We’ve all been there – trading a service we provide for one we like, only to feel trader’s remorse when we don’t take advantage of that dance lesson, hour of coaching, or day of team-building. On top of that, if we bartered in the early days of our businesses, to build a reputation or get clients on the books, we may feel that ‘graduating’ to a going concern means stopping barter altogether. The drawback of not bartering, is we miss out on significant opportunities in networking.


barter exchange networkIn mixer-style networking, where the strategy is pitching business cards with a cocktail in the other hand, there’s not much point. But in systematic networking, where we agree to become the sales force for a networking of colleagues, and they do the same for us, barter becomes essential. The only way you can effectively sell a thing, in any consistent manner, is by having some specialized knowledge or experience with it. If you don’t really know how solar panels work or how fitness coaching works, you simply can’t sell it. Just try describing a service you’ve never experienced in a convincing manner – you come off like a… well, you can fill in the blank.


You can’t exactly trade services with a mortgage loan officer or personal injury attorney, if you don’t have a forseeable use for those services on the horizon. It doesn’t make sense to refinance your condo or trip on a sidewalk just to take advantage of a barter opportunity. While it can’t hurt to build up some ‘credit’ with one of these professions, where barter really works consistently is with those professional services that nearly everyone *should* take advantage of. The opportunity there, to make your business goals more concrete, be more effective at marketing, or solve a fundamental problem with your processes also becomes the opportunity to sell your partners effectively, by availing yourself of their services.


In return, you DON’T just get the EXCHANGE, you get the VALUE of the exchange, which is that your barter partner (who is also your REFERRAL partner) becomes more educated on your services, and can sell YOU more effectively. Sometimes we miss the obvious, but it’s really a no-brainer. If you’ve been turning up your nose at barter, and you’re involved in a networking group like BNI, smack your forehead, and say ‘duh’. How ELSE are you supposed to get good at representing your colleagues and getting them referrals? If you’re not just showing up, hoping to “get” something out of participating in a group, but you really UNDERSTAND the “giver’s gain” concept, barter obvious.


In any given group, fees will differ. Someone may charge $1000/month, someone else $2000, and someone else quite a lot more or less. Don’t make the mistake of trying to line up relative dollar values. There’s a difference between charging what the market can bear, and the ACTUAL value of your services. An excellent article on design work points out that there’s no objective standard for say ‘a logo’. You can get an excellent logo for $250, and there are ones that cost major corporations $25,000 that we still make fun of as atrocious; there’s every shade in between. It’s subjective, and the ‘value’ of a barter is as much in the PROCESS of bartering as in the retail value of the services exchanged. Otherwise, don’t barter – just agree to write a check for each other’s services, in the amount of those services you want to use.


barter vs. retailIf you’re bartering, you’re acknowledging that retail pricing is IRRELEVANT. Don’t insult your dentist by offering to do 1.35 sessions of something, because you charge more for your voice lessons than he does for a crown. In barter with networking colleagues, there may be SOME room for adjusting the volume, but MOSTLY it may be more effective to either a) agree to value your time as roughly equal, or b) join a group where the value is more roughly equal in the first place. People charge different retail prices based on a LOT of different factors, and any business coach can tell you that VALUE is the least of them. Usually, it has more to do with confidence, a particular niche strategy, or just polishing up the marketing and packaging and outright asking. If there’s any doubt, you can put down in writing exactly what you’ll do for each other, and sign a gentleperson’s agreement.


It does little good to ‘play’ at bartering. If all you’re trading is an “introductory” course, session, evaluation, etc., you’re missing the value of bartering itself. It’s not really to get the SERVICES as much as it is to UNDERSTAND the services in the context that a client normally would. A barter is the equivalent of a “ride along” in the squad car of your referral partner – except that, if you really want to know how it works, you get cuffed, given a uniform, and tossed in a cell overnight. It’s more effective to figure out what your business really should be doing, and what all your clients really should be doing, and trade with and for that. That implies that ONGOING services, not introductory ones, make for the most effective barters. If the purpose of the barter is at least PARTIALLY to help the other person understand what you do from the inside out, it’s foolish to short the trade and wiser to give it your ALL.


Barters can have an end-date when you think, reasonably, you’ve each gotten a good handle on the other’s business, or when you feel you’ve received enough value that you can fly on your own or earned enough ‘credit’ that you probably won’t use much more. Having a clear point of exit for each party is an excellent way to maintain the relationship long AFTER the barter. Barters only work well when both parties are holding up their end, so don’t be afraid to also communicate expectations. A barter isn’t the same as a try out; you want value and you’d better give value, because this is your chance to create a sales advocate in the other person, which is what a networking group is.


networking vs. salesMost of us also killed a barter or two, at least at some point in our careers, when we realized we wanted to focus on growth, and realized we were no longer getting great value out of the exchange. Focusing on sales is part of any brand’s growth process, but there’s also a time to return to barter, precisely because of the sales advantage. It bears restating that the purpose of a networking group like BNI is for you to become the sales force for the other people in your chapter, so they can become the sales force for you. If you’re against selling, or don’t feel you can do it, or aren’t committed to it and just want to see what you can gain, BNI isn’t for you. But if you take advantage of the givers gain process, systematically and intelligently, the rewards are not just more business, but in becoming the kind of person people WANT to give business to. By becoming a true giver, you and your brand become contagious.


There’s a whole lot of intangible value in the barter process, when it’s healthy. You connect emotionally with people in ways you might have missed, and you grow more effectively as a person. There’s something built into the human psyche that is only validated through the act of trade. We all know the power of giving, but we know it primarily because when we really let go and give selflessly, others give to us as well, and we feel both grateful and humble. In essence, the phrase “givers gain” is DESCRIBING a trade; it’s telling us how trade actually works, when it works well; the fundamental premise is that it starts with OURSELVES. By becoming the INITIATOR in a trade, which is less about who thinks of it first and more about how much we let go of our need to RECEIVE value and FOCUS on GIVING, we not only receive more and better, but we begin to exist in a state of constantly receiving. Life gives to the giver, and there’s a joy in that which exceeds the mere ‘fun’ we experience, and makes it fun to just be who we are as professionals and people.

If you’re reading this, you owe it to yourself to consider or reconsider or take stock of just how much barter affords an opportunity to grow as a professional, and how effective it can be as a means of networking in the context of a group.

Originally published at BNI 45 NYC.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership in marketing, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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