Skill swapping: Helping your business innovate in uncertain times

Laura Summers of BookMachine on the value of exchanging expertise in publishing

 There have always been fluctuations in market conditions, and forces which are out of our control, but coronavirus has created the biggest financial challenge of our lifetimes. Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about skill swapping, and how it could help BookMachine and IPG members during this time. Skill swapping can enable your business to innovate even whilst your financial situation might be uncertain.

 Skill swapping was particularly popular in the recession of the early 2000s, and a number of online skills exchange sites still exist from this period, though these are generic rather than for people with creative and publishing skills.

 So how does skill swapping apply to the publishing industry? And how do we differentiate between swapping skills and working for free? Firstly, skill swapping is neither work experience nor an unpaid internship. This is not about working for free: the exchange must be fair, and both parties should gain something of similar value.

 As a publisher or publishing-related business you might not have the funds to pay for new initiatives right now—but that doesn’t mean you must stand still. There are plenty of people and businesses in the industry who have the skills you lack and who might be able to help you right now. Perhaps it’s a website redesign in return for help with metadata; or a blog post written in return for publishing advice. Skill swapping can also take the shape of long-term partnerships—taking charge of someone’s social media presence in order to receive regular financial management lessons, for example.

 If you decide that skill swapping is an option for you, here are some tips for managing exchanges.

  •  Be clear about what services you will each provide, and when you will deliver them
  • Establish rules and expectations at the outset and don’t take anything for granted
  • Include a start and end date so there are no ambiguities
  • Write down the scope of your agreement so there can be no misunderstandings (for some agreements a barter invoice will be required)
  • Be realistic about what you can offer. Skill swapping is a great opportunity to try things and build your CV, but don’t overpromise. Be honest!
  • Treat people well, and if you are happy with someone’s work then spread the word. Word-of-mouth referrals are one of the most effective ways of helping people out during this time, especially in publishing.

 Whatever your business setup, now is a time for small businesses to pull together. Wouldn’t it be exciting to bring the potential of our skills together? Each of us has a skill or special knowledge that can be of great value and benefit to others. Skill swapping can expand your network and help to transform your business.

Laura Summers runs BookMachine, the fast-growing community and agency specialising in book publishing. Founded in 2010, it provides publishing professional in the UK with knowledge, ideas and connections to help them progress their careers, including via interviews, monthly online events and training courses. You can join the community from £5 a month. For more information, click here.

BookMachine will be running a Skill Swap session for members on Mondays, starting on Monday 20 April.