Virtual Wealth} IE: The Barter System

In 1926, Frederick Soddy a Nobel Prize winning chemist wrote a book entitled Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt. He was a man ahead of his time and argued that real wealth was in the power to derive materials into physical goods and services. With that theory, an important question can be asked - if you cannot feel the effects of the wealth, is it really there? 

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Money is of course a vital part to any business. Without funds coming in, the lights cannot stay on. But what about when money needs to go out? Is there a way to trade talent for talent? An opportunity where both parties can walk away satisfied and appeased? Absolutely, it's called BARTERING!

We are on a tight budget. With a husband in grad school, our spending has to be carefully monitored and sometimes (okay more then sometimes) that can be a real party crasher. Unless I can find another way... And I'm queen of alternative options. It comes with an 'if you say I can't I'll prove that I can' type 'A personality. I've traded my photography services for baby-sitting (that’s seriously huge, do you know the price of a babysitter these days?), house cleaning, massage, sewing lessons, having a server built for me, clothing, SEO optimization, salon services and more. 

After several trades, I've had some go fabulously and others not so much. Here are some tricks I've picked up along the way. 

1. Be generous! My photography services are not priced at a bargain. Neither would I expect someone who's trading with me to cut me a deal. Time is time for all of us! Let me give you the example of babysitting.  I always ask what amount they feel would be a fair price, but with that I already have a number in my head that I'm thinking of. I've never had anyone suggest that number, so I let them suggest what they feel is a fair price and I say, 'okay, well I would like to trade at $x.xx per hour, is that okay with you?' Of course it is, it's usually at least $10 more per hour then they suggested. It's important to me that the trade feels like a win - win. Being generous assures me that the person on the other end of the trade won't get burnt out or end up feeling taken advantage of. 

2. Keep Track! This is pretty obvious but it must be reiterated! Make a log and keep meticulous track of the hours and suggest that they do as well. I use an hours tracker app on my iPhone.

3. Make it worth your time. Trading services takes up time! There is the session, editing and the fact that you probably will not be getting any sales from it either. When you’re having a late night editing session is the trade still going to have its appeal? I've made some trades more because I knew they didn't have the money then for reasoning that I needed what they were offering but the simple truth is that that was time away from my kids and hubby that was lost to me. Be picky about what you trade, your time is a valuable commodity, if you don't believe me just look at your kids. 

4. How do you find trades? If you want to start looking for trades, here is an idea. Next time you need something start looking around within your social circle (for babysitting and things of that nature) or at small businesses and look for someone who either loves your work or has a need for good photography. Pictures sell and I've seen a lot of websites where everything is looking good until you click on the thumbnail. In such a case, your services truly can be invaluable. 

5. Business is still business! It's important to still keep yourself on an appropriate time line. I've made the mistake of taking on a trade session when I was way to busy with paid work and making a terrible impression with that family because I had to many other clients that simply had to come first. Honestly, it still haunts me today! Now when people approach me with trades I plan only for either slow season or when it's a good fit in my calendar and I explain why. 

Disclaimer: Try not to be disappointed when someone doesn't want to trade. They may not have the extra time or be in a financial situation where it's possible for them. Also be aware of trades that cost the other side money. There may be a small amount invested on the photography end of the deal, but very little. We offer a service, not a good.  Be aware that you may be asking for a lot if you want a good taken right off the shelf and handed to you. I find people are much more apt to trade if it's service based to service based bartering. 

Bartering services are meant to be fun.  Don't set over the top expectations but instead just play around with it and see where it takes you! There's a bit of a learning curve to it at first but after a few great trades, you may just find yourself hooked! Let me tell you how fabulous it was to have a massage therapist come into my home and give my husband and I each an hour-long massage! Or being able to take a college photography class because I traded baby-sitting for Senior pictures. The key is to set reasonable expectations before the trade is made and make sure that both parties feel good about the offer, if you've got that part handled correctly, trading can make you feel like you're living the good life without ever spending a cent! 


  1. This was a very high quality post today. Thank you!

  2. Good ideas! I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog a couple of months ago!! I'm hooked! :)

  3. After 19 years of bartering, here are a couple things that work for me...

    I trade retail for retail or discounted price for discounted price.

    We always agree on the details before either party does any work.

    I LOVE bartering! It has really been a blessing to my family!

    I completely agree with keeping track in writing. Also, making sure those you trade with are treated just like any other customer. Really, they are, because their business is going to treat you like every other customer too.

  4. Bartering is so wonderful! I love it. I need to get that time tracker app....

  5. I always loved the barter system. I've been doing it for years with my engraving and embroidery business. Last trade was for a serger. Now, I need to learn how to use it.