How Many Paintings Equal an Oil Change? – Bartering Your Services

I recently brought a new piece of art into my home. It’s a piece I love, by an artist I respect. And the best part? I didn’t pay any money for it! I did some web-work for the artist, in exchange for the painting. Bartering can be a great way to get products or services in exchange for services in kind. Money-based transactions are easy, because we all agree on the value of money. It can be trickier when you’re exchanging services for products, or services for services. For example, how many haircuts equal one website? How many hours of landscaping equal one portrait session? How many logo designs equal one custom dress?

Having bartered on a few occasions now, I can tell you that it’s usually up to the parties involved to determine what makes a fair trade. But because things can get a little messy, I suggest keeping the following in mind when considering a deal for barter:

Be clear about what you’re offering – prints, files on disc, just a shoot, one painting, how large? Negotiate these details upfront.

In the same way, be clear about what you’re not offering – “I’ll include the portrait session, but a disc of the high resolution files will have an additional cost.”

Make sure you’re getting something you want – Don’t trade your time or services for something you don’t need or want. A framed print in exchange for homemade candy brittle isn’t any good if you’re allergic to peanuts.

Be upfront about the value of what you’re offering – note that value isn’t the same thing as cost. (It may only cost you $12 to print an 8×10, but what about your time to take the photo, retouch it, send it to the printer, pick it up, and ship it? The value of that print is much more than twelve bucks.) I usually say something like “the cost for a project like this is usually $x.xx, but in this case I think it’s a fair exchange.” Knowing the price helps people assess and appreciate what they’re receiving.

Have a contract – as with any agreement, it’s a good idea to have a contract in place. If you’re not going to use a formal contract, at least agree in advance on what you’re providing, what the other party is providing, and a timeline for the exchange. It’s best to have this in writing in some form (email exchanges will do in a pinch) so you can follow-up if things go sour.

Do your homework – just because someone is willing to barter a service, doesn’t mean they actually know how to provide said service. I know someone whose landlord bartered for most of the work done on the house. The guy who came to do the plumbing was actually just a professional mover who figured plumbing couldn’t be too hard to figure out. As a result, the work was shoddy. The landlord should have been more careful about who he traded with.

Beware the expectation of repeat transactions – long-term barter relationships can be a challenge to maintain. As you or your barter-buddy raise your rates, or take on more expenses, the deal you have arranged may no longer be fair. Be sure to re-negotiate the terms of your agreement for every job


What’s the best thing you ever got on barter?


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image source: F.S. Church


  1. My best deal was trading gold coins for a very nice espresso machine. I am a very active barterer, I surf online barter networks like This website got me that deal. This wasn’t a business deal but I believe you can do that as well on barterquest.


  2. Great thoughts on bartering! Having a contract helps, but where there are services involved, the passage of time increases the risk of a bad outcome. People sometimes forget to hold up their end of the bargain when bartering for SOME reason so they need to be reminded and held accountable constantly. If you are timid about confrontation, you are more likely to acquiesce and end up disappointed in the end. If you can’t be bold, you might want to stick to transactions that happen immediately.


  3. I photographed a few blown glass pieces for a friend who needed images for her portfolio to apply to a graduate arts program. Part of the deal was me getting to take a piece home! Got a lovely green glass vase out of the deal. And my friend got into school!


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