Exchanging Services: Another Form of Payment?

Barter-SystemA freelance translator’s business is pretty clear: you do the job, you issue an invoice, and then you get paid. You have rates for each specific service you offer and you run your work smoothly and hope to face no complications.

However, we all have friends and family members who, sooner or later, will require our services. From my past experiences, I can honestly say that doing business with close friends and family members has given me a hard time, every time. I don’t know if this is the case in other countries, but it is certainly the case here in Lebanon. I have heard that from many of my friends as well, and I have been put in such awkward situations where if you charge your normal rates, your friends and family members would feel like you’re robbing them, and if you charge nothing at all, it would really be unfair to you. After all, you did allocate time for the task and you did do your job duly and properly, putting in all the effort needed.

Having been through that, I have learned how to deal with such situations. I wouldn’t want to say that I learned the hard way, but I will look at the glass half full: I have learned valuable lessons and I am glad they came sooner rather than later.

Whenever I encounter such a situation now, I obviously get asked how much I charge. If the client (who is a friend or a family member in this case) cannot, for some reason, afford to pay, or for another reason, thinks I charge too much (I don’t know why many people here in Lebanon have that perception, although when it comes to the services they provide, they also charge high rates; For me, I’d gladly pay full price for the service if it was 100% professional), I move to Plan B: amicably exchange services. By exchanging services, I mean assist the client linguistically, and in turn the client would offer their services. This form of doing business is conveniently called “the barter system”.

In this context, I will give a more concrete example: A good friend of mine (who also happens to be my hairstylist), was working on the expansion of his business and decided to develop a professional website. Obviously, he turned to me for that. I gladly accepted the job, and informed him of the rates for all the services to be provided. We agreed on a specific amount to be paid, which of course did not cover the entire project, as he was unable to pay more, and I totally understand that given he is my friend. The remaining amount to be paid was actually paid, wait for it, in services! He was open to the idea of actually styling my hair on a few occasions, free of charge. How cool is that?

It is noteworthy that if I encounter such a situation with a client who is a complete stranger, I wouldn’t handle it the same way. I would ask for a full price and gladly decline the project if the client was unable to afford my services.

I don’t make discounts and I don’t think any translator should, either. However, I do understand that not all people can afford our services, especially individuals, and if they happen to be friends or family members, then why not ask for their services in exchange of yours? I do believe it is a form of payment: an indirect one!

Have you ever encountered such a situation? If yes, is there another way in which you handle it? Please feel free to share your experience!



1 Comment
  • Ana

    It’s not just in Lebanon, here in Uruguay people always think your rates are high. I think your approach is great and I will think of it if I find myself in a similar situation. One thing I recommend, and though it may sound obvious, is that when you make a discount (to a close friend/relative, I’ve learned that those are the only ones you should be giving discounts to) you should tactfully mention it, lest they think the reduced rate is your normal rate and expect to be charged that in the future, or tell someone else that you charge xxx.

    February 21, 2015 at 7:28 am Reply

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