Barter for my kid's College Education?

I’ve got three kids in grade school and no college savings to speak of.  That being said of course I want to give my kids all the advantages in life that I can.  High on that list would be a college education that does not burden them with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars of debt on graduation day.  So my question to all of you wonderful barter fanatics with a whole lot more barter experience than myself:  How would you pursue bartering for college?

The good news is that my “real” business is online marketing.  Building, maintaining and promoting websites is something that every university needs.  My guess is that bartering with government agencies would be difficult/impossible so I shouldn’t bother with state schools.  I’m thinking that I should make a list of private institutions, ideally in my state that are “drivable” and start right now making calls and looking to make  a deal that will allow me to earn credit with them that will accrue over the years.  Then come high school graduation I can tell my kids they can go to any school they want as long as it’s the one I have my deal with.  The flaw with my plan is that it’s my understanding that most private schools have plenty of money.  It’s been my experience that folks with plenty of money don’t usually want to bother with the extra work it takes to barter.  Another problem is that a college education is more expensive than many websites are.  Even if I had a deal conducting $10k worth of work every year from now until when my twins leave for college, that’s only 8 years from now.  $80k doesn’t pay for whole college education for even one student does it?  I’m thinking that I’ll need to find at least one school for each of my kids that would want to do a lot of trading. 

Ideas?  Have any of you ever done this?  Please send your inspirations my way and I’ll be happy to share them.  Better yet….does anyone have contacts at colleges that would be in a position to discuss barter?

Beyond your broker

Of course one of the many luxuries of membership in a barter exchange is your broker.  Your broker is there to help you.  One of the main things they do is help you find the deals that you are looking for.  That being said I would like to caution you to not be overly dependant on your broker.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my brokers and (I hope) they love me.  What I’m saying is that they are only human.  They usually have many members assigned to them and it’s very difficult for them to keep track of everyone.  Here are a couple tips to make sure that you get the most out of your exchange while helping to take a load off your broker:

  1. There is nothing wrong with calling up your broker and seeing if they have a specific service available.  Before you do that though I would recommend that you look at your exchange’s online directory.  It’s very likely that that’s exactly what your broker was going to do anyway.
  2. Call other members directly.  I’ve found on numerous occasions that a member has told the exchange that they are limiting their trade volume, but if you call them direct they are happy to make a deal beyond the limit they told the exchange.  Even if your broker says that a particular member isn’t doing much trade, give them a call.  I’ve found as a business owner that it’s very difficult to turn away a new potential client and there is a good chance the member you call will feel the same way.
  3. Of course just because your broker says that they don’t have a particular service available doesn’t mean that you can’t still barter for that service.  Don’t just accept that “no.”  It doesn’t take much time to call or email 5 local vendors of that particular product/service and offer to make a trade.  Most won’t accept, but some will.  Some will be interested enough that they will join your exchange giving you a nice little commission.
Bottom line:  Don’t just be a consumer of barter services from an exchange and don’t be completely dependent on your broker.  Barter is a relationship adventure.  Dive in.  The water’s fine.

Including materials in a trade

Most folks in the barter world trade the entire cost of a product or service, including the cost of materials used in the production of the product/service.  Common examples of this would be the cost of goods sold for a bartering retailer, food cost for a restaurant, or labor cost for employees when a service is rendered.  That being said, there are a few industries that often charge cash for materials and only barter their labor.  Common examples of this would be contractors like painters or carpet layers.  They often want cash for paint or carpet.  Another example would be auto mechanics that barter for their labor but charge cash for parts.

So….what is one to do if they have much to barter and little to no cash?  How can you put together a trade in these industries that covers the materials?  Here are a couple angles that I’ve used successfully in the past.

Try CraigsList
Many industries have been trained by their barter exchanges to charge cash for materials.  In those cases you will pretty much never find someone who will conduct a 100% barter deal so don’t waste your time looking within the exchange.  Go strait to the barter section of and make sure that you state in your post that you are looking for a trade that will include materials.  You can offer to exchange any products/services available in your barter exchange to the seller for their services including material costs.

Trade with your existing clients
I recently was looking for someone who would paint the interior of my home and include the paint in the trade.  It turns out that painters are very used to barter, but rarely include paint in their deals.  After looking unsuccessfully for quite a while I remembered that one of my existing clients that I hadn’t worked with in a while is a painter.  I called them up and they agreed to do the job 100% on trade.   Normally they would not have accepted an offer like this but because we already had a relationship in place they were more open to it.  It appears that the trade will revitalize our relationship and we should do more cash work down the road too.

Buy your own materials
A friend of mine is convinced that it is cheaper for him to go buy his own car parts when he needs a repair than buying the parts directly from the mechanic.  Personally I don’t do this.  Aside from unsettling his relationship with his mechanic, he has also sometimes purchased the wrong parts.

As usual, please post back other ideas that you’ve used to conduct trades that include materials.

Input needed: online barter rating service?

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to ask some of my barter partners to write up a little testimonial about me to tell potential new barter partners what it’s like to trade with me.  Now that I’ve finally had the time to think about actually acting on this idea, a new bigger idea has hatched:  If this would be useful to me then it would probably be something that other traders would want to.

Do you folks think it would be useful to set up a new area of the barterfanatic website (that would be free for the foreseeable future) that would allow folks to post feedback about what it’s like to barter with you?  Feedback could be posted about direct trade or trades through any exchange.  Think of it as a cross between the Yelp and Ebay feedback systems, only specifically for barter.

The up-side to this idea would be very good.  For example…I just made a trade yesterday which involved me driving down to San Francisco, picking up a flat panel TV, and giving the gentleman an IMS gift certificate.  He’s never used IMS before and we couldn’t even access his new account while I was there because it was a Saturday and my/his broker needs to activate his account before he can use the website.  Bottom line:  He was taking a pretty big leap of faith with me seeing that he didn’t know me and we hooked up on CraigsList.  I bet he wondered if he just got ripped off as I drove away with his TV.

I came up with two potential down-sides. One of course is that people could post negative feedback about you (that is true or fictional).  My experience with the world says that if you are a good business person, for the most part you will get positive feedback.  Of course you can’t make everyone happy all the time.  Most people understand this and the occasional negative feedback shouldn’t be held against you as long as it’s not a consistent thing.  The bigger down-side that I thought of is that exchanges are so territorial that they might not want to tell their members about a system that appeared to legitimize trade through any system other than their own.

Any thoughts on this idea?  There would be a significant investment on my part if I was to build such a system and I’d love to hear what you think before I spend the money.  Please use the comment system below to let me know your thoughts.