Bartering Is Making a Comeback

Inflation, cash-flow problems and supply chain issues have revived the age-old practice of bartering, where consumers trade goods, skills and services—without using money.

Written by Linda Childers / August 18, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Through bartering, both small business owners and consumers can obtain goods and services they might not be able to otherwise afford.
  • Although bartering doesn’t involve money being exchanged, the Internal Revenue Service says some bartering transactions are taxable.
  • Bartering can either be conducted directly between individuals or small businesses, or through a barter exchange network.

You really need a vacation, but your bank account says you can only afford one night out on the town. The good news is that through the practice of bartering, you can take a much-needed trip without shelling out a lot of money.

Bartering, the practice of exchanging goods and services directly, without using cash, began in 6000 BC when Mesopotamian tribes used the practice to get the food and spices they needed. It also saw a resurgence in the 1930s during the Great Depression as cash-strapped Americans turned to bartering to obtain the goods and services they needed to stay afloat.

Today, the Internet has made bartering easier than ever with free sites such as Barterquest, where consumers can barter everything from vacation homes to automobiles using a point system to equalize trades. On Barterweek, it’s easy to secure free lodging at bed and breakfast inns around the world from November 15 to 21 of each year, in exchange for providing legal services, photography, gardening and more.

Melissa Barker, founder of Women Entrepreneurs Inc. (WE), a membership organization that connects women business owners across the country through events, knowledge sharing and bartering services, says small businesses often barter tasks such as doing taxes, assisting with social media and receiving legal advice.

Read on to learn more about how to begin bartering to secure the goods and services you need.

Inside this article

  1. Start with community bartering
  2. Build your small business
  3. Ensure bartering works for all
  4. Consider a barter exchange

Start with community bartering

Bartering with people you know makes sense. Barker says it’s possible to start a bartering community with parents at your child’s school, within your church, club, local business networking group or other organization. The Battle Creek Community Foundation offers a free downloadable brochure on how to start a neighborhood bartering club for those who want to barter for babysitting or carpool services, exchange furniture, toys, sports equipment and more.

If you have a talent such as writing or cooking, or if you are an artist, consider bartering for services you might need such as moving costs, dental work or even medical care. O Positive, a national non-profit based in New York, provides a platform for uninsured artists and musicians to create and perform in exchange for services provided by doctors, dentists and alternative care providers.

Build your small business

Barker says that while most entrepreneurs don’ t have unlimited funds to hire a dream team, they do have transferable skills that can help them to grow their business through bartering.

“It’s important to start small when you’re bartering in order to build trust,” says Barker. “Someone who is creative might offer their feedback on an accountant’s website, in exchange for an hour’s consultation on their taxes.”

How do you decide what business tasks to barter?

“If it doesn’t bring you joy, you should outsource it,” Barker says.

Small businesses can also barter with colleagues in their community. BizX is a network of businesses that started in the Seattle, Wash., area but now includes businesses and non-profits from across the country who connect with others to obtain the services they need to grow their businesses and increase revenue.

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Ensure bartering works for all

So how do you ensure your barter transaction is fair and equitable?

“In some cases, a barter exchange might be a 60-40 split,” Barker says. “If you’re the person who puts in 60 percent and the other person can’t give as much, but you’re both happy with the goods and services you receive, then consider it a win for both parties.”

To begin the bartering process, Barker recommends deciding on what services you’d like to offer in a bartering transaction, determining the value of your service and deciding whether you feel more comfortable doing a direct barter transaction or going through a barter exchange.

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If you’re conducting a direct barter transaction, Barker recommends conducting due diligence and ensuring the person you’re trading with can provide the services they want to exchange. If they’re providing a service such as a website design, ask for references or to see their portfolio. Also, be clear about your expectations, put your agreement in writing, specifying exactly what you’re bartering and noting a date when services will be delivered.

Consider joining a barter exchange

If you offer a service such as web design or housecleaning and find yourself bartering with several businesses or individuals, it might be worth your time to join a barter exchange.

Although barter exchanges typically charge an initial membership fee ($200 and up) and a transaction percentage (10% to 15% of the barter exchange), they also keep track of your exchanges, provide monthly accounting through credits and debits, and offer consumers a tax report of their transactions over the past year. America’s Barter Exchange and Premier Barter Exchange are two examples of membership organizations that can make the bartering process seamless, while also helping you save time and reduce risk.

Lastly, when it comes to bartering, remember the sky’s the limit. If you have a healthy supply of toilet paper when store shelves are empty, or possess a knack for writing a killer resume, chances are good you can negotiate a successful barter.

About the Author

Photo of Linda Childers

Linda Childers

Linda’s articles on healthcare costs and Medicare have appeared in Forbes and MedicareGuide. She has also written on healthcare topics for Arthritis Today, California Health Report, Allure, Health Monitor, US News and World Report, O, The Washington Post and many corporate blogs.

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