Dogs, Quilts, Graphic Design, and the Beauty of a Barter Economy

Each March my sister and her family go to Florida. Each March we watch her now geriatric dog, Max, while they are away.

Princess Max

Each July, my family goes to camp in Northern Michigan. Each July my sister watches our dog, Sasha, dig a giant hole in her backyard and sit in it.

Sasha Digs

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Exchanging services is a very old way to get something you need without having to fork over money. All it takes is your time and sometimes your talent.

Earlier this winter a colleague in the art department needed someone to turn a bunch of biking and running t-shirts into a quilt. I happen to sew a lot and I’ve made a t-shirt quilt for someone else before, so I volunteered. But any time I’ve sewn for someone else, there is the awkward question of “how much is this going to cost?”

Rather than send my coworker an invoice for something I knew would be fairly simple and for which I would probably only spend $5-10 on materials (since she was giving me a bag full of all the fabric I would need) I asked if perhaps she would use one of her talents for me in exchange.

So Heather will at some point be designing a book cover for me. My initial thought was that it would be the cover for my novel, which I intend to self publish later this year. But I’m also considering whether I might rather have her do the cover for the collection of short stories I will have in 2014. But we’ll work it out.

What talent do you have to offer? What needs do you have to be filled? Find a few people you can help out who can help you out in return. Develop a pool of talented people who can all mutually benefit from each other’s skills and passions.

Are you a good editor? See if you can offer your services free to an influential website in exchange for free advertising space on their page.

Do you know an editor who doesn’t have time to clean her house? Offer your services in exchange for proofing the work you want to publish.

Do you have a friend with connections? How can you help that friend in exchange for some introductions?

Need a better website design? Can you offer your techie friend free fresh baked goods for a year?

Want some professional looking headshots? That friend of yours with the amazing camera and Photoshop skills probably needs something too. Could you supply that need?

Writing and publishing take a lot of time and effort. But amazingly, in this day and age, they may not take as much money as you think.

FIRST WARNING: In this barter economy, you must have something to give. I have known a person or two who only calls or emails me when he needs something and has never offered anything in return. Don’t be that guy. Even if you’re just asking for advice about an aspect of publishing or website design or whatever, you should at least offer something in return, or just show up with a gift that says you appreciate the time your friend has taken to help you.

SECOND WARNING: Don’t let this exchange of services make you start thinking of the people in your life purely in terms of what they can do for you. People can smell this kind of thought process a mile away and you’ll find yourself losing friends instead of gaining help.

Share and share alike and we all benefit.

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