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Why trading services can bite the big one (and how to protect yourself if you decide to do it anyway) – Part 1

Posted by Ilise Benun on

At first, bartering sounds like a terrific way to do business… I need dental work done, and my dentist offers to trade his services in exchange for a website.

The medical industry is not one of my target markets, but after all, we're both service-based businesses, we each need something the other offers, and we both stand to benefit from the trade. Not only that, but the thought of letting go of the money to pay for a root canal is just, well, TOO PAINFUL.

So, I bite. And thus begins the saga…

January, 2009
The root canal and fitting for the crown takes all of 30 minutes and I'm outta there. Mission accomplished! Oh wait… now I need to do the site. No problemo… business is slow right now. Let's get hopping!

April, 2009
The doc has agreed on a design, but I'm still trying to get content from him. He has not made his site a priority, and I have. My schedule is filling up and I need to get this off the table. He's busy, so he's not budging.

July, 2009
Starting to feel a little resentful. This agreement is starting to hang over my head. I hate having unfinished projects! With no response from him, I am basically forced to put his site on the back burner.

August through December, 2009
I have made various attempts at getting him to send me SOME kind of copy or information about his business. At this point, I'm willing to write it myself and eat the extra time, just to get it done. He keeps promising to send something, but….

January, 2010
It's now one year later and I have all but given up. Finally, he emails me, ready to get moving on the site again, PRONTO. Problem is, I've got a really full schedule now and he's going to have to wait quite a while – after all, I have paying clients to tend to, and at this point, after all the time I have put into contacting him and worrying about this, I'm basically working for free. Pretty soon I'm looking for a new dentist and he's spreading nasty rumors about me.

This sort of scenario happens to designers all the time. The problem is, even though we are both well-meaning professionals, there is no way to compare apples to apples. In his eyes (because he knows nothing about what actually goes into creating a website), he's doing me a favor! After all, it's creative work and I get to have a lot of fun while I'm doing it, AND get a root canal (or massage therapy, or clean swimming pool, or…well, you get the idea). The bottom line is that we both had unrealistic expectations of the other from the get-go because there was no formal agreement drawn up outlining who was responsible for what, for how long a period of time.

So, you say there is someone you really do want to trade services with and you feel good about it? (It can happen).

Stay tuned ‘til tomorrow when I give some tips on how to protect yourself, and keep your relationship from falling apart at the seams if you do decide to barter.

PAMELA SAXON helps those in arts and entertainment visually express themselves through integrated marketing, as well as helping them to get organized in their social media efforts. You can find her on Twitter, and on Facebook, or sign up for her newsletter here:


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