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January 13, 2012 5:36 AM   Subscribe

What's the proper etiquette when offering to barter for my design services?

I run a own-woman design studio, and my services include product and graphic design. I have finally found a great accountant to take care of my finances. His rates are reasonable, but at the moment I'd be more than happy to save his fee in exchange for re(designing) his corporate identity (logo, business cards, letterhead, invoices, website).
I think his current identity is quite terrible, but I don't want to risk offending him. It could be that he never paid attention to it, or it could be that he actually gave it some thought and either came up with his current graphics on his own, or even worse, that he paid someone to do it. It could also be that he thinks he doesn't need a nice business card and fancy invoices. In case he's not interested, I would really like to prevent any feelings hurt, or any awkwardness in our business relationship.

How do I politely say, "eh, your logo sucks, let me redesign something snazzy for you in return for your accounting service?

Feel free to also let me know if this is completely out of line and i shouldn't even mention it.

I'm also interested in learning about your similar bartering experiences and tips. Thanks!
posted by PardonMyFrench to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How do I politely say, "eh, your logo sucks, let me redesign something snazzy for you in return for your accounting service?

I think you're way out of line. Just as you would expect cold, hard cash for your work, so should he. Also keep in mind that while his logo may indeed suck, that may not matter, since he's making a living as accountant.

This person is going to be taking care of your finances, looking out for the source of your income. Don't jeopardize that business relationship by possibly insulting him right out of the gate by saying "hey, I looking for ways not to pay money".

If anything, you should be thinking, "If this guy is as good as I think, I'm definitely taking him to lunch, recommending him to others". You want to send more money his way, so he thinks well of you and sends clients your way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for your input. I'm filling in with a bit more info as you came up with some good points. It might help others who want to answer.

My accountant has a soft spot for designers and creatives, and was happy to come up with a custom way of charging me for his services. In short, I do more of the prep work, so he doesn't need to spend so much time on me. In the future, the more money my business makes, the more he can charge me (i opened my studio a bit more than a year ago).

His personal style and interests, as well as the decor of his office tells me that he is not completely insensitive to the value of good design.

I have already sent him 4 new clients this year (other creative businesses, who make more money than me), for which he was very appreciative, and I'm sure he knows I'm happy with his work.

I also traded other types of services in the past, very successfully, so i don't necessarily only consider cold hard cash as a suitable means of payment. However until now, i was always the one approached for the trade, so never had to "make the move".
posted by PardonMyFrench at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2012

I think it's a bad idea. The only good way to broach this kind of bartering would be if he first indicated that he didn't like his designs and wanted them redone.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:12 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also traded other types of services in the past, very successfully, so i don't necessarily only consider cold hard cash as a suitable means of payment.

Sure, bartering can work, but this isn't a typical client, this is a guy who works for you, to help your business. It would be better, imo, to keep things on a cold, hard cash basis, especially if he's doing something to be more in line with your budget. You don't want to come across as trying to take advantage of your accountant kind and helpful nature.

Do you know how he feels about barter/trade, has it ever come up in conversation?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 AM on January 13, 2012

Why not ask him about the tax implications of bartering your services? You could also join a business-to-business barter group and let him know about it. Then you'll know if he's open to bartering.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think bartering tends to work best when the person who would otherwise be getting cash suggests it.
posted by egg drop at 6:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Especially if this is the first year you've worked with him, don't mess with it. You two have gone to the trouble of customizing a services/cost agreement, and it wouldn't be polite to propose changing it again.

Since you describe this as a fairly talky relationship, not just some guy that you mail your accounts to and never really interact with, there are definite possibilities for discussion. I might start with a conversational pitching your services, e.g. "How long have you had that logo?" "So who did your logo design, anyway?". Use your own judgement on how not to offend him, based on the answer. If there's an emotional attachment (done by himself or a close relative), there's probably no market for your services. If it's something that was done recently, he's probably not interested in another update. If it's something that was done on barter by another client, and he's dissatisfied with it, there's probably not much chance of a barter arrangement. But there are a lot of scenarios that could work out. In any case, the first step is not to tell him your opinion of his corporate image, but to ask him his opinion, or more subtly, to ask him facts about it (when/who) and glean his opinion.

I think it would be "less classy" rather than "more professional" to have any concrete ideas/suggestions prepared the first time you mention it to him (what, a college buddy designed it on a napkin 10 years ago and you've never really loved it? Here are 3 other suggestions I was thinking, I'm using green symbolizing both growth and money). I think it would be appropriate to be ready to tell him a few of your opinions about his current designs, prepared that in advance so that it's not too scathing but is still a good sell on how much better you could make it (hidden landmine: if your least favorite aspect is his favorite that might sink the idea, but maybe it's not a good match anyway). I think it would be appropriate to propose the idea that you could help him make some changes, without tying it into the accounting bill, and you can decide as you discuss it how you want to handle payment or barter.

He's the tax expert, not me, but my impression is that it doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot if you just swap services, or if he bills you and you bill him the same amount which you each write off as a tax-deductible business expense. There might be a tax value to bartering, but hte down-side could be that some people have a feeling of unequal value or less professional work in/after a barter situation, and it's easier to walk away with bruised feelings. Barter is most useful when you're not swapping professional services, but in a situation where (at least) one party is trading a hobby, a posession, a long-time things vs a short-time thing, or some service for which they don't already have a billing system in place. So don't be stuck on the idea that bartering is inherently better/cheaper/friendlier than you two having each other as clients.
posted by aimedwander at 6:56 AM on January 13, 2012

I think you could do this without insulting him by asking him about the tax implications of your other barter agreements, and then, if he seems positive about bartering, suggesting that if he ever needs any design work, perhaps you could arrange an accounting/design barter.

That way you're leaving it to him to decide if his logo is terrible and needs fixing or not, but putting yourself out there as an option for fixing it.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:16 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should just tell him you think he could benefit from a re-design. If you're lucky he'll suggest you barter, otherwise you still make some money on the project, and put it toward what you would have paid him.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

How would you approach any sales opportunity in this situation? That is - if there was a person who you you knew professionally, who you thought could use a logo redesign, how would you talk to them about this?

The fat that it is a barter may be largely a distraction. Does it make it any clearer, at least in your head, to not think about it as barter? That is: Say you're paying him $1000 to do your taxes, and you'd like him to waive that fee in exchange for you redesigning his logo. If so, you are, in effect, asking him to pay you $1000 to do the logo. Is that the sort of sales work you normally do? If so, would the same approach work here? If yes - do that. If not - why is this different?
posted by ManInSuit at 7:47 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(grr. "The fact that it is a barter...)
posted by ManInSuit at 7:47 AM on January 13, 2012

Agree this is a bad idea. It I was your accountant, I would be anywhere from mildly annoyed to ticked off.

However, one perspective I haven't seen is that I assume that you are in the US or western Europe? If not, in other cultures, bartering is much more acceptable. I notice this tendency in my friends from other countries. Personally I find it presumptuous and in bad form to do this; however, being around my friends helped show me that this type of bartering is normal in their communities.
posted by seesom at 10:28 AM on January 13, 2012

I think it's perfectly acceptable and professional to send an email or mention in a conversation something like, "Hey, if you'd ever need graphic design work in the future for your business, I'd love to work with you..." You're not specifically suggesting that his current identity system is horrible, but just opening a conversation about designing for his business in general. And then if he is interested in your design work, then you can bring up a bartering arrangement. But maybe have this conversation a little further into your business relationship. And perhaps by then you'll also have gotten a sense of how interested he'd be in bartering at all.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 1:18 PM on January 13, 2012

Thanks all for your great input, it brought up lots of points i hadn't consider. My intention behind offering him a new logo is not only to save me money, but also because i think it will also help his business out. The bartering part of the equation is less important ultimately, billing each other for services could work out just as well. I'll extend my offer out to him and we'll see what happens. Thanks all for the insight!
posted by PardonMyFrench at 6:55 AM on January 14, 2012

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