With regard to our work in Haiti, someone recently asked me, “Do you only accept donations of cash and materials, or can skills be donated/taught?”
I live in a world where nothing would ever get done if it had to start (or end) with money. Because I live in that world, I forget that not everyone knows, non traditional commerce can (and does) work.
A friend on Twitter recently needed some dental work done but had no money or insurance and was feeling pretty low about the situation. Knowing from personal experience the position she was in, I suggested that she try writing an “open letter to a dentist” wherein she offers to work for that dentist (or volunteer an agreeable number of hours to a non-profit organization of the dentist’s choosing) in exchange for the work that she needed done.
The next step was to take that letter to every dentist she could think of.
Whether or not she found success is sort of beyond the point. The point is, she was energized at the possibility of leveraging something other than her bank account in order to reach her goals.
As you watch opportunities pass you by, remember to see yourself more holistically. You are more than a bank account and the stuff in your garage. You also have skills, ideas, time, and energy that you can spend. Consider these 5 assets that most people have:
- YOUR SKILLS
Perhaps you have a degree in something or you have been obsessing over a particular thing for longer than you can remember (cutting coupons, scrap-booking, trimming hedges). Something that you are good at could be seen as a “value-add” within a business exchange.
- YOUR IDEAS
Fresh perspective is hard to come by. Critics are a dime a dozen, but critics aren’t usually trying to make things better. If you can be critical in a way that leads to advancement, then you may be a valuable resource. Offer to form focus groups, conduct surveys or research, or just offer your frank opinion about someone’s product or service. Consultants make loads of money by selling their professional opinion. You may be able to do something similar.
- YOUR TIME
Never underestimate the power of your time. Business owners are often overloaded. Perhaps you can you handle the small things for them (running personal errands, buying groceries, making phone calls, etc.) and thereby free them up to manage the bigger things. You’d be surprised at how many business people would jump at the chance to have a personal assistant but will never ask because they think it means they are egotistical. On the other hand, if you were to offer, that’s totally different. The catch is, they can’t ask you to offer, cause that too would make them an egotistical jerk. This is precisely why I’m telling you . . . they need your help! Offer it!
- YOUR CONNECTIONS
Believe it or not, every business is always on the hunt for more (or better) customers. Likewise, word of mouth is a powerful thing. Why not leverage your ability to start a word-of-mouth campaign on behalf of the people you want to work with? Spread the good word using Facebook and Twitter. Identify loyal customers and get them engaged as part of your team (maybe finding the authority to offer them a special coupon or discount for the help). Remember, not everyone is good with people. If you are, use that to your advantage.
- YOUR LEVERAGING CAPABILITY
The aforementioned things may not be valuable to the business you are trying to work with, but they may be very valuable to another business. Don’t be afraid to create bartering chains (a lot like supply chains) where your service advances one person, they then advance the business you have need of, and that business compensates them by giving you what you need. It may sound complicated but it can look as simple as this: You need glasses. You create a gorgeous scrapbook for a friend who is looking for that perfect wedding gift. That person pays you by cleaning the gutters, trimming the bushes, and cutting the grass at the optometrist. The optometrist pays them by making you a pair of glasses.
What does this have to do with serving? Well, suppose you CAN afford some of these services. You may be able to use bartering to free up some of your cash and then re-purpose it as a charitable contribution to the non-profit of your choosing. Either that, or you can leverage your skills, ideas, time, and connections directly in the service of the non-profit that you choose.
Additionally, you can make that scrapbook for a fee and donate the money to your favorite non-profit. The point is, you are free to make it work however you’d like.
We thrive on bartering in Haiti because money is hard for lots of people to come by. In your own economy, make sure to use all of the things that are available to you . . . not just what’s obvious or socially expected. You might be surprised what people and companies will say when you try to operate around money. With a little practice, I think you’ll see that your energy is as much a commodity as your cash.