How To Barter & Trade Services Without Being Cheated

585 396 Derek Kimball

barter & trade of services

Barter and trade can be a great way to obtain certain items or services without having to pay for them; other than your time invested of course. As a graphic designer I’ve acquired some great items and useful services through trade, but I’ve also been swindled on more than one occasion, and not because I didn’t live up to my end of the deal.

Sometimes people get theirs and procrastinate when it comes to reciprocating the favor…and some people are just plain dishonest and never hold their end of the deal. I’d like to share with my readers (many who are service providers themselves) some tips that can help increase the likelihood of a smooth barter deal. While the tips shared are specific to bartering, most of them translate to regular paying client situations as well.

Establish in detail, the terms of barter agreement:

With nothing in writing, it’s far too easy for someone to dispute what was initially agreed upon. I don’t think a contract is really necessary (especially for smaller scaled bartering), but a simple email outlining the trade should be be plenty sufficient. It helps hold both parties accountable.

Protect yourself with collateral:

When trading services with a stranger, it’s wise to get some sort of collateral prior to offering your services. For instance, if I’m going to be creating a logo design in exchange for a guitar, who’s to say that after I spend 20 hours working on the logo, the person with the guitar decides he no longer needs the logo because his business went under, or changed his mind and sold the guitar for money.

To remedy this I typically now require that anyone who wishes to barter with me, to first put a partial payment down. When the deal is done (logo is finished), I return the down payment, provide them with the logo files, and they give me the guitar as promised.

No, it’s not a foolproof method, but at least both parties have something invested from the start, reducing the chance of someone taking advantage of the other. You may find that some people are hesitant about offering something as collateral but do you really want to be taking on all of the risk?

If you are the first to offer your services in a barter deal, implementing this practice may save you plenty of frustration.

Learn a little about those you’re trading with:

There are a lot of people who claim to be “professionals” but have no way to prove it to you. I often get requests from SEO guys wanting to trade services, but many of them don’t even have websites and offer no proof of their abilities. Thanks but no thanks.

Whether I’m dealing with a paying client or  person for barter, I find it’s a good idea to learn a thing or two about those I do business with, especially when dealing with someone you will be acquiring services from (as opposed to items/goods). A quick conversation over the phone is a good way to determine if someone is shady or difficult to communicate with. If this is the impression I get, I usually pass on the deal.

It’s also a good idea to research those you deal with. If you are trading services, make sure the person you are bartering with seems reputable. Do they have a website? Do they have bad reviews? Even if you are trading your services for a tangible item, it can’t hurt to google the person’s city and name…often times a linked-in profile will provide you with some information. Call me paranoid, but spending a couple of minutes researching someone may save you from a lot of frustration.

Make sure you know what you are bartering for:

Have you ever purchased something off of craigslist or ebay, only to find out that the item you bought was nothing what you expected? With barter and trade, there is no feedback system, so make sure if you are trading for goods, to at least get a bunch of photos and descriptive info about the item you are bartering for. Even better, if you live close to the person you are doing trade with, ask to see the item in person to ensure you know what you are getting.

The techniques mentioned have helped me in my bartering efforts. I hope someone else finds some of the info useful as well. Are you a service provider who has traded your services for something with success or failure? Do you have any other tips that may help for a more smooth trade deal? Please share any comments below. Thanks. 


Derek Kimball

Derek is the founder of DesignBuddy and a full time graphic designer. He specializes in logo creation and visual branding. Over the past 13 years Derek has helped hundreds of clients grow their business and establish a stronger brand identity. View his portfolio, or get in touch. If you'd like to receive an occasional free newsletter with useful design related content, please subscribe here.

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