Low on Money, Rich in Time? Consider Skill Swapping

Time & Money: Photo of a pocketwatch on a walletSo you’re trying to improve your career prospects with some new training, but you’ve no spare funds to invest in it. Or you’ve got a new business you’re trying to get off the ground, with all your funds tied up in critical areas. Or maybe you’re out of work and struggling to pay for necessary (and not-so-necessary) services. You’ve got little money, but a lot of time. What to do? Well, you could always start skill swapping – trading the skills you have to offer for skills you want to avail of.
Skill swapping is nothing new, but it’s gaining popularity due to the current economic climate, and the exponential rise of social networking. People are registering on sites like www.swapaskill.com, and www.favourexchangeireland.com to find other active swappers, or posting ads on Gumtree and social networks like Twitter to suggest a trade.

What skills or talents do you have that you could swap for something you need? You could trade anything from ironing, to performing music, to cooking/baking – be creative! Make a list of what you can offer and what you’re looking for, and start telling people.

Some things to consider:

What basis of exchange will you use? Monetary value of the time exchanged? Or a straight hour-for-hour swap? Or project for project? You might want to allow for different hourly rates, or you might decide that an hour of each person’s time is equal. Get it agreed before you begin to ensure everyone’s happy. And if you’re trading a business/professional skill on a regular basis, seek proper tax advice to keep yourself right.

Get recommendations or evidence of the skill you’re bartering for, if it’s someone whose work you’re not familiar with.

Don’t limit yourself geographically – with social media, VOIP/video conferencing and screen-sharing software (such as Skype’s or join.me), you can do a lot via the internet.

Don’t overcommit – it’s easy to get carried away with enthusiasm, but there are only so many hours in the day, and you’re committing twice – as provider and as recipient!

What to swap

Of course, you can apply the barter approach to other things too, when money’s tight. Home-swap holiday, anyone? www.intervac-homeexchange.com is a popular site. If you don’t want to swap your home, you can swap your skills for accommodation (and maybe free meals) in your home country or somewhere more exotic. You can house-sit, pet-sit, teach a language or anything else homeowners are willing to host you for – check out Workaway, Wwoof.netHouseCarers.com and Nomador.

Or how about a swap-shop, like when you were kid? Host one at home, or use a site like swapright.com (goods, services). Consider the assets you have that you could swap – time, skills, home, stuff. All is well in the barter economy!

“Are you trying to wreck the actual economy?!”

I recently mentioned skill swapping as a tactic small/bootstrap businesses might want to consider using during a talk on social media for business. I later got a rather tetchy message on Facebook asking was I seriously suggesting a return to a barter economy. Now, given that I’d briefly mentioned skill swapping in the middle of a presentation highlighting various ways businesses can use social media to boost their operations and thus income, I can only imagine this person tuned the rest out in indignation. But to pre-empt the question here, this is my position: I love swapping money for quality goods and services from excellent, customer-centric businesses. I love a flourishing economy with lots of healthy job creation, and I don’t subscribe to any sort of ‘money is the route of all evil’ dogma. To me, money is just a vehicle for the exchange of energy. I do, however, believe that skill swapping can be an excellent opportunity for people when their lack of money makes them unable to acquire certain goods and services at all. Or, for business owners who are over capacity and want to avoid making redundancies. Or when someone’s trying to build experience but is stuck in the ‘can’t get hired without experience/can’t get experience without getting hired’ loop.

Many small business owners reading the online conversation chipped in with great examples of how skill swapping had helped them through their start-up stage – and some people, of course are interested in switching to a less money-centric way of living. I’ve added links to a few interesting articles below, if you’d like to read more about the trend.

As with anything else, it’s a case of making your own mind up about whether or not it’s for you – and again, do speak to an accountant/your local tax office about tax implications if you’re going to use this in a professional capacity. If you’ve got skill swapping experiences to share – good or bad, I’d love to read them in the comments section below!

Wishing you all the best with your career and/or business,


Further reading:

“Living without money and swapping skills” (www.bbc.co.uk)
“Save Money: Don’t pay for skills – swap them!” (MoneyMagpie)
“Forget money, pay with your skill” (Life and Style, The Guardian)
HMRC “VAT and barter transactions” info

Image credit: Delwin Stephen Campbell via Flickr

[A shorter version of this article was first published in Northern Ireland’s “Belfast Telegraph” and “Sunday Life” in February 2011, and was uploaded to www.facebook.com/careerbuilders with additional links and tips.]

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2 Responses

  1. I just found this while looking into this new (?) trend to swap almost anything. It is amazing to see how a state of crisis makes people reinvent and reuse things. I can’t say I find it incredible that someone thought you were trying to go against money by offering skill swapping as an alternative, unfortunately some people tend to find creative ideas are “against” other ideas instead of just a new, alternative path. Thank you Tracy.

    • Tracy says:

      Thanks for taking time to comment! You’re right – some people are stuck in ‘either/or’ thinking as opposed to considering a careful mix. And I think some people just hear words that are ‘triggers’ or ‘hot buttons’ and stop listening to the rest of the point being made, and thus hear a warped view of what it is you’re saying! Other people chimed in with examples of how it had worked well for them though, which was fascinating – definitely a growing trend! What’s your experience at Home for Home, are you seeing a bit increase? Would love to hear!

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