Web developers, like many technical professionals, have to be objective and follow a rational process. Of course, so do business owners if they wish to see their practice succeed. Sometimes however, a good sense of intuition can help us decide on a decision which may have been rational at the time, but could turn out much worse than anticipated. At WebCakes, our “spidey-senses” have gone off loudest when we’re approached by individuals looking to exchange services.

The bartering system is as old as time itself. It was derived in a time where traded items were of concrete value, and services gave concrete solutions to your needs. In fact, one of my very first websites was an exchange service. I personally loved the concept, because it brought likeminded people together who saw value in bartering. I don’t disagree with the concept of trading services on an equal playing field.

However, there is a thin line between people who respect exchanging services, and those who have hijacked this system for selfish purposes. I am referring to people who want something, for nothing.

WebCakes is a young company, and we’re young and impressionable. We’re open to new ideas and are interested in change (See Post #2 of this miniseries). So you can imagine we’re approached often by advertisers, marketers, and resellers with their own projects. Respectfully, we almost always decline.

The first advertiser (Let’s call him “Ed”) approached us with his own newsletter & distribution project. It was built an a much older engine, with a theme to match, and housed something along the lines of 10,000+ articles. In return for us converting this to a modern, robust solution, Ed explained he’d compensate us with advertising. His advertising numbers were strong, and as advertising was our company’s weakest point, we agreed on a compromise. We’d provide an initial charge for the migration of the old website to a newer platform with a redesign, and from that point on we’d trade services. Ed had plenty ideas of expanding the website, so that was a lot of work on our end, but damn it.

Some readers are undoubtedly already baffled by why we would have agreed to such a one-sided deal. A quality website is a concrete product – advertising is often subjective and hard to effectively measure. Even at this point our intuition was screaming at us. You have to understand that on a logical level, it still looked promising. Even if months of development went into Ed’s site, a few good contracts would have shifted the agreement in our favour.

Fortunately for us, the red flags came up for us before actually starting. The distributed posters themselves were disappointing, and Ed conveniently “forgot” our compromise and expressed poorly-feigned surprise when we sent the invoice.  I’ve never seen James’s beard turn so red. Needless to say, we are no longer working with Ed.

This is not to say that all exchanges are a bad idea. In fact, we recently came to an agreement with another development firm concerning commission-based payment, and our intuition couldn’t be more satisfied. So my advice is, when approached by someone wishing to exchange services, ask all the right questions. Even if the numbers add up, listen to your gut instinct. How do you personally feel about that person and their practice? Do you think they’re as passionate as you are? Do you really see them going out of their way to deliver what their promising? If so, sweet deal. If not, save yourself from a world of hurt and walk out.