AdviceArts and CultureDIYFinanceNew YorkSan FranciscoShopping, Style and BeautySlider

Work Less, Barter More, Live Better: A Free-Lancers Guide to Bartering

Updated: May 15, 2016 10:21
The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

In the last 6 months alone, I have bartered for 20/20 vision via $4000 Lasik eye surgery, $2500 in catering, $400 worth of handyman work, $660 worth of hypnotherapy sessions, 20 Kinky Salon tickets, $1200 worth of gym membership/ personal training, $140 Deva hair cuts, and a $390 Burningman ticket. If I can barter for all this– using just one skill, then think about all the possibilities of utilizing a skill or two of your own, that can bring you rich experiences, even whilst being cash poor.

$,4,000 ILasik with Dr Jay Bansal
2 years of gym membership/ Personal Training @ Fitness SF
$140 Deva Hair Cut

Burningman Ticket 2014

 Bartering is the quiet undercurrent of back-scratching that has been going on for centuries, even before trading snack packs for Lunchables meats in grade school was cool. In this last year, I’ve rediscovered this gem whilst co-authoring (enter shameless plug here:) “Its a Shareable Life”.  As an unexpected result, bartering has now become my #1  asset as a freelancer that has allowed me to thrive in this money pit of a city.  If you are a freelancer, and you aren’t incorporating bartering, then you are missing out on the sweetest side of working for yourself- because not only is it the best thing since sliced bread, you can trade for some peanut butter and jelly too.

My one skill happens to be Video Production.  As many freelancers can attest, people always want your skills for pennies or for free.  I don’t blame them.  Cash doesn’t always come easy. What’s so amazing about bartering is it allows both parties to make a fair exchange.

My biggest advice for freelancers is to stop working for free.  Heavily discounting your services is old news.  I am not saying you shouldn’t gift people. I am saying you should know there is a difference and it is important to define working and gifting as separate categories. If you want to gift someone your skills, for example, there should truly be no strings attached. It should come from your deepest enthusiasm and you should expect nothing in return other than the happiness you had for giving. You should never  put yourself in a position where there could be resentment or that could hurt your business.

I encourage everyone reading this from here on forward, to use specific terms and understand the difference between  a) gifting b) bartering c) discounting d) buying/selling.  There are clients and there are friends. Clients can be friends and vice versa, but when it comes to business, a service or good has a value and deserves to be compensated. Period. The less confusion you have in your head about value exchange, the more you will work less, barter more, and start living better.


As a freelancer,  your service or good is worth x amount, and if someone wants what you are selling, then they will purchase the market value rate. If your client is cash poor, then you can subsidize with bartering. With bartering, you are able to state your full worth and trade something of equal value (perceived or real) that makes the transaction fair and feel great. Once you discover all the options of bartering world,  there should be very little reason to discount heavily when there is so much opportunity for trade to fill in the gaps. You will more make money, by saving money.

Step 1: Identify your Skill(s): Do you have one skill? Anything. Writing. Photography. Yoga. Handy work. Cleaning. Accounting. Cooking. I mean anything. That’s what I tell all my friends. That is literally all you need to get started: Just one skill.

  • What hobbies could you teach someone?
  • Could you craft something to swap?
  • Which common chores do you enjoy?

One person’s strength is another’s weakness. I guarantee, there is someone – probably in your neighborhood – who has a skill or item, that  you need or want, who would absolutely barter with you. Your bartering trades could  involve  gardening, pet sitting, errands, house cleaning, that are common tasks that can be bartering tools.

Step 2: Identify any things you want to get rid of:
Poke around your apartment and find items of value that you aren’t using. Appliances, clothing,  or even unopened wine bottles or food items can be exchanged in small trades.

Step 3: Barter through lending. A spare room, couch, or car is the perfect underutilized resource that can be a great bartering tool. If its just sitting there, its wasted potential.

Back in July, this random friend-of-a- friend Dutchman, who had an extra Burningman ticket, was coming to San Francisco for a week before Burningman even started. He wanted a nice place to stay and suggested we do a  trade for a Burningman ticket. He ended up being a lovely guest who stayed for a week in his own room in my flat, and I was able to be awesome and gift that extra ticket to my boyfriend.

Burningman 2014 ticket bartered for 6 days stay in my apartment

 Step 4: Figure Out What You Want. Besides a pony, I really wanted to get in shape.   I was spending a lot of money on a gym membership that I was using infrequently. When I heard a brand new Fitness SF was opening in my neighborhood, I jumped at the chance to offer them some marketing videos in exchange for a 2 year membership and some Personal Training. Yea, I never would have spent hard cash for my own human exercise nazi (Personal Trainer), but now I get to partake in a rich person’s luxury.  Or not. Well,  now at least,  I don’t feel quite as guilty about hardly going to the gym.

One of the video’s I traded with Fitness SF

Step 5: Find people to trade with.

 You can start with friends, colleagues, or existing business clients who might have what you want and want what you have. Thanks to the marvelous world of the interwebs, you can also join a Timebank, local bartering club, or  these websites:

Step 6:  Just ask.  You would be shocked on how many people will say yes to your barter request. A few months ago, I went in for one of those free consultations for  iLasik eye surgery. When I found out it was $4k, I thought “well, maybe I can save and do this in the next few years.”  But, right before I left, I anxiously asked the Ophthalmologist, Dr Jay Bansal, “ Er, do you have any testimonial videos on your website by chance?” Turns out he had lots of videos, however,  he loved media and videos as a form of marketing. Even though I didn’t think he would say yes, I just threw it out there: “Would you be interested in trading some video production in exchange for iLasik?”

To my surprise, he didn’t even hesitate. That next week, I had 20/20 and he had this video:

Step 7:  Determine Worth for each Service. The most fair and logical way to barter, is to establish the dollar value for ones time, service, or product. If you are a freelancer, you have done your homework on the industry standard. You may have gotten underpaid in the past,  but when it comes to bartering, you both should charge your full worth.  Since the barter is often replacing money, or subsidizing the trade, this is an important base line.

Step 8: Create clear agreements. I think its always smart to put whatever agreement you  make in writing – especially if involves a service trade.  Keeping expectations, time frames, and hours documented can help if the scope of work changes. It keeps everyone honest.

I use google docs to keep track of the hours if its an ongoing trade. If the trade is uneven,  then you can fill in the gaps with cash.

In my business, I set up a barter/finder fee system. For example, if I hand over a client to another videographer,  then our agreement is that I would be compensated by either 10% cash from the deal I brought or that same value in trade for their videography skills in a later project. If they bring me a gig, I either give them x amount of my time on a project or their choice of 10% cash. It really is a great system where both parties get value and incentive to share.

Step 9: Don’t forget the tax man.  Don’t forget to declare barter trades on your taxes.  You don’t have to declare a small barter with a neighbor per say, but technically a business swap with another business is considered taxable income. Luckily, if you own a business and trade $1000 worth of services in an even trade, the $1000 worth of services you supply counts as a sale and the $1000 worth of goods/services you receive counts as an expense so it equals out.

If you do an uneven trade where you barter $300 of photography for a $1000 laptop from a Computer Store, then you should technically pay capital gains taxes on your come up. The IRS looks as that as $700 difference as income you have  made and expects you to pay capital gains taxes. Although, I don’t know how they would ever find out, but it doesn’t stop them from creating rules as attempts to stick their greasy hands in your barter pie.

Step 10: Expand horizons with Luxury bartering:  Life is about more than meeting your basic needs. My last piece of advice is to seek out luxuries that you could never afford, and expand your horizons.

I love horse back riding more than almost any activity in life. Its therapy. Its invigorating. Its also super expensive.  I have decided my next barter-quest will be finding a horse ranch where I can ride regularly in exchange for video or maybe even horse care. Maybe putting away the camera and getting a little dirty would be good for the soul.

Not every offer is an opportunity “(words I live by), so you don’t have to say yes to every barter option. However, if you have the time and see the value, I encourage you to try it.  Each barter is an opportunity at a new experience, a new way to value yourself, and a new way to experience the world.

Remember, it can’t hurt to just ask.  So take your skills, underutilized resources, or goods, and make your life even more awesome.

If you want to learn more about how to live a Shareable Life, you can join us:  (pic below) Chelsea Rustrum, Gabriel Stempinski, and Alexandra Liss at our book launch release party January 7th 6pm – 10pm at Monarch (101 6th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103) . Stuart will be behind the bar!

Previous post

App or Crap: Which of These Apps Are Fake?

Next post

Win Tickets to Dr. Cornel West @ Castro Theatre!

A. Rose

A. Rose

A Rose is a San Francisco native Renaissance Woman: a licensed clinical Hypnotherapist, Private Investigator, Existential humourist, Refined Hustler, and lover of the weird and the wonderful that makes up the San Francisco Bay Area.