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Living the “Good Life” Through Bartering

originally on by Paige Mitts

Call me a diva but I am happy to admit that I love living the” good life”.  I love traveling all over the world, staying in the nicest places, eating fine food. I love being pampered, waking up and knowing that I don’t have to make the bed or wash my dishes.  I love vacation and adventure and excitement.  This year, we have photographed virtual tours in 26 states and have had so many amazing adventures along the way that a friend at church was watching our Facebook posts and asked our pastor if one of us was terminally ill.  He said it looked like we were checking off a bucket list!  Nope, just living the life of our dreams at our leisure.

The conundrum is that as small business owners, we don’t always have the budget or the time to do all the things we love.  We made the decision early in our relationship that we would live within our means.  For us that means we run our life and our business, Vision Quest Virtual Tours, on a cash only basis – no credit cards or loans.  We give 10% of our pre-tax, pre-expense income to charity and reinvest most of our profit back into our business.  You might ask how is it that we have stayed in villas and luxurious bed and breakfasts and mountain top cabins and flown in acrobatic bi-planes and eaten in fine restaurants and gotten massages?

It’s called bartering and it ROCKS!  Our high definition 360 degree virtual tours are a great way for businesses to improve their marketing efforts in a very cost effective way.  Luckily for us, many of the businesses that can benefit from our services are also businesses that have services we enjoy and benefit from.

Three keys to successful bartering are:

  1. Provide an equal exchange of services
  2. Agree IN WRITING what the terms of the barter will be ahead of time.
  3. Make sure that the person agreeing to the barter passes the information on to their staff.

We calculate what we would charge for a virtual tour and then calculate what we would pay for that business’ services. If there is a difference, then we invoice or expect to be invoiced for the difference. Bartering should be a fair exchange of services where both people get the same value for their part of the barter. If we are offering a $150 virtual tour for a restaurant, then we need to be mindful of what we order…it’s not fair for us to provide a $150 value and then run up a $200 dinner tab.

It’s important to agree ahead of time IN WRITING what each party is providing for the barter.  One place we have found this to be important is in bartering for lodging.  We travel all over the country so rather than paying for generic hotel rooms every night, we barter with bed and breakfasts or boutique inns.  The room rates for a particular bed and breakfast can be as much as double from one room to the next so it’s important to clarify what you are providing and what you expect to receive in return.

I learned the hard way to clarify in writing that we are bartering for their lowest price room. We bartered with a bed and breakfast and when we arrived, they upgraded us to a private two bedroom villa because it was mid-week in their off season and the whole place was empty.  We were thrilled with our good fortune until we got ready to check out and were expecting to receive a rather sustantial check.  The owner expected that since they were upgraded to a villa that would have cost $300 a night, then our charge would be waived.

We would have never expected a $300/night villa but more importantly we would have never ACCEPTED the $300/night villa had we realized they meant it to replace our fee.  If we weren’t bartering, we would have gotten a hotel room for around $75 and charged them our normal price.  We love staying in nice places but our budget is what it is and we are on the road to make money.  That particular photo shoot was a multiple day job which meant that we weren’t available to shoot other jobs.  Part of calculating the value of a barter is to calculate the lost opportunity cost for the time you are spending providing your end of the barter.  Unless you are bartering on your free time, then you are not giving or getting something for free.

The latest thing we have learned from experience is to make sure that the business owner communicates to their staff that we will be coming to barter.  We recently showed up to photograph a restaurant and were expecting the owner to be there when we arrived.  Not only was he not there, no one in the restaurant had any idea that we were coming.  Luckily they were able to get him on the phone but we would have wasted a great deal of time had this not been the case.  Lesson I learned is that I should have sent a confirmation email stating the terms of the barter and asking him to respond so we knew we were all on the same page…then had that email available when I arrived.

Bartering is a great way to experience things that your budget would otherwise not allow.  There’s no guarantee that a business will be interested in trading services but if you don’t ask the question, the answer is definitely no.

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