Copywriting trade outs: 3 golden rules to live by…

Copywriting trade outs can be a great way to do business, but this type of arrangement — you work for free in exchange for something offered for free — is fraught with danger.

copywriters barter to a win-winMost of the time, the idea of a trade out comes from a small business that needs copywriting but doesn’t have the budget. Less often, a copywriter sees a potential trade out situation that works for him.

Either way you need to follow some “Golden Rules” to be successful at trade outs, because most of the time they end in failure.

Here are three Golden Rules that will set you up for success.

Golden Rule #1: Be aware of unequal value.

In my experience, most copywriting trade outs are a better “deal” for the client. 

This is because the copywriter needs to invest time in order to “get up to speed” with the client’s project. It’s not uncommon to clock as much as five hours before you even hit the keyboard.

On the other hand, it’s very often that the client’s contribution is “ready made” and its value can be transferred quite easily.

A good example is the copywriter who trades out with her Stylist. The copywriter must spend time understanding the Stylist’s business before she can write copy, while the stylist can do a cut, color and blow dry in just a few hours.

Since most trade out partners are unlikely to be writers, the trade out partner will have no clue as to the “invisible work” that goes on behind the scenes. In order for a trade out of this nature to be fair, it’s crucial that the copywriter do a good job of explaining the “before writing” process and exactly how much time it takes.

Golden Rule #2: Use a Fee Agreement.

Yes, even though you won’t be charging, you still want to use a Fee Agreement for any of your copywriting trade outs. 

Why? Well… for lots of reasons. First of all, it’s a place where you can document your time and clearly lay out the balance of time for both sides, so the agreement is fair.

A Fee Agreement (which shows $0 or “fee waived” in the pricing field), also sets the terms, which should be in effect regardless of pay arrangement.

Do you want to use your work in your portfolio? The Fee Agreement gains that permission. Is there any reason you could be sued? Boilerplate protects you.

Is there a significant discrepancy between your hourly rate and that of your trade out partner? This is where you acknowledge that fact and make adjustments.

Since you’re not getting paid, you want to be very clear — and very fair — on the time commitments.

Golden Rule #3: Establish a schedule.

Because neither party is getting paid, copywriting trade outs (aka “barters”), often fall to the bottom of the “to do” list. They simply become lowest priority.

But for the trade out to work, the work must get done. To prevent a trade out failure, it’s essential to set a schedule or a specific, repeatable meeting time. Both parties need to clearly state what work will get done and in what time frame.

This can be a simple process for service professionals like the Stylist I talked about earlier; all it takes to fulfill the Stylist’s obligation is a spot in her “book.” It’s easier yet if the appointment repeats on a regular basis, such as monthly.

But a copywriter’s job is more complex. To fulfill an obligation might look different each month. Let’s say the Stylist wants ongoing marketing help. This could begin with market research and the development of a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). 

The following month might involve website copy and branding work, such as professional photos. From there the copywriter might get her set up on Yelp. And the work goes on.

Barters usually fail because one of the parties feels they’re contributing more than the other. Or because the work isn’t getting done. Following a schedule and using a Fee Agreement starts the arrangement with the proper dose of respect.

Done right, copywriting trade outs can be a win-win for both parties. Follow these three Golden Rules and your chance of success will be very nearly guaranteed.

 2017 Chris Marlow, All Rights Reserved

Do you have experience with copywriting trade outs? How did it turn out for you? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.

And while I’m at it, let me plug the S.S Treasure Hunt — the only place you can go to find pricing statistics for nearly 100 jobs — all for just $35 per month!

About Chris Marlow

The original copywriter's coach, Chris Marlow has worked with copywriters since 2003. Her acclaimed Marlow Marketing Method™ Client Acquisition Course has produced hundreds of successful copywriters. Chris' S.S. Treasure Hunt membership site not only houses this course but four more on the subjects of Copywriting, Advanced Copywriting, Productivity, and Closing Clients. The S.S. Treasure Hunt also contains the world's only statistical pricing database for about 100 copywriting jobs. Chris has put together this resource to give copywriters everything they need to succeed — and nothing they don't. Chris is committed to helping copywriters focus on what's important, saving them from the time- and money-wasting Bright Shiny Object Syndrome so prevalent on the Internet.

4 Responses to Copywriting trade outs: 3 golden rules to live by…

  1. James Steadman May 31, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I haven’t done too many ‘trade outs’ myself, but after reading your email about it, I may have a look and see if there are any businesses that I could benefit from that would also benefit from some of my copy.

    There are so many things I’d love to do, but don’t really want to go out of my way and pay for…

    I enjoy copywriting, so this might be a good middle-point!

    Cheers, James

    • Chris Marlow June 1, 2017 at 8:36 am #

      Hi James,

      You might try services you use often, like hair cuts. This is what has worked best for me!

  2. Phil Bogan May 30, 2017 at 10:17 am #

    Chris, when I first started my ad agency (this was while I was working full time at a high tech company), I agreed to handle the TV and newspaper advertising for a couple of auto dealers in my area. In addition to some cash, the deal included a free car to drive. It worked great. Got a new car every 2,000 miles. The cars had dealer tags, which raised some eyebrows at my regular job. I just ignored the eyebrow movement.

    • Chris Marlow May 30, 2017 at 10:57 am #

      Oh wow Phil… that’s the best perk I’ve ever seen! At the agency I worked at we got nothing!

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