illustration of people bartering

Using Barter to help launch your career

Jaime and I were talking about Barter after class today. It’s a great tool, especially for a beginning artist. If you one day find yourself making pools of money for doing work you love, you won’t need barter, but when you’re starting out, it can be a great way to save money, which can be almost as good as making money.

Exchange (goods or services) for other goods or services without using money.
“he often bartered a meal for drawings”

synonyms: trade, swap, exchange, sell
“they bartered grain for salt”

Hair & Food

In my case, I had a great hair cut & color barter with a great stylist for over 10 years. Jaime recently found a new food place that she loves. It’s a small place just getting started. They could probably use some help with promotional materials, menus, maybe a website, and so on.

When to Sell, When to Barter?

Sometimes it’s great to sell your work. When the owner of a large photo lab asked me to design an identity system for a new digital division, that was clearly a job and I quoted him a price for it. But when I finally found a great hairstylist (after so many lame cuts) he wasn’t likely to pay me or any designer for services, but he was thrilled to set up a barter arrangement.

You can ask anyone!

You can ask anyone to barter for services. That cool new indy coffee place might want to hang your paintings, but they’re even more likely to want some help with social media or mailers or a website.

Terms of Barter

Some arrangements can be specific:

  • $200 in food credit to design a menu for us

Others can be more open:

  • Cut, Color & Products whenever I need it, for Postcards, Holiday Cards, Bus Cards & Logos, whenever the stylist needs them

I found it easiest to have the open-ended agreement. But that worked because we’d been bartering for years and it was all going well and we both felt like we got great value from the relationship.

When you’re starting out, being more specific about terms might help both you and your client feel like it’s a fair value.

Just don’t get stuck in an open-ended obligation

As with pricing for your work, the one thing I’d encourage you to be careful of is Open-Ended work. I don’t mind a low rate if it’s for a specific deliverable or a specific time, but when a low paying, or barter, project runs on forever, it can get pretty frustrating.

Try it!

There’s all kinds of things you’d wind up paying money for anyway: Food, Haircuts, and lots more. If you can get those things with your art skills, that can be a nice way to get your career started. And it’s also a nice way to start networking and get used to pitching people.

Try it! 🙂

illustration of people bartering

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