You just started a business. You are finally feeling that sense of ownership and embracing the idea that you are on your way. Then it hits you.

Now you need to make money on your own.Money you need to use to live while simultaneously building the kind of business you want to have. Someone told you you needed a website, someone else said you need social media pages, and someone else mentioned that you need business cards. A million things to get and do, limited time, and even less money to get them done. What do you do? Time to get creative.

Believe it or not, starting a business, any business, even if you are asolopreneur, is a group effort. If it isn’t a group effort now, it will need to become one soon for you to make a legitimate splash in the entrepreneurial pond. No business owner succeeds on their own, nor should they hope to. Small business works best when everyone succeeds. The challenge there is that small business owners are usually in competition with each other more than they are in community with each other. That is the hinderance to your success in one sentence – you aren’t willing to help enough people. I know, I know. You give to the homeless person you drive by when you go downtown, you volunteer with habitat for humanity, you may even give every week at your church. But what kind of plan do you have in place to help another person just getting started out? A person in the exact same boat as you? For most people, the answer to that question is no plan at all. Not because they are unwilling, it is more because they don’t have the financial capital to support themselves and another business owner in any meaningful way.

What if I you could support someone without donating a dollar? What if you that someone else could support your business in a real, tangible, and meaningful way without an exchange of money ever happening? Would you do it? Most people would say yes! Well, it is possible.
There is a system that has been in place since long before you and I were born called bartering. Long, long ago, in a land far, far away (not really, it was still America), there was no physical money. Instead, people exchanged goods and services of equal value as a way to acquire things. That principle, the principle where small businesses exchange goods and services for mutual benefit is missing from how we do business today! Not only is it missing, but it is contributing to the failure of many small businesses that are trying to get started.

How you may ask?

If as a small business owner I need a website. To have a good, solid website designed is going to cost upwards of $800—unless I get a donation from cousin Pookie. Well, I don’t have $800, so I go the DIY route. If I am not technically inclined, I either get frustrated (or too busy) and quit. This likely means I never get a great website, which in turn means I limit the amount of business I can do. Or, I produce a mediocre website that, while it gets traffic, does not successfully convert visitors to customers, and so my business never advances. What could have been the difference maker here? A professionally designed site, complete with meta tags, and analytics or a site that becomes a tool toaide the growth and development of my business instead of a check mark on the list of things someone told me I needed. Instead of this debacle of a situation, where my business fails miserably because I didn’t have enough money, what if a web designer and I set up an arrangement where they designed my site, and I provided them with marketing advice for a set period of time? Now I have a site, and the designer gets more clients because of the exposure my advice would provide. That is a win-win. No money is exchanged, but both businesses are made more successful because of the trade.
Sound interesting? It should! But before you embark the business of bartering arrangements, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. The barter should meet a primary need of both entities. In business, some things are going to be more important than others at different intervals. Whenever you set out to make a bartering arrangement, make sure you are addressing a primary need at the time. The reason is really so you will continue to perceive the deal you make as a good one. If you satisfy a minor need at the time of the deal, you may begin to resent the deal at some point in the not too distant future.

2. Exposure does count. For a small business, exposure is its own currency. If someone is able to offer you exposure to their audience, and that audience is large enough, you may want to consider the value that will have on future business in your bartering arrangement.

3. All bartering arrangements must have a terminal end. Not even the best things can go on forever. You will want to set clear terms about what is included in your barter, and what criteria will be met to consider the arrangement satisfied. Make sure everything you agree on this in writing, even if the total at the bottom reflects complete zero.

4. Work to exchange value for value. It would be in the best interest of both parties to ensure that the value of the trade is equal or very close. It may not be in the best interest of the business owner on either side of the deal to have a balance remaining that would have to be paid in cash. The purpose of the bartering arrangement is to alleviate a hardship for both small businesses. Keep that in mind as you determine what items you are willing to barter.

5. Document, document, document. Make sure you clearly document each bartering deal. You want to ensure that both parties are clear about the products or services that are being exchanged.
While I could go on and on about the merits of bartering, there is one resounding cautionary tale that must be repeated over and over. This system only works if both parties involved are receiving mutual benefit. It cannot be that one person is receiving a complete website, and the other gets a box of
keychains (unless of course those keychains meet a primary need). Overall, you want to make sure you are exchanging equivalent value, and receiving something that will be meaningful for your business. That’s it: Bartering 101. If after your first deal, you realize how much you love the practice, you may even want to consider setting up a bartering program for your business—one where you identify particular products and services you would be willing to trade time and time again.
Once you get a good system in place, bartering in your business may become something you call on regularly to help your business grow.

Editor’s note: Shauna K. Henson is the CEO of Maven Marketing and Consulting. Connect with her at