A work-swap is a barter of services. Instead of paying for a service in cash, you pay in work valued at around the same amount. And because it’s not as clear-cut as a regular cash transaction, it can be challenging to navigate a work-swap without any hiccups.
Over the past year, I’ve done two work-swaps. The first was with my website designer and the second with my brand photographer. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Expectations to have for yourself
When it comes to work you’re doing for your work-swap partner, it’s important to set special expectations for yourself. Otherwise, things could get weird, fast. Funny how when we’re not sending out that invoice, things seem to shift in our mindset for how we treat the work.
- Treat this project like you would a paying client project.
When I did my first work-swap, I was way too casual about the whole thing. Partly, that’s because I was pretty good friends with my work-swap partner, but partly it was just about me viewing this work as different or separate from my “real work.” I neglected my processes, took too long, and didn’t stick to a deadline.
When we do work-swaps, we’re showing someone (potentially a referral partner!) how professional we are. So, with my next work-swap, I made sure to treat that work just like my other client work.
- Expect to be busier than usual.
Work-swaps are awesome, but it does mean that you’re giving a project slot to something that isn’t going to help pay your rent that month. So you may have to keep up with your regular flow of projects plus the additional work-swap project.
If that’s the case, go in with your eyes wide open. Plan on some late nights or working weekends.
Expectations to have for your relationship with your work-swap partner
The TL;DR version of this is that you have to balance expecting professional service with understanding that things are a bit different when you’re not paying cash. Just like you might instinctually treat this work differently than “normal work,” your work-swap partner might also.
- Consider extending more leeway for your work-swap partner than you would to a regular hire.
Your work-swap partner is likely a colleague, and just like you, they’ve probably agreed to take on an extra project this month to accommodate the work-swap financially. So, don’t freak out if they’re delayed in sending you the work they promised (within reason). Be understanding. After all, you’re also trying to protect a colleague-type relationship here.
- Don’t expect special attention.
Especially if you’re friends with your work-swap partner, you might find yourself texting them instead of emailing or expecting that they pick up the phone in the middle of the work day. Respect the client-provider professional distance, even in a work-swap.
With my second work-swap, I asked my brand photographer to break her rules and send me all the raw images (in my naivety, I thought I wanted some “bloopers”) even though she doesn’t normally do that for “regular” clients. Kudos to her, she stuck to her guns. In retrospect, I think I let our special arrangement go to my head.
Other tips for a successful work-swap
- Sign a contract. For my first work-swap, we didn’t have a contract, and fortunately, it worked out great. However, it’s always better to have one because it reduces the chance for misunderstanding later on (even though it can make you feel like you’re suggesting you don’t trust one another).
- Do the work-swap during a month when both of you aren’t too busy. That may mean waiting a while, but this makes the process much smoother.
- Swap services that would cost about the same for paying clients. With my first work-swap, we kind-of just estimated what would be an equal swap. I think it’s smarter to work out services that would be close in cost for what you’d charge regular clients. That way, no one ever feels like they got the short end of the stick.
- Don’t advertise that you are open to work-swaps. Both of my work-swaps came about during private conversations with my work-swap partners. Aside from this article, I haven’t talked about them publicly, because I don’t want people to think that they can “choose” to not pay me with money. That tends to devalue your service.
I’m a fan of work-swaps. It can be a great way to get something done for your business that you wouldn’t have prioritized if you had to cough up the cash right away. It can also be an opportunity to do a different type of project, maybe one that you’ve been wanting to try out but haven’t found any paying clients for yet.
Have you done any work-swaps? What advice would you add to this list?
Content courtesy of Krista Walsh, creative copywriting for purpose-driven companies and passionate people
Contributing Author, Krista Walsh
Krista Walsh writes website copy, blog posts, and product descriptions for small eCommerce companies and service-based solopreneurs. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales.
In her free time, she writes about purpose-driven business and freelance life at kristawalshcopywriter.com. On the off chance she’s not writing, she’s volunteering to walk the big ole’ dogs over at the Dog Café LA or watching (pretty bad honestly) TV dramas on Netflix.
Connect with Krista through her website, Krista Walsh Copywriter