Archives for Business Sense

What Do Your Customers Need Now?

When did you last talk with your customers to see how they are doing and what they need? Their priorities may have shifted as they adapted to the changes brought on by the pandemic. Touching base regularly with customers to assess their pain points and share how your business may help is key to retaining their business and growing it.

There are many ways to reach out and get feedback including surveys, phone calls, and emails. At The Barter Company, we conduct an annual survey asking clients how satisfied they are with our service (93% in our most recent survey!), how we can improve, and if they would recommend us. We receive insightful information from the responses and use it to guide our business planning. However, you reach out to customers, consider these four tips for success.

 

Set a regular schedule to connect.
Determine a schedule to connect with customers – and stick to it. Plan monthly or quarterly calls or meetings and who at your company will connect with them. These can be with you, your leadership team, or your sales or customer service representatives. If you have too many customers to reach individually, consider an online update or email and provide a feedback form.

Do your homework.
Prior to connecting with customers, do your homework. Check their social media and websites to learn what they have been doing since you last talked or met. Have they launched new products or services? Have they changed or closed parts of their business? Researching in advance will help you be prepared for productive conversations and connections.

Assess their pain points and how your business can help.
When you talk with customers, seek to understand their successes and problems. Find out the following information in your conversation:

  • What are their biggest successes and challenges?
  • What contributed to the successes and challenges?
  • If they could change anything in their business, what would it be?
  • What kind of information, service, or product would make their jobs easier?
  • What can you do to help them in addition to what you are doing now?

Show customers you care.
When customers share feedback, reward that candor by following up with them about what you did to address the questions or issues they identified. Also be sure to show you care about them throughout the year. Take note of their organization’s key events or anniversaries. Send a congratulatory hand-written note or gift when they hit a big milestone and congratulate them publicly on your business’ social media.

Following these four steps to connect regularly and successfully with customers can make a big impact on your business relationships and help them grow.

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Atlanta Small Business Check-Up: Four Tips to Evaluate Marketing Methods

Each year, companies set goals and strategies to reach customers, increase sales, and improve efficiencies. As you kick off the year, include a marketing check-up for your business. When did you last review the effectiveness of your marketing messages and channels? Are you taking advantage of search engine optimization strategies and tools? What do your customers think about your company? Here are four ways to evaluate your marketing strategy and tactics and answer these important questions:

1. Connect with Your Customers

The start of a new year presents a great time to connect with customers. Develop and send a short email survey to learn what they are focused on in 2021 and what changes they made in response to the challenges 2020 brought. Include a question about how your company served them last year. The responses you receive will offer valuable insight and may offer testimonials you can use in your marketing efforts.

2. Review Website from a Customer Perspective

Review your company’s website from the perspective of your customers, both current and potential. Does your content and graphics clearly identify the services and products you offer and the benefit they provide? Do you have strong client testimonials listed on the site? Is it easy for customers to contact you? Ask a customer or two to visit your site and share what strikes them about your company as a result. Of course, you can use barter to provide them with something in exchange for their help!

3. List Your Company on Google My Business

Help potential customers find you easily via Google searches. On Google My Business, you can set up a free profile of your business to connect with potential customers on Google Search and Maps.  For small businesses that conduct most of their business in Metro Atlanta, this is a critical component of your Atlanta Small Business Check-up.

4. Your Atlanta Small Business Check-up should also include an SEO Audit

Search Engines rely on many factors to rank a website. A comprehensive SEO Audit will provide a clear and actionable list of recommendations to help improve.  You want your website to come up on the first page of responses when people search topics related to what your organization offers. To help that happen, you need to regularly update your site with key words that attract search engines’ attention. A search engine optimization (SEO) audit will identify how well your site is doing that and what words you should include. Learn more via the SEO Simplified in 30 Minutes webinar offered by SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

As part of your Atlanta Small Business Check-up, explore the marketing services that The Barter Company member organizations offer and check out video testimonials to learn other ways our clients have used barter.

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Use Barter This Holiday Season and Support Small Businesses in Georgia

The holiday shopping frenzy is almost upon us! Some experts predict families will spend more this year on toys and gifts in an effort to substitute for the lack of ability to go places and do things outside the home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Others believe families could spend less as they pull back due to reduced work hours or job losses. Barter offers a great way to acquire gifts for family members, employees, and customers without spending cash.

With more than 600,000 businesses registered in Georgia, you have many choices of where to spend holiday money, not to mention the seemingly endless online options. The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy estimates that there were 1.1 million small businesses in Georgia in 2019, which made up 99.6% of all businesses in the state. Clearly, small businesses are an economic powerhouse in the state, but many of them are hurting from reduced sales during this unusual pandemic-driven year.

Support small businesses as you shop this holiday season, particularly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, deemed “Small Business Saturday” by a major U.S. credit card issuer. Of course, you don’t have to charge your holiday purchases – use barter that day and every day to save cash. Check out our holiday Virtual Trade Show and Auction. Or, come visit us at our Holiday Showroom to view members’ offerings, including gift baskets, toys, sports memorabilia, electronics, and much more! The Barter Company can also help with planning Holiday parties (socially distant of course) and providing the perfect employee gifts and end-of-the-year thank you gift cards.

The Barter Company is the leading force in the barter industry with more than 2,000 businesses in Atlanta and the Southeast. It provides these companies and nonprofits with an alternative currency network by using barter dollars instead of cash to handle transactions. Consider how barter may be useful to find what you need for your family and business – without spending cash – during the holidays. Learn what products and services The Barter Company clients offer and explore how barter works.

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Local Businesses Use Barter and Barter Lines of Credit to Help Keep Doors Open and Save Cash

Many companies across a wide variety of industries are using their barter accounts and barter lines of credit to promote their businesses, secure equipment to make important operational changes, get repair work done at their facilities, and more. In fact, more than 2,000 businesses in the Southeast trade with The Barter Company to help them save cash. Learn how a car wash, a painting company, and a restaurant chain in Metro Atlanta have used barter recently to improve their operations and promote their businesses.

Jimmy Tester owns Mammoth Hand Car Wash and Detail Salon in Alpharetta, Georgia, and has used barter for the last several years to benefit his two locations. He has worked with both personal and professional service companies to repair and purchase HVAC systems, remodel his car washes, host an employee party, get electrical and plumbing work done, and service his garage doors.

During this challenging business time, Tester has used barter to continue to make key repairs and improvements to his locations. He recently used a barter line of credit to obtain an air conditioning unit that one of his detailing salons needed.

“With barter, I have been able to provide services to entice new customers who may not typically purchase a hand car wash or detailing services,” Tester said. “It also allows me to acquire items and services without spending cash.”

Tester has also previously used barter to have his house painted.

Speaking of painting houses, The Painting Company in Roswell offers residential and commercial painting services, including gutters and deck staining. The company recently used barter to purchase both radio ads and billboards to market its services and offerings.

Copeland’s New Orleans, a restaurant chain with locations in Kennesaw and Cumberland, recently used barter to get pop-up tents they needed to safely offer curbside delivery to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ways these businesses have used barter are just a few examples of how trading via barter can help a company reach new customers, increase profits, and save cash. No matter what your business needs, consider how barter can help your company achieve its goals. Barter is Smarter!

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Working from Home? Make Time to Clear Clutter and Get Organized

Are you working from home these days? Take advantage of this unique opportunity to spring clean your home office area and your electronic files. De-cluttering your workspace, eliminating digital clutter, and setting up regular cleaning processes can help you be more in control of your work life.

 

De-Clutter Desks and Workspaces

Workspaces can quickly become scenes of “organized chaos” with papers, files, and other materials spread randomly or stacked in piles. Research has shown that cluttered spaces can negatively impact an individual’s mental health by causing increased stress and anxiety and hurt long-term productivity.

 

Eliminate Digital Clutter

Digital disorganization presents the same frustration and lost productivity as physical clutter. Studies have routinely shown that employees can lose up to two hours per week searching for digital documents if their files are not organized well. Clean out your inbox, purge unnecessary electronic files, organize digital folders, and back-up files regularly, not just in the spring.

 

Assign a Space for Everything

Assign places for everything in your office. Use drawers to group like things together, such as envelopes with stamps and return address labels, paper clips with staples and other fasteners, and pens with pads of paper. This simple organization step can dramatically reduce the time you spend looking for things you need.

 

Set Time to Clean Your Office or Home

Set time on your calendar to clean regularly. According to the 2020 National Cleaning Survey, not having enough time is one of the top reasons that adults will not do spring cleaning. Taking the step to put time for cleaning on your calendar helps make this necessary chore a commitment and keeps you accountable for getting it done.

 

Explore How Barter Can Help

Consider the variety of cleaning services and products fellow barter companies provide, including carpet cleaning, building maintenance, commercial cleaning, office supplies, storage spaces, home and building repairs, and computer services. Once this quarantine ends, use barter to have a caterer provide food or provide other types of incentives such as gift cards and tickets to sporting events or other entertainment to help spur employees on as they clean their workspaces. Check out the possibilities barter offers here.

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Smal Biz Taxes: What to Expect in 2020

(courtesy of Business News Daily)

There may not be any major changes to the small business tax code in 2020, but there are some important things to keep in mind. In 2018, Congress passed major adjustments to business tax law, including a lower corporate tax rate, new rules for pass-through businesses and a tax break for some industries.

“The tax changes were so significant, I would imagine that there’s still a lot of issues in terms of digesting what has occurred,” said Wayne Winegarden, senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute and managing editor of EconoSTATS.

As a small business owner, it’s important to stay up to date on current tax laws so you pay the right amount each year. [Doing your taxes on your own? Find the best software to use in our reviews of the Best Tax Software for Business 2020.]

Small businesses face a variety of different taxes; these taxes vary based on the structure of your business, but here are the five primary ones:

  • Income tax: With the exception of partnerships, all businesses file annual income tax returns. Partnerships, however, file an information return.
  • Self-employment tax: Relevant for most small business owners, this tax is on your net earnings from self-employment and goes toward your Social Security and Medicare obligations.
  • Employment taxes: If you have employees, you have taxes (and forms) related to their Social Security and Medicare taxes, federal income tax withholdings, and federal unemployment tax. Payroll taxes fall into this category.
  • Excise tax: There are a number of different types of taxes that fall into the excise tax category. This affects you if you make or sell specific products; operate a certain business type; use specific equipment, facilities, or products; or are paid for specific types of services. If that all sounds vague, it’s because it cuts across a number of categories. The classic examples of products that carry an excise tax are fuel, tobacco and alcohol. You can learn more about excise taxes from the IRS.
  • Estimated taxes: Many businesses (sole proprietors, partners and S corporation shareholders) must pay quarterly estimated tax payments. This occurs if you do not have taxes withheld from each paycheck or do not have a sufficient amount withheld from each paycheck.

These are two minor aspects of tax law to keep in mind in 2020. Tax reform stemming from the 2018 law is still taking effect, and understanding all of the regulations that will be implemented is important for you as you work with your accountant or tax professional.

The noteworthy changes include deductions for pass-throughs, first-year bonus depreciation and net operating loss changes.

  • International business: Anthony Parent, founding partner of Parent & Parent LLP, said many small businesses may have a rude awakening if they have significant operations abroad. There are a lot of small and medium businesses that have some sort of international components,” he said. “We’re trying to get ahead of it and warn people.” International taxation and regulation are very complicated, so it’s important to work directly with a professional to ensure you’re being taxed at the correct rate.
  • SALT cap: As of 2019, filers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local property and income taxes. Many business owners operating a pass-through entity in a high-tax state can take advantage of SALT deductions. Winegarden said all business owners should be aware of this cap. “I really think in the high-tax states, the SALT cap is going to be meaningful, more for small businesses just because they’re going to be filing through their personal taxes,” he said.

The biggest change businesses saw in 2019 was a significant deduction for both pass-through and corporate entities. Pass-through businesses are small businesses structured as S-corps, limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and partnerships. Pass-throughs make up approximately 95% of U.S. businesses. The new law provides a 20% deduction for those businesses. The only limitation is on service-based businesses, like law and accounting firms that make more than $315,000 per year ($157,500 if single).

C corporations are also getting a big deduction: The new law lowers the tax rate from 35% to 21%. This slashed rate aims to bring major corporations back to the U.S. to employ workers and create wealth.

The first-year bonus depreciation deduction is now 100%. In other words, businesses that make eligible equipment and property purchases can deduct the full amount of the purchase price instead of writing off a portion of the expense each year. This provides businesses with more money upfront, which lawmakers hope will be invested back into the business or used to hire workers.

“The new tax plan will allow businesses to write off the cost of assets in one shot,” said Josh Zimmelman, founder of Westwood Tax & Consulting. “A company can invest in vehicles, computers and equipment, and claim the entire expense on their … tax return.”

Winegarden said the break is an incentive for businesses to spend more. “Anything that gets you closer to complete expensing is going to increase the value of the depreciation, lower the tax burden and reward those capital-intensive firms,” he said.

Net operating losses (NOL) can no longer be carried back for two years, but instead can be applied for an indefinite amount of time going forward. NOLs occur when a business’s tax deductions exceed its taxable income. It functions as a form of tax relief for businesses, where business owners can apply a NOL to future tax payments.

The change eliminates businesses’ ability to restructure taxes completed in years past, but it extends the lifespan of NOLs indefinitely; however, this can only be applied to 80% of taxable income.

Winegarden said the thinking behind this change is to incentivize businesses to take risks and spend more money. “Knowing you can carry [the net operating loss] forward and indefinitely … lowers the cost of failure,” he said.

In addition to some structural changes, there are some important deadlines to keep in mind:

  • S-corps must file their business taxes by March 15.
  • The deadline for 2020 tax returns is April 15.
  • Quarterly estimated tax deadlines are due April 15, June 15, Sept. 15 and Jan. 15.

If you’ve purchased a business this year or are new to small business tax structures, there are a few things to keep in mind. While it is possible to do your taxes on your own, consider working with a CPA. A tax professional can ensure your business is taking advantage of all the deductions available and, more importantly, can ensure you’re paying everything you owe. Here are five other tips:

  • Think about taxes all year long. Small business owners should not treat income taxes as an annual event. Rather, tax planning should be a year-round activity. Waiting until the last minute makes tax preparation more complicated, and it limits your money-saving options.
  • Be aware of law changes. Even with the help of a skilled professional, a small business owner must keep up with new changes. This will ensure your tax professional is doing the best possible job, and it keeps you informed as a business owner.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Never make business decisions assuming that particular tax breaks will pass or that certain policies will be enacted.
  • Choose the right state to incorporate in. You don’t need to incorporate your business in the same state that you run your business. If you are just starting out, here are some of the best states to consider incorporating your business in.
  • You don’t actually want a tax refund. It is possible to get a tax refund as a small business, but in most cases, it isn’t to your benefit. Typically, a refund means you overestimated the amount of taxes you paid, which could have been reinvested back into your business.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of tax deductions available to small businesses (and you need to ensure that your business is eligible for these deductions). While this list provides potential deductions, it’s best to work with a CPA who can ensure you get all of your relevant deductions.

  • Rent: If you rent your office space or retail location, the cost of your rent is fully deductible.
  • Home office: If you have a dedicated workspace in your home (it must be regularly and solely used for business), then you are eligible to deduct expenses related to that portion of your home. The simple option is to take $5 per square foot up to 300 feet, but you can break it down as a percentage of the total square footage of your home and itemize your costs related to the space.
  • Advertising: Promoting your business not only helps grow your business, but it may shrink your taxes, as these expenses are fully deductible as well. This includes things like business cards, fliers and digital marketing spend.
  • Vehicle: As long as you can document and verify that the vehicle is used for business purposes, you can deduct the operation costs. Like the home office deduction, you can choose to use the simple deduction, which is 58 cents per mile as of 2019, or you can itemize specific costs.
  • Utilities: The basics of keeping your business running are fully deductible as well. This includes electricity, water, heat, internet and landline.
  • Travel: Business travel costs are fully deductible. This includes any flights, hotels and other transportation costs you incur while on a business trip.
  • Employee salaries: Paying your employees pays off. Their salaries, along with many benefits like retirement and education offerings, are tax-deductible.

Here are some additional resources for learning about taxes:

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration maintains a guide on navigating the tax code and staying up to date on your tax responsibilities as a business owner.
  • The IRS website has more information about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affects small business owners’ taxes. Note: Further changes to the ACA may be on the horizon.
  • If you have a choice regarding the state that your business will operate in, then you may want to consider the small business tax rates by state, additional information and recommendations are available at the Tax Foundation.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration has a helpful guide on choosing the right business structure if you are just starting your business this year.
  • The IRS website has additional details on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, which provides a tax credit to small businesses that offer health care coverage to its employees. You can learn if you are eligible, and how to calculate and claim your credit.
  • The IRS maintains its own information center on self-employed and small business taxes.
  • In addition to our recommendations on the best tax software, see which accounting software solutions we think are the best for small business owners.
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Aesop’s Fable Offers Sound Guidance for Both Grasshoppers and Business Owners

“There is a time for work and a time for play.” That’s the moral of The Ants and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop’s Fables, which have offered sound advice since they were written in the mid-sixth century. The powerful and enduring message imparted to a grasshopper by a group of ants continues to apply to people – and businesses – today.

In the fable, a family of ants was busy one fall day drying out grain they had collected and stored in the abundant days of summer. As they work, a grasshopper comes by and begs for food. The ants are shocked to learn that he had simply played his fiddle throughout the summer and didn’t prepare for the cold months when food is scarce. They don’t give him any food, leaving him to navigate on his own the consequences of his lack of planning.

Adapting the Moral

Children and adults the world over have benefitted from the tough lesson the ants impart on the grasshopper. The lesson also offers sound counsel for business owners and company leaders. For them, the moral could be adapted to say: “It’s always the right time to save money and manage cash flow.”

It’s easy for leaders to get lulled into complacency when the economy is humming, sales and revenue are consistently growing, customers are plentiful, and money is steadily rolling in. At the same time, caution and safeguards can tend to go down, expenses may creep up, and networking may all take a back seat to managing a booming business.

The grasshopper’s sad tale illustrates that the good times are precisely the right time that business leaders should save money, manage cash flow, look for new business, make connections, and reduce expenses. They should also put methods into place for when bad times hit. Barter offers business owners a great way to accomplish these important goals.

Save Money, Manage Cash Flow and Reduce Expenses

Barter offers companies the opportunity to run their business and pay bills by trading their products or services instead of spending cash. This helps businesses save money and manage cash flow for slower times or to have to use strategically to hire a new person or grow their business. For example, a business that needs to make a purchase for $1,000 could pay by check or with an equal amount of its product/service at its normal selling price to a new customer. Which sounds better to you?

Look for New Business and Make Connections

Barter also helps member companies generate new customers and expand their market area by allowing them to promote their products or services to a large network of people with whom they may not have done business previously. The Barter Company has more than 2,500 clients in the Southeast. When one of these clients becomes a new customer for another member organization, they pay retail prices, so the businesses get the full value of their goods and services, maintaining or increasing profitability at the same time.

It’s a Good Time to Start Preparing

If the ants in the fable had been inclined to help the grasshopper, they might have told him it was not too late to prepare and explained how to get started. Then, the moral might have become: “The sooner you start preparing, the better off you will be.” We will never know what Aesop would have thought about these adaptations to his wisdom. We DO know that barter is a great way for businesses to save cash, manage cash flow, gain new customers, and grow their business.

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Leaders Need to Recharge to Keep Taking Charge

How many hours a week does a CEO typically work? 50? 60? More? According to a 12-year Harvard Business Journal study of 27 CEOs published last year, they work 62.5 hours a week and conduct business on 79% of weekend days, on average. Clearly, their time, energy and ideas are always in demand by employees, customers, and colleagues. That type of packed schedule leaves a CEO (or anyone working a similarly demanding schedule) scrambling to fit in time to spend with family and friends, working on hobbies or relaxing!

To keep fit mentally for such intensive schedules, many CEOs and entrepreneurs herald the importance of taking time off to recharge, reenergize and reconnect. Recently, The Barter Company owner Ric Zampatti took the opportunity to get away on a trip to Israel and France. “The timing of this trip was perfect. We visited Israel just a few weeks before Easter and in Paris we were lucky to see Notre Dame Cathedral just before the fire,” said Zampatti. “During our downtime and on the plane, I had a chance to reflect and think about the big picture and our overall company goals in the coming year. And, I never worried about the day-to-day details.”

Zampatti came back energized and full of ideas for how The Barter Company can better tackle business at hand and make plans for future growth. As a side benefit of his trip, The Barter Company team members reported that they were able to accomplish many tasks as well as keeping clients happy – a win-win for everyone!

Whether you are a CEO or have another leadership role in an organization, it’s important to give your brain and body a break and time to refuel. In his book “Wired for Thought,” NY Times best-selling author, brain scientist and entrepreneur, Jeff Stibel writes that, “If you overtax your heart, the next thing you need to do is relax, or you’ll die.” He notes that the same care is required for the brain. “Do too much, and you’ll burn it out. You’ll make bad choices.”

Consider these strategies to prepare for and take time away from the office for much-needed mental recharging:

  • Plan a trip that you look forward to taking,
  • Delegate responsibilities to trusted employees,
  • Let key customers know you will be out and who to contact during that time,
  • Commit to checking email rarely, if at all, while on vacation, and
  • Bring a journal to write down ideas that may start flowing as you unwind.

After preparing for your time out of the office, head out with confidence that your team can handle whatever comes up. You will come back find yourself – and your team – rejuvenated and ready for business.

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Mid-Year Offers Perfect Time to Take Stock of Your Company’s Finances

Maycember. That’s what many people have begun to call May with its overload of graduations, end-of-school parties, recitals, and children’s sports tournaments that are all scheduled within in the same few weeks. May schedules can be daunting, but June soon follows — the perfect month to take stock of your business and personal finances and update plans for the rest of the calendar year.

Setting a regular schedule to create and update financial plans is a smart business practice. When times are good financially, it can be easy to just keep moving forward with day-to-day tasks without planning ahead. During favorable economic times, it’s hard to think about preparing for a business or economic slowdown. However, that’s exactly when business owners should make it a priority to conduct financial reviews to ensure your plan helps you prepare for times when sales and cash flow are reduced. Having time set aside for planning can help make it become a habit for you and your business.

One of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, famously noted about the importance of planning when he said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Whenever you conduct your business planning, do some research to see how barter can help with cash flow. Many business owners are under the misconception that barter is useful only in an economic downturn or when you’re starting a business. In reality, most businesses can only handle approximately 5-10% of total sales (depending upon the company size) attributed to barter. Now, when times are good for most businesses, barter can be easily integrated into your cash management system. Then, if there is a downturn you will already have saved cash on many everyday expenses. In addition, barter offers you the opportunity to sell excess inventory and merchandise to get things you need for yourself or your business.

Consider barter as you update your financial plan for the rest of this calendar year or prepare for your new fiscal year. Barter can help you save cash, gain new customers, and grow your business in good and bad times … and even during crazy #Maycember times.

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Why use cash to buy things? Use barter instead!

Imagine paying for things with trade instead of cash. Many people and businesses in your area are doing just that, including The Oral, Facial & Implant Surgery Center in north Atlanta.

“One morning, I saw the daily news from The Barter Company and decided it was time for me to get Lasik surgery,” said Office Manager Yolanda Ducksworth. “The whole process was very easy. I called our Trade Coordinator to get started. Soon after that, I researched the eye doctor options they offered, looked at reviews, and set up a consultation with Atlanta Vision Institute.” A mere two weeks later, she had a successful, bartered surgery.

Ducksworth praised how effortless it was to arrange the trade. The Trade Coordinator at The Barter Company worked directly with the doctor she selected. “Having the surgery and using The Barter Company was the best decision I ever made!”

The Barter Company has established itself as the leading force in the barter industry throughout the Southeast. They’ve created an alternative currency network by us-ing barter dollars instead of cash to handle transactions.

Are you ready to see how barter can work for you? Contact The Barter Company today.

Visit www.thebartercompany.com or call 770-591-4343.

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