Work For Trade

I’m sure you’ve come across a potential client or friend (maybe even family member) who wants to trade your creative services for theirs. Starting out, it may seem like a great opportunity to gain experience and a portfolio piece on top of some sort of equal trade. I interviewed Catherine Clow, a colleague and dear friend of mine, who has first hand long-term experience with a “work for trade client”. Also with us is Jeremy Widen, a film and video professional and my partner and crime, who worked with SF Magazine for trade.

Give me a basic synopsis of how you met your client and how the work for trade was established

Jeremy: I worked with San Francisco Magazine to produce, shoot and edit, their coverage of their fall fest event. One of my friends from school who was working with them at the time reccommended me to her. So that’s how I got the job. They basically right out of the gate said they couldn’t pay me but said they could offer trade.

Catherine: I met my client at a group event for something non-deign related. When she discovered I was a design student, she immediately offered the to trade her services for mine. My client worked in acupuncture, so we agreed I would receive body work in exchange for designing a new logo for her business.

How did you work out a fair system of trade? What were the ground rules? 

Jeremy: We negotiated just like we would have had they been paying me. Whatever my full estimate would have been for cash, they basically said they would give me that much in trade and we basically negotiated down from there because they were essentially a non-profit situation. I’m a big foodie so I agreed to do this in trade for gift certificates to nice restaurants in San Francisco– ones that I may never have gotten a chance to try otherwise.

Catherine: After our first meeting, we decided to meet [for accupuncture services] every two weeks in person. I could not have afforded her services other wise and I was glad to have the learning experience. I did as much as I could between meetings, as far as logo development, but ultimately I needed her input. I ended up putting in about 4 to 8 hours of design work, over two weeks.

Our relationship was casual and we share mutual friends, so we never drew up an official contract. I was young and I felt that any trade was a good one for the experience.

What factors contributed to this being a great positive experience? Were there any challenges?

Jeremy: Working with SF magazine was a great experience. They basically gave me free reign to shoot and edit to how I thought it should be shot and edited. They told me what types of things they wanted, but they gave me the creative control that as a shooter I would like. It was a fun event, it was outdoors, it was easy to shoot, and there was free food everywhere. It was a really easy going client, but the downside was that because they were so easy going, they didn’t give me any deadlines and because of that, it got put on the backburner. I know I work best when I have concrete deadlines.

Catherine: My client never took advantage of our agreement and she was always pleasant to work with. I would trade again with her anytime.

Any tips/cautions for creatives considering working for trade?

Jeremy: Make sure you’re getting the full value for your services in trade. If you’re services are worth $2000, make sure you get $2000 worth in trade. Working for trade doesn’t mean you’re working for free, it just means you’re working for something other than cash.

Also get it in writing. I didn’t do that and I ended up only getting half of what my services were worth in trade. I also was promised future paid work, which never came, so get it in writing.

Catherine: As a more experienced designer, I think a contract should be drawn up, but I also feel trade agreements in general are much more casual, and happen more often between people who already know each other and trust each other prior to the trade.

Things to consider

Is their service worth it?
Don’t get duped into working for a prize that isn’t worth your time. What ends up happening is that after the 5th revision, you may question why you agreed to the trade in the first place.

If it’s not worth it:
Maybe instead of trading services, you can request a certain # of referrals, or request that you get put on their website as design consultant with contact info. Typical places are in the footer or “company about” page. And sometimes, nothing can tempt you into working for free. And that’s ok. Some designers who are well established won’t do pro bono’s or trades because they make the argument that it “lessens the value of design”.

Define your trade scale and relationship in a written agreement
How do you make it fair? Perhaps putting a dollar value on your services and having your client do the same will make for an easier translation. I wouldn’t suggest trading services by hours because it’s too easy to be accused of dragging out your hours for a bigger “trade value” on your end.

Is it an ongoing relationship/service or is it a one time trade of goods? 

If you establish an ongoing trade, leaving the scope open to anything the client may need at any time, I suggest you put a cap on the duration of your “work for trade agreement”. It could be 6 months, 1 year etc. After that, they should pay. It’s only fair. This is your business after all.

One Time Service:
If you are agreeing to a “one and done” situation, make sure your client understands that the next time they contact you for another job, they will be expected to pay for their services.

Payment: When do you get your half? Make sure to include a trade payment schedule. You don’t want your client giving you your half 6 months later if you are expecting it within 30 days of deliverables sent. If it’s more of a casual relationship or an ongoing trade, then have more casual expectations. I suggest agreeing on trading off services at the same time, to make it fair.

Clearly define the scope of each project along with # of edits you’re willing to do under the trade.
Just because you aren’t dealing in money, doesn’t make your time any less precious. They can’t add-on more and more just because it’s a “trade”.

I hope these tips help you decide whether or not work for trade is right for you. The key is to communicate and define all the variables up front so that no one leaves unhappy.

Special thanks to Jeremy Widen and Catherine Clow for taking the time to answer my questions.

  • “@Cre8tivedrive: Pros and Cons of Working For Trade >>”

    26 October, 2012 at 7:13 pm
  • Special thanks to @catherineclow for her insights on #DesignForTrade @Cre8tivedrive >>

    26 October, 2012 at 7:55 pm
  • Have you ever traded your creative services for something other than money? How did it go? #workfortrade

    27 October, 2012 at 8:42 am
  • Special thanks to @catherineclow and @jdwiden for contributing their stories about working for trade >>

    27 October, 2012 at 9:26 am
  • RT @Cre8tivedrive: Special thanks to @catherineclow and @jdwiden for contributing their stories about working for trade >>

    27 October, 2012 at 9:45 am