Work for perks

I’ve been thinking about ways that people can get rewarded for doing small jobs that aren’t suitable for formal contract-based renumeration. There’s lots of reasons you might find yourself, as a creator of THINGS, in this situation: you’re hunkering down in a recession-proof job and have some spare time but it’s not appropriate to be taking freelance work; your client doesn’t have much money; you don’t feel comfortable taking money from someone for a little job.

As you might have guessed from the name of this post, I’m pondering the idea of doing “work for perks”. This is simply swapping what you have to offer for what someone else has to offer. If you’re a web developer, you might do your local pub’s website for a free lunch every week; if you’re a suit maker, you might let someone have a suit in return for doing your tax returns.

Before you swoop in with denunciations and accusations of naivety and plain ridiculousness, think about this: it costs you less to peddle the service that you’re good at than someone else thinks it is worth (or they’d never pay your exorbitant bills); it costs your customer less to provide you with your free lunch than it would cost you to buy it. In effect, swapping your services provides you both with things that you might otherwise not be able to afford; certainly, you’re getting the service for a much smaller cost to you than you’d manage otherwise. This doesn’t even mention the fact that if you don’t receive income, you don’t have to pay tax on it (hmm… chokey chokey).

So, what d’ya think?



  1. Posted March 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good idea and one that is already fairly common with small businesses.
    Some examples off the top of my head:
    My dad sorted out his accountant’s network in exchange for getting his taxes done.

    When I managed a snooker club I would exchange a few games with a local taxi driver to get staff home

    I currently swap fencing instruction for self defence coaching with a friend of mine, with each attending the other’s classes.

    The only issue is setting an acceptable value on the exchange. Is you doing my website worth lunch? Or perhaps it’s dinner for you and a friend?

    Finding that common ground requires more negotiation than straight cash billing, but I agree, bartering services is much more fun and stops the state from getting their hands on a chunk.

  2. Posted March 17, 2009 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    @james, good to see it’s not a mad idea!

    On the subject of whether one side’s swap is worth the other’s, it seems like it’s up to you to offer whatever you think you could give up for whatever the other person wants/is offering. Contrast this to the standard situation – you both ask the other person to give something up (usually an amount of money).

    I guess this moves the burden of setting value onto the beholder rather than the purveyor.

  3. Posted March 17, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    It is a good idea; not new, as you know. Where things become more complex is when you try and expand them beyond 1:1 – I want fencing lessons, James wants his website designed: I can’t do that, but you can… so I offer you free lunches from my pub so you’l do his website for my fencing lessons.

    It also becomes different when rather than exchanging services (which cost me time) rather than products (the lunch – for which I have to pay *cash* for the raw ingredients).

    Currently, I tend to give time to organisations/people… I don’t ask for much back, because the sort of things I tend to want are skills (which are fun to teach yourself) or toys (which you sadly have to pay cash for).

  4. Martin Budden
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The idea (Local Exchange Trading Systems – LETS) has been around a while, see:

    “In the United Kingdom, an estimated 40,000 people are now trading in around 450 LETS networks in cities, towns and rural communities across the UK.”