I’ll Trade You

Q: I’ve heard of Websites that let businesses trade products with other companies. Are they legitimate and how do I get involved?

–F. Clarkson, Allen, Texas

A: Business-to-business barter companies (basically middlemen) have been around awhile and are often a good way for small companies to grow their businesses, open products up to a wider market, or clear out a surplus. In the past few years, many of these companies have hit the Web to provide a more efficient means of trading.

The way barter networks operate is simple: Say your business provides cleaning services to airlines, but your largest client has gone out of business. You sign up with a barter network and list your service. In exchange for your services, a company–a magazine, for example–provides free advertising for your business. That’s the essence of barter exchange networks. Don’t forget, you pay a fee.

One good practice is to look for companies that have an established reputation, such as American Express. The company’s Small Business Network (www10.americanexpress .com/sif/cda/page/0,1641,6592,00.asp) provides a tutorial on finding and choosing a barter exchange Website. Also check out Intagio (www.intagio.com). Barter companies typically charge the buyer and seller a commission for exchanges. But in these challenging economic times, barter can mean the difference between a small business boom–and a bust.