Using barter can help dentists save cash and gain patients

Oct. 14, 2013
Bartering has been around for a long time and is still useful

If you want to boost sales, acquire new patients, and reduce expenses, consider the world’s oldest form of doing business — barter. While bartering (or trading) dates back to the days of the cavemen, it remains a powerful business tool today, and it works exceptionally well for dentists to turn downtime into extra revenue.

How barter works

In its oldest and simplest form, bartering involves an equal trade. One person or business swaps goods or services for something in return. But these days, most dentists don’t have the time or resources to pursue these arrangements themselves. Enter the professional barter exchange.

An exchange does all the legwork for its members, promoting the goods and services available for trade. In return, members pay a one-time joining fee, plus small fees for each transaction.

When a member purchases an item, he or she does so in barter dollars or trade credits. So when a dentist barters dental services, he or she can then use the trade credits in his or her account to purchase offerings by other members.

It is not unusual for actively bartering companies to generate 5% to 10% of their income through barter. (By the way, in the eyes of the IRS, barter transactions are treated like cash, and all transactions are reported accordingly.)

Selling through barter

One reason dentists like bartering is because it doesn’t compete directly with their cash business. Most of the business generated through bartering is in addition to what is already being done, so it really feels like bonus business.

Bartering is particularly effective in the service industry. “It’s a way to utilize disappearing assets,” said small business expert Ray Silverstein, author of “The Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive and Thrive During Tough Times.

“If you don’t have a project on a particular day, you’ve lost that opportunity to generate income,” Silverstein explains. “Bartering helps fill the gaps.”

A big benefit, says one consultant, is that “bartering introduces our business to a group that may never have tried us, and then they’ll tell other people about us.”

Buying through barter

What can you buy through barter? Just about anything. You can use it for everyday expenses such as property maintenance, office supplies, exterminators, and even advertising. In addition, barter allows you to provide employee incentives and vacations you might not otherwise be inclined to purchase. Hotels and airlines participate in barter exchanges. Do you think it might even be time to treat yourself?

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John Strabley is CEO of IMS, one of the country’s leading barter organizations. Visit