The Lost Art of Bartering

Between the ever-changing face of technology and portable devices, we think we’ve mastered it all (even if we know we really haven’t).  We can conduct transactions on the go thanks to GoPayment and Square bringing our businesses to our customers rather than them coming to our business.  We can take payments without ever opening a cash drawer thanks PayPal and similar online software.   We can email receipts .  Text invoice reminders.  And even take care of business through automatic payments and withdrawals.

We have married technology and business so well together, that at times it has become impersonal.  If you don’t mind skyping with clients and emailing proposals and reports, then technology is probably your best friend.  And admittedly, it has made many small business owners’ lives so much better, but there is so much that got lost in translation and so much we’ve forgotten how to do that we relied on at one point.

Have we forgotten the art of bartering and the perks that come along with it?

Before there was ever a monetary system in place, there was bartering.

I will give you two sacks of potatoes and a bushel of wheat from my crops on my farm for 3 pieces of clothing you make.  

Quantities were negotiated, then agreed upon.  People bartered.  And with bartering, came the first ever notion of advertising.  We would later call it “word of mouth”.  You had a service or product in demand, whether you were a blacksmith, a carpenter, a farmer or a seamstress, and you were noticeably good at what you did or provided, people talked.  The Jones’ told the O’Hara’s about your fresh tomatoes. In exchange for 2 crates of your tomatoes, you were willing to trade them for a month and a half worth of firewood .  Now we’re creating demand and market share.  But before we jump too far ahead into economics, bartering created the first line of advertising, which later, for many successful entrepreneurs (although they didn’t know that they were at the time), built notoriety, a solid reputation.  So, why is that we forgotten how to barter?  Or is it, that we can’t afford to?

Maybe you don’t want to or think you can’t afford it at this stage in your business (but if you can find just one person in your circle of connections, it will play in your favor), use some of the principles that earlier barters learned.

  • The better skilled you are, the more you will be sought out.  It doesn’t matter whether you deliver B2B security services or you have a alternative mobile device, be great at delivering that product or service.
  • Be honest and fair.  Many consumers think these qualities have fallen by the wayside in the 21st century (or well before), but prove them wrong.  If all you’re looking for is to make a quick dollar, then don’t expect repeat business.
  • Continue to improve what you do or what you provide.  Whether you gotta take a night class, subscribe to peer-reviewed journals or meet other businessmen and women in your same profession, stay on top of your game.
  • Stick to what you do best.  One stop shops are convenient, but those with a niche or specialty, are better.  If you’re great at repairing electronics, don’t start trying to web design, then later, start building apps.  For that kind of expansion, it takes a team, not a one man jack-of-all-trades.
  • Let others speak for you.  We know now, even with social media, how important it is when customers rave about your company.  A business can say how great their product is or how beneficial their services are.  Truth be told, all business owners think they’re great.  But when a customer says they’re great, someone who knows from personal experience, it speaks volumes that a business owner is unable to resonate.
You may not be the bartering type and you may not be in the position to barter, but take away some of the lessons you can learn from bartering.  You can be in business or be known for your business.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Bartering

  1. Very good article. In this crisis period people are more and more thinking of different ways of exchanging and bartering, instead of buying with money. Exchanging not only products, but also services and favors in general. This is the reason why I noticed the increased interests in local time banks and in website like this one:

    where people can exchange favors in exchange of points; points which can be used to get other favors from other people.

    • Well, thank you. It’s important that we as small business owners and rising entrepreneurs recognize the resources that are available to us. Had a chance to check out The philosophy behind it has been an incrementally growing trending in social media around 2008/2009.

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