Calculating the "real" percentage of business you conduct in barter


Honestly I think this is probably the most important article I’ve written to date.  Please check it out and post questions/comments below.

When you are conducting business, it’s important to know how your money comes and goes.  One of the things I keep my eye on is what percentage of my total business I do in barter.  Exactly what the ideal percentage is will vary and could be a good topic for another article.  What I want to concentrate on right now is how to put together an accurate calculation.  What really matters is your percentage of profit that is cash vs. barter, not what your percentage of sales is.

Unfortunately I’ve been operating on incorrect figures in this area for years.  In order to figure out how much cash profit and how much barter profit I made, I looked at the percentage of sales in the two areas first.  For the purposes of this article let’s say I did 90% of my sales in cash and 10% in barter.  I would then take my total profit and apply those same percentages to see how much cash profit I made and how much barter profit I made.  There are two things that are very wrong with that calculation:

  1. Your profit margin for cash and barter may be different.  Even when you are charging your clients the same either way (which is what you SHOULD ALWAYS DO) your margin could be different because (for example) it may be that you sell different products/services that have different profit margins to your cash and barter clients.
  2. As a general rule your expenses for both cash and barter sales are in cash.  If you spent 100% barter to earn barter then your barter sales would not effect your cash profits, BUT BECAUSE YOU SPEND CASH to earn barter, for an accurate calculation of your cash and barter profits you need to adjust your cash profits down and your barter profits up.

That second item on my list here was difficult for me to wrap my brain around.  Here are some numbers to help take this concept from abstract to concrete:

Cash sales = $900,000
Barter sales = $100,000
Total sales = $1,000,000

Just to keep this simple I’m going to keep the profit margin the same for cash and barter.

Total profit = $200,000
Profit margin (cash and barter) = $200,000/$1,000,000 = 20%

Unadjusted cash profit = $900,000 x 20% = $180,000
Unadjusted barter profit = $100,000 x 20% = $20,000

Again, just to keep things simple, let’s say that all expenses for cash and barter sales were paid in cash.

Cash expense for barter sales = $100,000 x 80% = $80,000

Next you adjust your cash and barter profit based on your freshly calculated cash expenses

Adjusted cash profit = $180,000 – $80,000 (cash expense for barter sales) = $100,000
Adjusted barter profit = $20,000 + $80,000 (cash expense for barter sales) = $100,000

Here’s the IMPORTANT PART…. although your sales were 90% cash and 10% barter your profits were 50% cash and 50% barter.

It takes time to barter


An important cost of barter that many people (including myself) forget to factor in is the time that I spend on it.  It takes a lot of time to put a deal together.  If you are like me, you’ve usually got 20 deals going at the same time so it really ads up.  Some of the things that I spend time on include:

  • Staying on top of what is available in my barter exchanges
  • Calling on folks in my barter network to put together deals
  • Posting to craigslist and following up on responses
  • Work to recruit new members into my barter exchanges
  • Work recruiting new direct barter partners
  • Time spent looking for good ways for my barter partners to spend credit they have with me
  • Extra book-keeping to keep the records straight
  • Ongoing help/training I give to everyone I ever talk to about barter

When recruiting a new barter partner I think it’s a good move to point out to the prospect that you are talking to that barter is not as simple as cash transactions.  They need to know that they will need to invest some time into barter in order to reap the rewards.  All of that being said, it truly is a labor of love for me.  <grin>  I’m a barter addict and it rare for me to resent the time I spend on it.

Don't demand your rights when you barter

Angry Brunette Through A Fisheye Lens

That sounds strange doesn’t it?  Why would I encourage you not to demand your rights?  This is America!  The land of rights and liberties!  Here’s where I am coming from:  Your goal with barter partners is to establish and maintain life-long relationships.  Generally speaking digging in your heals and demanding your rights is not a good way to encourage that.  I want to be my barter partner’s favorite business person.  Sometimes…that means overlooking where they may have fallen short of my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong here…I’m not advocating that you let yourself be used as a doormat.  What I’m saying is that I try to give my barter partners a little extra leeway with how they provide their services.  In the long run you more than make up for it simply because you are bartering with them instead of paying cash.  That being said, if you just plain get a bad deal, you can’t ignore that.  If a serious problem crops up talk to your barter partner and if you can’t work it out take it to your barter exchange (if you used one).  Your last resort is court, but I have to tell you that my experience has been that even when you win in court you lose when you consider your time and the chance that you won’t even collect what was awarded.  It’s much better to be a little flexible and get most of what you want than to fight tooth and nail for every scrap you deserve and ruin a relationship forever.