A couple of years after starting a graphic arts business in Brooklyn, New York, Jamila Swift looked for a way to receive services without spending cash, increase her income and expand her networking pool. Barter Advantage, Inc., a New York-based barter exchange group, was the answer.
Bartering is hardly new. It has evolved from the days when two chickens were traded for a saddle. Today it’s again big business and companies are using barter to advertise as well as trade services or products. Throughout the U.S. and Canada, there are about 400 trade exchanges. They represent 350,000-400,000 businesses and do $4.3 billion a year in trade activity, according to Tom McDowell, executive director of the Cleveland-based National Association of Trade Exchanges.
What do you have to barter? “If you have free time, idle [printing] press time, empty hotel rooms or products sitting on the shelf collecting dust and you write checks out of your business account, you need to take a look at barter,” says Mark Tracy, owner of the American Commerce Exchange in North Hollywood, California, which has 600 members in the Los Angeles area.
Swift accumulates credit in her barter account by providing services to fellow members. The amount of credit she earns is based on the retail price of designing anything from letterhead to brochures.
She can then debit from her account when she requires the products or services from barter members. Through her exchange group, she can get a hotel room, go to a doctor, get her car fixed, dine out-almost anything.
In addition, barter clients are spreading the word about the quality of Swift’s work, leading to an increase in cash business.
“It’s another opportunity to get your business out there and get more exposure,” explains Swift, who adds that barter has increased her income 5%-10%.
Here’s how it works: Expect to pay $200-$500 to join an exchange group. In most cases, you will be assigned a trade broker who will arrange your trades and keep track of the amount of barter dollars in your account. Since your broker makes 10%-15% on each barter transaction, you can count on him or her to send you business and get you the products and services you want. The monthly maintenance fee runs up to $30.
If you’re considering barter, follow these tips:
- Check out the operation. After locating a barter company in your area, call and arrange to visit the office. Are you impressed with the professionalism of the sales staff and their follow-up?
- Look at their client list. Whether the barter exchange has a formal directory or a computer printout, the list should include a variety of the types of companies you want to do business with. You’re looking for individuals who would use your services as well as people you want to buy from.
- “If you are considering a trade exchange with no restaurants or printers, you are wasting your time,” says Tracy.
- Pick three or four people from the list. “Call them up and ask how the trade exchange has worked for them,” suggests McDowell.