Should You Trade Your Services?

Chances are that if you're a creative entrepreneur, you've probably thought about trading services with another. And while it may sound like an enticing deal (because you really really want those handmade pillows or a free photoshoot), it's important to make sure that both parties are getting a fair value for whatever it is that they're offering.


I don't trade goods or services with other creatives often, but have done it enough to understand what makes a good trade as opposed to what doesn't.

For example, there's a local photographer in Minneapolis that I became friends with after branding her business in 2011. After that, her business and personal style continued to grow, and by 2013, she was ready to give her brand a face lift. More modern, less cute. Coincidentally, I had just gotten engaged and was thinking about hiring her to shoot our wedding the following year. Once I mentioned this, we had a communal A-HA moment about trading services, where she'd shoot our engagement photos and wedding day, while I redesigned her brand and website.

This trade ended up working out perfectly, since the total investment of my services was very much inline with the total investment of her services. Seriously though ... neither of us paid each other a single dime, but carried out our respective services just as we would with any other client.

I have, on the other hand, made a few trades I later came to (somewhat) regret. For example, I worked with a handmade backpack company several years back. They were new and small, with a tiny budget ... but their products were killer, which made me consider lowering my prices just to be apart of their journey. The problem, however, was that I'd done that before, and never came out feeling satisfied on the other hand. Just over worked and under valued.

So, after chatting with this particular client about how flexible their budget could be, I considered offering a trade. Their backpacks were large, made of high quality leather in a simple, yet beautiful design. And the price point was around $250 ... a bit more than I'd usually spend on a backpack. My husband and I were traveling a lot at the time, and needed to invest in new travel gear, so I offered to knock $500 off our services for two backpacks. The client said yes and the rest is history.

The reason I came to regret this particular trade is because even though the backpacks are beautiful, they ended up being a bit bulkier than I expected, and because of that, we've literally never used them. So really, I'm out $500. It's not a big deal, but something I've kept in mind whenever I've toyed with the idea of offering another trade.

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Keeping this in mind, I thought I'd go over a few things to consider if you're open to trading your services for other services, products, or goods.

01. BE FAIR: Do your research and attempt to come up with a realistic monetary value for what’s being traded. Maybe a photographer needs a new website and offers their graphic designer a free session for shooting design portfolio work in order to get a discount. Or maybe a florist provides their services for free to a well respected stylist for exposure during a highly anticipated, editorial shoot. This kind of stuff happens all the time in the creative world, but you still have to try your best to figure out what's fair to BOTH parties, no matter what.

Once you've figured that out, take what you'd usually charge and SUBTRACT the trade portion's value. Sometimes this means you're working entirely for trade, while other times it's simply a portion.

02. SIGN A CONTRACT: Although you may be performing your services for a trade, you should still follow your typical process and have the client sign a contract. Ultimately, this protects both sides in terms of holding up each end of the bargain. So, don’t think of your payment process as being different. There is still a form of value being traded, even if it doesn't come as dollar bills.

For example, with the above backpack example, I had the client send over the two backpacks (valued at $500) PLUS the remainder of their downpayment in cash to get to 50% of the project cost. Once we were done, they paid the rest of their balance in cash since the backpacks were already traded.

03. FOLLOW YOUR GUT: At all times, remember that if you DON’T think the trade is fair, it’s okay to be vocal about it and even say no. Discussion is okay and nobody, yourself included, should ever force you into something you simply don’t want to do. More often than not, creatives are pretty understanding about the importance of getting paid their worth for work and don’t want to make anybody feel slighted in any way. So really, if it doesn’t work — it doesn’t work. I promise you'll feel better about whatever you decide, as long as you follow your gut.

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So there you have it! If you've ever traded services, or have any other tips about doing so, please let us know in the comments section below! It's definitely not a black and white topic, so we'd love to start a discussion amongst our tribe to help one another and see where you stand.