For the love of bartering

I’ve been building sites for ten years now, but these days I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to take on client projects to pay the bills. Back when I did, I always had a love-hate relationship with my clients and the work. I spent a lot of late nights away from my family and my own projects but it also paid fairly well but then again every once in a while a project would go way over my budgeted time and I’d take a loss on it.

Lately though I’ve run into family members and non-web nerd friends that need help building sites and I’ve dipped my toe back into doing it. But this time around, I’m having a blast helping them out because instead of money, we’re doing small barters of favors or cheap goods. Here’s why it’s working this time around:

– When you’re not billing someone $100/hr for your time, they’re not edgy when you don’t finish a task immediately and you’re not edgy when they go out of town for a few days leaving you waiting for feedback. It’s incredibly low stress compared to paid client work.

– I trade my work for something friends/family produce or get at a massive discount. It’s always for something I kind of want or need and I save a few bucks by getting it free. They get a great site for a small (if any) price and we’re both happy.

– I tend to be bashful with clients — I’m not the type of guy to bust into a conference room and proclaim I’m a world-renowned web expert on coding, design, and community. Turns out it doesn’t matter when they’re friends and family — if you’re building a site for your uncle, you don’t have to explain why XHTML/CSS web standards are important or worth the effort, you can just code it.

– It’s almost always a new site, so there aren’t legacy code/design/support issues and there’s often low-to-no expectations from the “client”. Anything you do will wow them so you’re free to explore possibilities. I’ve yet to have an argument over mockups and I’ve been able to go with my first mockup so far. This also makes things stress-free and easy for you as the designer/developer.

– One example: I traded a year of free haircuts for building a site for a salon. The salon owner would probably have to pay someone local $500 or more for something similar and now I get a nice $30 haircut every month or two, saving a couple hundred this year. The cost of their time for cutting my hair is much less, so everyone’s happy in the end.

I’m doing a couple more sites for family and friends in the coming months, and someday I’d love to hook up with a local silkscreen shop to trade t-shirt printing for building them a new website.

If you’re a designer/developer, try asking around your local friends and close family — chances are they could use your help and can get you something small for the low-stress work that makes everyone happy in the end.

links for 2006-08-08