned up a social account for a lake house in northern Michigan so it could be sold. Generated a little conversation but mostly loaded it with pictures. Really easy gig, and in exchange, my family got a week on the lake — which is uber pricey here.” — @GenuineCynthia

“I don’t [barter] often. But I once incorporated a non-profit for a client in exchange for them making me a logo. We were both happy with the trade.” — @CSBCounsel

“I bartered an all-day sales and service workshop for a pair of KILLER custom, hand-made leather chaps. One of the best deals I've made.” — @sjbohnenkamp

“I barter editing services for my friends all the time! Once I did social media work for free barre classes.” — @ByRobinEpley

“Yes [to bartering], but I don't have any tips for doing it. I still feel like a wizard every time someone agrees to my proposed rates.” — @MLDSciWizard

“I edited the text for my sister's new website in exchange for nail wraps. Does that count?” — @authorjgosling

“I helped with blog content in exchange for an unlimited membership to a local Pilates studio.” — @LauraaLeiva

Continuing last month’s discussion about mentoring

Last month, we talked about the importance of mentoring. I’ve noticed that people have a lot to say about mentoring right now, so here’s a bit more on the topic.

First, an impressive story of mentee success by Wudan Yan from The Writers’ Co-op which I found via Twitter:

Here’s a thread from David Griner on his best advice for being the best mentor or mentee that you can be:

Finally, freelance science journalist Andrew Meissen (website) has this to say about the impact of mentorship in his life:

Without a mentor, I'm not sure I would have made the venture to be a freelancer or a science journalist at all. 3 years ago, I was struggling with my disabilities and my self-worth. I reached out to my now-long-time mentor and friend, Alla Katsnelson, on a whim to ask if she thought there was a place for me in the face-paced world of journalism. Her response was incredibly supportive: she consulted her friends about my worries and gave me the reassurance of collective wisdom; she gave me the contact info of many people in the field and said she'd be happy to connect me with any of them; she made every paragraph feel like encouragement.

Since that first message, we've had a couple hundred email exchanges to support each other. She recently introduced me to someone as "colleague and friend." I'm still early-career, and so I try to seek the counsel of new mentors regularly. I think it helps to have a diversity of perspectives, even when you have a strong mentor. Last year, I pushed myself to sign up to talk with one new mentor a week at I wasn't always sure what to ask, but the act of making an appointment with someone got my brain into making questions that I then asked, and I grew more than had I not made those commitments. I think it's a useful approach, especially if you hope to make the journey to journalism without school (the path I have taken). There's a lot of support out there.

Quote of the Month:

“Overnight success is almost always a myth. Half of this industry is luck, and the other half is the refusal to quit.” — Victoria Schwab

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