Archives for March 2015

4 Easy Ways to Use Your Existing Customers To Grow Your Business

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Turn Customers into Ambassadors

Recruiting your customers to serve as brand ambassadors serves two important purposes. First, customer evangelists decrease your marketing spend, since every public mention they make of your company is one you didn’t have to pay for.

But they also improve your conversion rates. According to Nielsen, “Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.”

Getting customers to recommend your business to others requires two elements: an incentive to do and the structure to reward them. At The Barter Company, we offer clients $200 cash and $200 trade for all referrals on our Monthly Top 10 List. All other referrals pay out $100 cash and $100 trade. A free product or any other type of incentive that resonates well with your customers.

To facilitate the referral process, we use a contest that allows us to easily turn influencers into company ambassadors.  You can also take advantage of third-party integrations with companies like Salesforce, MailChimp, ExactTarget ExactTarget and others.

Interact with Customers in Real-Time

Of course, if you want customers to refer others to you, you have to be sure that they’re so in love with your product that a) they’ll be willing to go out of their way to encourage others to use it, and b) their reviews will be positive.

That’s where engaging with customers in real-time comes into play. When you’re directly in touch with your customers, they’ll tell you what they think and what issues they’re experiencing. You can then take this information and use it to make improvements in your product or processes so that you’re delighting your users, instead of merely accommodating them.

One area in particular where we focus on customer engagement is during the onboarding process. When customers are new to your product, a little hand-holding at the right moment can make the difference between someone who enthusiastically refers your solution to others and someone who never even converts off a free trial.

Poll Your Customers with Net Promoter Scores

You probably already know that customer surveys can play an important role in determining what issues your customers are experiencing and how you can make things better.

But the problem with the way most customer surveys are carried out is that they lack any level of sophistication. You set up a simple survey asking a few questions, and then all you get is the overall results. You can’t tell which of your participants are on the fence about becoming customers, and what it’ll take to get them to that next level. You can’t determine what it is that your ambassadors love about your company, or how you can use that information to recruit new users.

The solution is Zendesk’s new Net Promoter Score survey feature. These specially-designed surveys help you to determine how willing a customer is to recommend your product, as well as what hurdles are preventing other users from making referrals. For example, you can set up your survey to measure:

  • Why detractors (customers who gave your company a 0-6 rating) are having a bad experience.
  • What issues or elements are preventing passive customers (those who gave you a rating 7-8) from becoming active promoters.
  • Why your active promoters (as measured by a score of 9-10) love your company and recommend it to others.

You can also take things further by encouraging those who leave you a rating of 9-10 to share your product through the referral program you built using Ambassador. But even if you just stick to information gathering, the insights you can generate using this tool will give you more than enough ideas for the kinds of improvements that will lead to higher conversion rates.

Turn Customers into Walking Billboards

Finally, it might sound overly simplistic, but offer your customers – or anybody who requests one – a free t-shirt.  People love free things, making it possible to drive a ton of growth by giving away something as simple as a new shirt.

The easiest way to create a t-shirt giveaway program is to use a company like STARTUP Threads. Not only are their fees reasonable (t-shirts start at $7.75 and hoodies start at $23.00 a piece), they can also take care of warehousing your shirts and shipping them out when you request them (for an additional $3.75 fee). Taking advantage of this opportunity significantly cuts down on the amount of time you’d otherwise waste packaging and sending out each shirt individually.

If I could offer you one other piece of advice on running a t-shirt giveaway program, it would be to make it fun! Don’t buy the cheapest shirts you can get your hands on – invest in quality shirts that people will look forward to wearing. You can even get your customers involved in the design process. When you’re ready to create your shirts, ask for design suggestions and offer a reward to the winning submission. The more people feel invested in your giveaway program, the more likely it is that these feelings of loyalty will transfer over to your company as well.

None of these strategies are particularly time-consuming to implement, and the tools I’ve shared based on my experience at When I Work can make the ramping up process even easier. Give them a try today and watch your company’s growth take off!

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5 Overlooked Tax Deductions for Small-Business Owners

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Failing to claim all the tax deductions you’re entitled to is like flushing money down the toilet. As small-business owners prepare their taxes this year, it’s important they don’t miss any of these most commonly overlooked tax deductions, to avoid paying more money to Uncle Sam than necessary.

1. Home office deduction

Do you use a room in your home as your primary place of business, where you deal with patients, clients or customers? You may be able to claim a home office deduction, as long as you use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. That means using a room as both an office and a place for guests to stay, for example, probably disqualifies you.

If you qualify, you can begin to figure out how much you can deduct by either deducting actual expenses, or by using the IRS’s simplified method.

If you deduct actual expenses, only expenses incurred solely for the business part of your home will be eligible for full deductions (for example, painting or repairs in the area used for business). Indirect expenses — such as insurance, utilities, rent and general repairs — are deductible based on the percentage of your home used for business. Other unrelated expenses, such as lawn maintenance, are not deductible.

If you choose the simplified method, you figure your deduction by multiplying $5 by the square footage of the area of your home used for business. The IRS limits the area you can deduct under this method to 300 square feet, so the maximum simplified deduction is $1,500.

2. Startup expenses

You may be able to deduct expenses you paid to start your business, such as advertising, transportation, consultant fees, travel, employee training and wages, and legal and accounting fees.

Startup and organizational costs are usually considered capital expenses, which means you must amortize them — spread the deduction out over a period of years — rather than deduct them all at once in the year you pay them. However, you can deduct up to $5,000 in qualifying startup costs and $5,000 in organizational costs. The costs must be incurred in the year you started the business and before the day the business opened, according to IRS Publication 535.

Each $5,000 deduction is reduced by the amount by which your total startup or organizational costs exceed $50,000, and any remaining costs must be amortized over the next 180 months (15 years) of operation, beginning with the month after you started your business, according to the IRS. The details can get a little complicated, so it’s best to seek the help of a tax professional.

3. Auto expenses

Do you use your car at all for business? You may be able to deduct the costs of operating and maintaining the vehicle. You have a choice of ways to figure your deduction:

  • You can use the IRS’s standard mileage rate for each mile your car was used for business purposes. The rate for the 2014 tax year was 56 cents per mile.
  • Or you can deduct your actual car expenses for the year, which include gas, oil, tolls, lease payments, insurance, parking fees, registration fees, repairs and tires, according to the IRS.

Using the standard mileage deduction likely makes sense only if the total cost of all expenses is less than the deduction you’d get from taking the standard mileage.

What if you use the car for both business and personal driving? You can still take a deduction. The IRS says you just need to divide your expenses based on the actual mileage you used the vehicle for each. More details can be found in IRS Publication 463.

4. Losses on bad debts

Do you have bad debts or accounts receivable from customers that you know you cannot collect on? It’s not a total loss for your business, as it may be a deductible expense.

The IRS defines a bad debt as one that was created or acquired in your trade or business, or closely related to your trade or business, when it became partly or totally worthless. Types of bad business debts include loans to clients, suppliers, employees or distributors, and debts of an insolvent partner. They become bad debts only after you’ve tried to collect on them for a reasonable period of time and you’ve taken “reasonable steps to collect the debt but were unable to do so,” according to the IRS.

You can claim a deduction for a bad business debt only if the amount owed to you was previously included in gross income, according to the IRS.

5. Tax, legal and educational expenses

In general, the fees you pay to your accountant, lawyers or business consultants that are “ordinary and necessary expenses directly related to operating your business” are deductible in the tax year they were paid, according to the IRS. However, legal fees that are paid to acquire business assets are not deductible.

Other eligible deductions may include tax preparation fees paid in the previous year, licenses and regulatory fees paid to state or local governments, and expenses paid for the cost of education and training for your employees.

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Google Launches Small Business Initiative

View original story here. (from USA Today online)

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In 1995, when volunteers came together in Missoula, Mont., to build a carousel to give the community a place for “good, old-fashioned fun,” customers had to use old-fashioned methods, like telephone books, to find it.

The Internet was in its infancy, and a small business like A Carousel for Missoula didn’t have to worry about how it showed up in search engines and social media. Now, if a small business isn’t found when a customer searches on the map of their mobile phone or through the Web, they may never be discovered at all.

To combat this problem, Google is announcing Wednesday the launch of an aggressive new program to help small businesses get found online. Called “Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map,” Google has generated customized websites for virtually every town and city in the U.S. to enable local businesses to learn to improve the information that shows up on Google search, Google maps and Google+.

“People use Google for so many things, to find basic information,” said Jessica Coulter, director of operations for A Carousel for Missoula, who attended a pilot of the program last October conducted by the Missoula Chamber of Commerce.

“People find us when they say ‘What is there to do with kids in Missoula?’ or ‘What can you do in Missoula?’ When they can find that information easily on Google, it helps promote our business.”

In fact, studies show consumers are looking for more than just basic information when searching online or on maps, but also expect to find other information – such as business hours – and photos easily. According to research conducted by Google and research company Ipsos MediaCT, consumers are 38% more likely to visit and 29% more likely to consider purchasing from businesses with more complete listings.

“Small businesses have said that getting online is hard,” said Soo Young Kim, head of marketing for Google’s Get Your Business Online Program (www.gybo.com). In 2011, Google began conducting small business workshops in a number of cities. Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map grew out of that program as a way to reach more small companies.

“We’re using sophisticated technology on the back end to make it simple for small businesses to get online and create their listing,” said Kim. “Google has created over 30,000 websites to provide every business in every city a fast, free and easy opportunity to help them get found.”

Google is also working with local partners, such as Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Chambers of Commerce, SCORE chapters, to conduct training programs to assist small businesses in person. Local organizations serving the small business community can sign up to team with Google to host events and workshops in their area.

At a localized Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map website small businesses can:

• Learn how to put more information about their business into Google
• Get their company verified for Google searches
• Add information such as location, hours of operation
• Add photos to enhance the listing
• Get a diagnostic tool to see how they can improve their listing and visibility
• Get a one-year free website and domain name from Google partner StartLogic
• Learn about local training workshops and other resources

Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map is specifically aimed at helping small businesses. “Big businesses and big retailers are centrally managing listings to make sure they’re appearing on Google,” Kim said. “Small businesses need to be there – right next to them – when a consumer is searching. We don’t prioritize big retailers before small businesses. Both have the same abilities – to upload photos, listing, hours of operation, get reviews.”

“I don’t know if people were having trouble finding us before, but (this program) was good for us,” Coulter said. “Our hours vary seasonally, and we wanted to make sure that when they search for us, their phone says, ‘Open today from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.’ Now they get the most accurate information. We had never updated our hours in a way that would show quite so clearly.”

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9 Tools For Small Business Reputation Management & Brand Monitoring

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For many small businesses, dealing with an online presence can be a bit daunting. It can take a lot of time to maintain a website and a presence on various social media platforms. Many small businesses find it hard to simply maintain a Facebook page or Twitter account, let alone do them well. As a result, many businesses turn their social media management over to hired guns, many of whom seem to simply do the bare minimum: a post here, a tweet there, and that’s that.

But one element of a strong social and online presence that’s often forgotten is that of brand monitoring and reputation management. It’s not enough to simply post on your favorite social channels from time to tie. You need to keep your ear to the ground and find out what people are saying, or not saying, about you and your competition.

Here are 9 free tools that I use regularly (some have premium versions) to make sure I know what customers and others are saying about our business, allowing us to respond properly, while also learning where we can improve.

1. GOOGLE ALERTS

This is the granddaddy of all brand monitoring tools, but it’s important to set up these free Google Alerts so that you get an email notification any time someone mentions your business or something related to your business. Not foolproof, but a good starter. You can get them anytime Google finds a mention, or set it for reports once a day or once a week. I prefer the “as it happens” feature so that I can make sure I have the ability to respond in a timely fashion if need be. It might be a good idea to monitor common misspellings of your business name or your own name, as well.

2. TALKWALKER ALERTS

A few years ago there was talk of Google shutting down the Alerts product, and a lot of folks turned to Talkwalker Alerts. I’ve found that Talkwalker often finds more mentions than Google, so that’s a good thing. I use both, so quite often I’m getting some redundancies, but it’s worth it to make sure I’m covered. These two tools do a great job of any mentions on blogs as well as in news stories.

3. REPUTOLOGY

Reputology might be my favorite of the bunch because it specifically searches for mentions on review sites like Yelp, Foursquare, Google My Business, and other sites where customers have the chance to leave reviews. For some reason, neither Google nor Talkwalker alerts scour these sites. This is one where I use the free version, but a more robust premium version is available. As it turns out, while I was writing this blog post, two notifications came in: one for a good review, and one for a less than stellar review.

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This allows me to easily pass these reviews along to my coworkers, as well as to respond properly to the reviewer. We take negative reviews seriously, and want to use them as learning experiences. The notifications give me links so I can see the actual reviews where they are, or I can use the Reputology Dashboard to see them all together, regardless of which site they are on. This allows me to get a nice snapshot of how we’re doing. The dashboard also provides some analytics so you can measure your online reputation.

4. MENTION

Another free tool that offers a premium version, Mention does a great job of scouring the social web for mentions of your business. The biggest problem with the free version is that you are limited to getting only a certain number of notifications. I find that I run out of notifications each month because of how thorough it is, so have toyed with paying for the premium version.

5. SOCIAL MENTION

Social Mention is another free tool that combs through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites for business mentions. Plug in your name and set it up as an alert and you’ll start seeing how and when you’re mentioned. As an added feature, the tool also includes a sentiment analysis gauge so you can see if your mentions are positive, negative, or neutral. That said, I’ve found that like most sentiment analysis tools, that aspect of the tool isn’t very good, often marking positive mentions as either neutral or negative. There is also a keyword feature so that you can tell which aspect of your business gets the most conversation going.

6. PLATFORM SPECIFIC ALERTS

Less a tool than it is a setting, most platforms from Facebook business pages to Twitter and Google + will allow you to get some sort of notification, either through email or a smart phone app alert, when there has been activity on your pages, or if someone has tagged you. I rely on the smart phone alerts so that I can quickly check these mentions and respond, if need be. With very little intrusion, this can make your business look as if you are active online 24/7, which can impress your customers. When I respond to tweets or comments in the evening or on weekends, people are often pleasantly surprised.

And yes, I confess that I even responded to a tweet during my son’s wedding reception last week. It took all of 1o-seconds, and no one was all the wiser, since we were all using our smart phones to take pictures and videos of the reception anyway. I guess this makes me a bad dad, eh?

7. HOOTSUITE

While Hootsuite is primarily a tool for social management and engagement, it’s notifications of mentions on Twitter, Facebook, and more is really helpful. You can even set up a stream/column that searches specifically for your business name (or anything else related to you) apart form actual “@-mentions” on Twitter. And you can respond to mentions from right there in the Hootsuite app or dashboard. Again, I use the free version even though there is a nice paid-version available.

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7 Tips for Becoming an Expert Barterer

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When Logan Hale moved his 5-year-old company, V3 Media Marketing, from Los Angeles to Fort Collins, Colo., he needed traction in his new town. To get work and create relationships as soon as possible, he bartered his video production services in exchange for advertising, gym memberships and more.

The result? “I got in with businesses I might not have been able to talk to otherwise,” he says. “It was a good accelerator, a way to get me into the swing of [a new] community very quickly.”

Barter–the exchange of goods and services rather than money–can help your company at any stage, but there’s no question that it can be especially useful in the lean startup phase.

“We used to not choose a service provider who wouldn’t barter services with us,” says Miki Segal, chief marketing officer of Jmac Supply, a Valley Stream, N.Y., security-equipment supplier that has bartered with lawyers, accountants and others. “I could go as far as saying that these types of deals kept us alive in the earlier stages of our startup.”

The practice offers countless opportunities, but successful bartering deals start with who you know. When Britt Menzies launched her Atlanta company, StinkyKids, she bartered her paintings and T-shirts in exchange for web design, attorney fees, public relations and other services through personal contacts. “I made a list of all my friends and family members, people I knew in high school or in college or even went to camp with,” she says. “Then I found out what each of those people did for a living.”

Formal barter exchanges–paid membership organizations where you bank trade credits to use with other group members–take the practice to the next level, connecting startups with vendors and potential customers. Regional and national barter groups can be found through the National Association of Trade Exchanges.

“The primary reason any business participates in organized barter is to increase sales,” says John Strabley, CEO of IMS Barter, a national barter network based in New Berlin, Wis. “Doors open to business-to-business customers that haven’t traditionally been loyal patrons.”

That’s in part because barter exchanges connect a much broader array of businesses than most companies could find on their own. The other main benefit is that unlike in one-to-one trading, exchange members don’t have to trade with each other; instead, they can “sell” to one company and “buy” from another, depending on their needs, all using barter credits that are tracked independently by the exchange.

Want to get in on the barter game, either person-to-person or through an exchange? Here are some rules of the trade.

1. Be selective.

Trade only for what you actually need. “I bartered web-development services with a business coach, and we delivered on our end, but the coaching fell through. We kept rescheduling and postponing,” says Elise Whitworth, co-owner of Satdaya Studios in Hurricane, Utah. “On the other hand, if I bartered with a graphic designer, I would definitely use that. Or a bookkeeper: I would delegate that in a heartbeat.”

At the same time, offer only what you can give easily. Instead of liquidating excess inventory at a loss, Royce Leather, an accessories manufacturer in Secaucus, N.J., used its leather duffel bags, totes and wallets to tip delivery drivers and pay the janitor. “We transformed slow-turning goods into cash equivalents,” says marketing director Billy Bauer.

2.Tap the marketing potential.

Bartering isn’t only for products and services–it can get your foot in the door, too. That’s how Philadelphia’s MVP Interactive is building its sports-entertainment business, accepting season tickets and event passes in exchange for putting fan-photo kiosks in venues such as Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s also how Princeton, N.J.-based Resound Marketing signed its first restaurant clients. “We wanted to build a practice around food products and restaurants,” says co-founder and principal Kevin McLaughlin, explaining that the agency offered restaurants a discount “with the understanding that we’d increase that rate once we’d demonstrated value.” But when it came time to renegotiate, some restaurants couldn’t pay full price and instead offered credit for meals. Now Resound works on retainer for a combination of cash and credits; the latter are used for team and client lunches, happy hours, dinners and gifts. Restaurant clients “aren’t our most profitable accounts,” he says, “but they’re a hell of a good time to work on.”

3. Go beyond business.

Dan Cumberland, owner of Seattle’s Sparkfly Photography, trades event coverage, headshots and other camera work for yoga classes, massages and chiropractic care for himself and his wife, Stacia, Sparkfly’s business manager. He plans to use some of the bartered perks as gifts for interns, too. “By bartering for services we were already using, we’ve been able to offset some of our living and lifestyle expenses while we’ve been starting the business,” Cumberland says.

Trisha Craig, owner of Music Makers music school in North Hampton, N.H., trades lessons for cleaning services, farm-fresh vegetables and eggs, and fundraising for nonprofits she supports. In one case, she bartered with a young tech whiz who organized all her music in exchange for flute lessons. “The project was overwhelming for me but fun for him, and we were both thrilled with the exchange,” she recalls.

4.Make the price tag reflect real value.

When V3’s Hale bartered a video series for a local gym chain, he factored in not only the actual production costs but also “the usual profit portion of a standard budget,” he says. In trade, he got advertising on the chain’s website, a prominent sponsorship at an annual charity event and gym memberships for his staff.

“We made sure to do a true dollar-for-dollar barter of our services vs. their services,” he says. Doing so is key because otherwise, “it’s too easy to just say yes to offers that land in your lap, and then have to react and find value.”

Whitworth of Satdaya Studios used to offer discounts on the premise that a barter carries additional perks like publicity and networking. But now she’s back to valuing her services at the actual cost. “It sets the expectation that once the barter is over and they want to hire us, they can expect to pay that rate,” she says. “It also creates increased respect for our time, with a stronger sense that the value is high.” One more reason? “If the other party doesn’t come through on their end, we can charge them retroactively at our full value,” Whitworth says.

5. Get it in writing.

Draw up a contract and include the value, scope of work and, most important, deadlines. “I had a couple of instances where a [web design] firm I was working with got busy with their client work, and since my deal was purely barter, they bumped me to work on their billable client projects,” says David Menzies, a public relations consultant who owns Global Media Strategies in Raleigh, N.C. “That delayed my plans for marketing my business, which bled into my revenue stream.”

Meanwhile, if discounts are being offered, add a contract provision stating that “any discounts will go into effect only once the other party has completed their end of the deal,” Whitworth advises.

6. Track for taxes.

Barter deals may not be cash, but they still result in income and are taxed accordingly. Organized barter exchanges must report goods and services sold through barter to the IRS, and so must people and companies trading directly. So keep accurate notes about transactions on both sides of the trade, including the estimated market value and whether the service or product was work-related or not (e.g., a head-shot vs. a haircut).

Keep all receipts and invoices, and track related expenses on your end, since those, like all business expenses, can be deducted. More information can be found on the “Recordkeeping tips for barter transactions” page at IRS.gov.

7. Know when it’s time for a barter break.

Barter groups helped RoyalText.com build a client base for its text-message marketing campaigns. “The demand was overwhelming,” says Robert Livingstone, CEO of the Weston, Fla., company. However, he adds, it eventually became clear that clients take their campaigns more seriously “when they have skin in the game with real dollars.”

Mary Juetten, founder of Phoenix-based Traklight, which helps companies identify and protect their intellectual property, has bartered her time and services in exchange for access to conferences, workshops and exhibitions where she can promote her business. But she offers this caveat: “I volunteered for a conference because I wanted to hear the great content, and I was stuck at a door checking badges or at a table out of earshot, therefore defeating the purpose of the barter.”

Lesson learned. “Ask upfront what the trade is and be specific about your role,” Juetten advises. If it’s not a value-for-value proposition, skip it.

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7 Tips on Relationship Building With Your Trade Coordinator

Tips on Relationship Building With Your Trade Coordinator

Relationship With Trade Coordinator

• Make sure you know your barter number and pin (to access website and mobile apps)

• Keep her in-the-know with your spending and your needs

• Let her know what you typically pay cash for

• Call before spending ANY cash – Barter is Smarter!

• Keep in touch with your needs & wants

• If there is someone you think would be a great client, call her to refer (see Referral section)

• Give your Trade Coordinator feedback after doing work with another client

If you need your barter number or PIN, give us a call at (770) 591-4343.

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Tips For Traveling on Barter

Travel Tips

Spring and Summer are upon us so now is the time to share these helpful tips for traveling on barter:

1. You must complete a TBC Travel Request Form before our Travel Department can look into bookings. You can find this form on our website www.barterco.com or by emailing tammy@barterco.com or stephanie@barterco.com.

2. All reservations must be made through our Travel Department – if you reach out to location directly, they will book for cash.

3. We need AT LEAST a two-week notice for all reservations. TBC needs at least two (2) business days to respond to any travel request.

For any questions, please call our Travel Departement at (770) 591-4343 or login to www.barterco.com and fill out a Travel Request Form.

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Why Our Clients Love Barter

Check out these awesome reasons why our clients agree that “Barter is Smarter!”. For our complete library of client video testimonials, please click here.

 

“TBC has the best, most qualified staff in the industry with access to a wide variety of services both for business and personal use.” – Wally Beckett, Duffco Deals

“Use barter to pay for things you normally pay cash for!” – Judith Ann Elliott, Judith Ann Photography

“Barter brings you new customers.” – Mike Ford, Johnny’s New York Style Pizza

“Use barter to bonus your employees and get services you may need while keeping cash in your wallet.” – Andy Levine, Sixthman Cruises

“TBC allows you to pay a lot of expenses through barter, saving you cash! It’s also a wonderful way to entertain clients without reaching for your wallet.” – Lee Davis, Night Vision Outdoor Lighting

“The Barter Company helps with your bottom line!” – Vickie Brown, Faith Designs Florist & Gifts

“Barter the open weeks in your vacation rental or timeshare for products and services you need.” – Mona Reece, Media Mix

 

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