The Perils and Pitfalls of Bartering

By Carolyn Campbell

My advice to healing practitioners struggling to grow their practice is “stop bartering.” If you’re muttering, “what, are you crazy?” keep reading. This article is for you. Bartering is quite pervasive in the healing community, yet practitioners wonder why they are barely surviving. Even more alarming is the number of women versus men who barter.

Does any of the following sound like you?

  • “I think health care should be available to everyone.”
  • “I don’t want to gauge people for health care.”
  • “My clients don’t have the money. I want to help them out.”
  • “If we lived in a barter economy everyone would be taken care of.”
  • “I wanted my house painted anyway.”

The reliance on bartering often masks a more destructive belief. Practitioners who do a lot of bartering are often afraid that people won’t come if they charge what they’re worth. And yet, when you start to charge more (or for some, charge at all), a curious thing happens. More people come. And in many cases, they take their health care more seriously.

I have one client who had been struggling as a practitioner. When her patients mentioned money problems, she’d reduce her rates instantly or offer to trade for services. One day, a patient came in quite excited about her brand-new car with a DVD player and leather seats. My client was floored. “They said they had money problems,” she said. “And today she comes in a brand-new car and I’m struggling to pay my bills.”

As we talked, she realized how much she was transferring her own fears about money on to her patients. She believed that if she charged more, they would leave. And, by doing so she was giving her work away and barely getting by.

Here are a few ways to move away from bartering to charging your worth-

Ask yourself, why are you bartering?

First, and foremost, if you serve patients with financial challenges, do it intentionally.

I strongly believe in offering support to people with financial challenges. It’s important though, to be clear when and how you do. It might be a percentage of your client base. Perhaps you offer a fee range. Maybe you offer a special payment plan. Or perhaps you donate your time to a charity. Using the suggestions can help you determine how to integrate contribution into your practice with intentional integrity.

If you’re afraid of charging money, take a candid look at your business costs.

Use Excel, QuickBooks, or Quicken to add up how much it has cost you to get where you are AND what it costs to simply be in business. Then add your living costs including your own health care and time off. And don’t forget putting away money for the future. Then divide that by the number of clients you can see in a week. Are your fees reflecting your costs?

If you need more clients, look at other avenues to connect.

It can be intimidating to put yourself out into the world. Yet, as a business owner, you must. Introduce yourself to people you respect. If appropriate, offer them a session. Consider places you might speak or have peopled “sample” your work. Just remember, if you keep giving yourself away for free, people will see no reason to pay.

If you are enabling your “caretaker,” stop it like you would a bad habit.

Take time to name the beliefs you have about abundance and asking for what you deserve. Write down things you can “do” differently to support new belief systems. Journal about how life might be different if you took the necessary actions to honor your intention. Why write them down? As you’re changing your beliefs and the behaviors that accompany them, writing provides an external structure to remind you of the changes you’re making, and why.

If you are exchanging services, reconsider the impact and implications.

When you trade there is an unspoken expectation that often muddies the intention of unconditional healing. Money maintains clean boundaries and establishes a clear patient/healer relationship—no strings attached. My suggestion: If you personally need treatment, pay for it. Feel what it’s like to honor your own needs and those of your healing practitioner. It will help you understand the value for your patients as well.

So, if your business is struggling to stay afloat, take time to look at other ways to grow. It may be outside your comfort zone at first, but in the end you’ll succeed in ways that support your own life while honoring your desire to be of greater service.


Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC. As a certified professional coach, Carolyn helps healing practitioners create successful businesses using their authentic strengths. Integrating business know-how, leadership, and creative outreach, she offers both individual and group coaching programs to suit the specific needs of her clients. She also brings practice-building lectures, workshops, and seminars to associations and schools.

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