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I received the following email from a new freelance copywriter considering a barter deal. I thought I’d share her questions and my responses to help others embarking on their freelance writing career.
— Susan Greene
One of my current clients is a local contractor. The more I learn about his business, the more I realize that his type of work matches what we need done in our family room.
He’s already agreed to the prices I quoted for writing the content for his business web site. I’m just wondering if it would benefit both of us to barter services instead.
Have you ever bartered your work, Susan? Would you recommend it? Or, would it be wiser to stick with a monetary exchange and then request his services later? Also, if we do barter – where to taxes come in to play?
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I have used barter, and it’s usually worked out well. For example, I traded writing press releases for a company that sells artwork and obtained a few nice, framed, limited edition prints for my home. I traded brochure writing for a company that makes drapes and obtained some lovely window treatments. These were some of my first clients, and not only did I benefit from the exchange, but I also was able to build my copywriting portfolio.
My best trade, however, was with the web design firm that designed my website in exchange for me writing their copy. We both ended up with quality websites to launch our respective businesses.
I did a little research and found estimates that more than 450,000 businesses in the United States use organized barter trading to supplement their cash transactions and more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies participate in barter trade relationships.
Look upon bartering as an additional avenue for increasing your revenues and market share by building new commercial relationships in addition to the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services.
With regard to taxes, let me keep my comments very general. Most parties choose to handle the transactions privately and keep things off the books. That’s probably not what the IRS recommends, but frankly, it’s what most people who barter do.
Another option is to search online for barter websites. They’re useful for connecting you with businesses interested in your services and also for tracking exchanges for tax purposes. Otherwise, it gets pretty tricky to assign values to work done and pay the related taxes. Realize that you do end up being out of pocket to pay the taxes, since you aren’t receiving actual cash for the work done. You and/or your accountant can decide what’s best.
As for your local contractor, John, you’ll need to decide whether a trade is a good idea. It depends on what kind of person he is. Here are my concerns. Contractors are notoriously slow and unreliable in getting work done. Now, imagine that the contractor knows he’s not going to receive cash for the work. Your project just got kicked to the bottom of his to-do list. And if he’s absorbing the cost of materials, he’s probably not going to use the very best quality if he doesn’t have to.
Additionally, the problem I sometimes run into in barter arrangements are perception, particularly if the vendor is providing a tangible item that has costs against it.
In the case of the art company I mentioned, they provided prints, mats, frames and the labor to put them together. They had a hard time understanding why their end of the bargain was equal to mine in which I was providing what appeared to be just a couple of typed pages (press releases).
You might run into this problem with a contractor. Not everyone values copywriting or understands just how much work goes into it, not to mention all the time you’ve invested learning your craft. So, in those cases, it’s probably not a good idea to barter services.
Again, bartering works best when you’re trading like services, such as when I provided copy for a designer’s website in return for them providing design for my website.