Sunday, February 12, 2006

Should I Ever Barter Away My Stained Glass Art Or Should I Hold Out For Cash?

In the past, we’ve, of course, had many occasions to make cash deals on our stained glass art and occasionally we’ve had a chance to barter our stained glass art for goods and services. Over the course of years, we’ve had some barters and trades that worked out well, but many trades seemed to go sour.

Most started out with each party having the best of intentions to do right by the other, but our experience’s were that each time the trade or barter was made, our stained glass went right out at the start of the trade and then we usually got our part of the trade after the fact. As a result, the folks we traded with were always sure of what they were getting, but we never seemed to know exactly what we would get, so we ended up getting disappointed most times.

As we’ve entered into these non-cash deals, we’ve developed three simple rules or guidelines to help us avoid the bad deals, while leaving the door open for the good ones.

Rule 1 : What To Trade For

We’ve learned that if we’re not careful, we could end up trading away all the work we could possibly do and leave ourselves with no more materials to make more glass pieces. So this first rule helps us to avoid trading away more than we can afford. As stained glass artists, we know that 10 to 20% of the retail price of a window is the cost of the materials that go into the window and the rest of the price reflects the cost of our labor and some profit for the company. So we’ve adopted the policy that we never trade away the cost of the window. We will make a trade, but not at our own expense. So when we make a deal, we agree that at least 10 or 20% of the trade be in cash, to cover the cost of materials. And we put the cash back into the business for the purpose of purchasing replacement goods. This keeps us from losing on the deal, in the event that what we trade for ends up with little or no value to us.

Back when we first started doing windows, we had a friend who wanted a specific design. She drew a sketch of a very nice pattern which was an amalgam of three different designs she had seen. We agreed that the panel would be about a thousand dollars (which was low for the amount of work) and we started building the panel. Now, up to this point, the window was going to be a cash deal, very straight forward, very clean. But once I had half the window cut out, her husband decided to get into the act and turned the deal into a trade. He was very aggressive in his negotiating skills and I was a wimp. He beat me down on price from $1000 to $300. Why I ever agreed to that change still confuses me, but then he took the cash away from the deal and made it a trade for construction parts that he had lying around. The deal went from bad to worse! I was already committed to the window since the glass was cut, so I allowed the deal to go downhill. I ended up spending $300 on solder for the window (solder had temporarily jumped in price) and I got what the husband valued as $300 worth of construction parts. They really were pretty much worthless. But the deal taught me several valuable lessons. The most important was rule one: Know What To Trade For. I had learned to spell out what the trade was to be, how much cash would be involved, and to get a deposit or the entire balance of the cash part of the deal before cutting any glass.

Another instance vividly illustrates what NOT to trade for. We’ve learned that whenever someone comes to us for classes or to get a stained glass window built and they start whining about cost, or acting “poor mouth” and then they advance the idea of a trade, we ALWAYS lose on the deal.

April was a good example of this type of bad deal. She came and started to take classes. But she immediately began wondering if she could make payments instead of paying for class up-front. We agreed and then the next week, she advanced the idea that maybe she could trade for half of the cost of tuition. We asked what she had in mind and she told us about these beautiful candles she made. So we decided to allow the trade. She traded us two candles which she felt were worth the $40 of class she was trading for. I would have valued them at $10 total, but we’d already entered into the trade and felt committed. So we allowed to let the trade stand. The candles, while overvalued on her part, also had another problem. They stunk! We couldn’t be in the same room with them and we gave them away to someone who didn’t find them offensive. That deal started out badly and we allowed it to continue, not putting an end to it when we began to feel taken advantage of. We’ve since found that all those type of deals have been bad for us, both in the trade itself and also in the bad feelings it generates in us. It damages our faith and trust in others when we get ripped off. A footnote to this instance, when April quit coming to class, she left owing us almost as much money as she had paid for her classes.

Rule 2: Get Your End First

It’s human nature to be quite excited while you’re about to get something, but to lose interest once you’ve gotten your side of the deal. The donkey who follows the carrot on a stick is a good example. As long as that carrot hangs out there nearly within reach, the donkey will keep moving, but as soon as the carrot is gone, the donkey stops. We even lose some of our enthusiasm for completing a project when we’ve been paid, but we usually have plans and patterns that have been set in advance, so our part of a trade or a business transaction continues on whether there is a promise or a reward.

This isn’t the case with folks we’ve traded with. So we’re fighting two negatives if we don’t get our part of the trade up front. First we’re dealing with something (an item or service) which is sight unseen and we’re fighting the other persons natural loss of enthusiasm for the trade because they’ve already gotten what they wanted.

A good example of a positive barter was when we traded for some essential oil diffusers for Christmas presents with a client. We got about $400 worth of product in trade for some work we did for them. Over the course of the year, we were able to complete their design and get their windows installed for them. Then at Christmas time the next year we traded for some essential oils for the balance of what they owed us. This was a good trade because it allowed us to save on the costs of Christmas presents for two years and it got them a beautiful entryway which will give them years of enjoyment.

A trade which didn’t go so well involved a custom rocking chair built by a friends brother. The trade went fairly smoothly except, we didn’t like the custom rocking chair once it was completed. It was too high, and didn’t rock right. It was beautiful and we gave it to my sister and her husband. They loved it, he was taller and the rock of the chair was just right for him. In this case, the deal went just as it should have, but we were just trading for something sight unseen.

Rule 3: Give More Than Expected, Lower Your Own Expectations

To really get a deal to work in the favor of both parties, you’ve got to give more than the other guy expects, always trying to make the deal better for them. And you’ll be less disappointed when you lower your own expectations. When I dealt with the husband who traded construction parts to me, I learned that many times, the other guy doesn’t care if you get a good deal. This man was only interested in getting a good deal for himself, and he did. But I never traded stained glass with him again!

A good barter arrangement is one where both parties are concerned with the others feelings. When we made a trade with an artist friend, some large windows for a painting, the deal changed several times. They agreed to pay for the materials and we would get two paintings, based on the amount of time that it would take to build both of the art projects. She later decided that two paintings was too much so we agreed to get one and some design time on glass projects. When it turned out that the completed painting couldn’t be published in the magazine we had thought it would be placed in, we felt that the ultimate value of the painting was greatly diminished. So the deal did continue to go downhill, to become less valuable to us, through no one’s fault, just circumstances. But we had already lowered our expectations and our friend had become a greater friend and we have enjoyed many hours doing art projects together.

We have another friend, whom we build pieces for on a fairly regular basis. The trades never go well for us, she forgets that we have credit with her and she wants more glass, we will never get “even” but we’ve lowered our expectations. We know her, know she “needs” the pieces we trade with her and figure that the work we do for her is more a gift than a trade.

If you can get to this point, where you expect little in a trade, where it’s more about opportunity, art and building beauty, bartering might work out for you. If you find yourself feeling ripped off, you should probably avoid trading your art and stick to cash deals. Even they will occasionally go south on you.
Trading stained glass for products and services has very often been a way for others to obtain the glass that they want, when they really wouldn’t have been able to afford it for cash. It has seldom been a good way for us to fill our bank account, but it has often been a way for us to develop relationships with others that have become dear to us and has become a way for our art to be seen by others. It very often leads to other deals we would never have imagined, providing us with sales in the most unlikely places. It’s like that scripture about casting thy bread upon the waters and it will return to you ten fold. A good trade is like that. It returns to us rewards we never would have imagined.

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