Ask the Experts: Problems with Bartering Structure

My receptionist, with whom I “exchange services,” has a passive-aggressive attitude lately and is getting caught up in mom drama. How should I handle this?

Bartering is complicated. Because it doesn’t operate like a typical employer-employee relationship, exchanging services with someone means that many studio owners feel they don’t have control over job performance. And if it’s not documented properly, bartering can bring serious legal and tax implications if you are audited. Use this negative turn in your receptionist’s behavior as an opportunity to potentially change the way you run your business. Talk with your accountant to determine if there are any real tax benefits to bartering, as opposed to paying a receptionist wages.

If, after review, you decide to stay with the bartering structure, we recommend you meet with your entire staff to go over the guidelines and expectations you have in place for working at the studio. Discuss your philosophy and mission statement, and set up a regular performance review process.

Change can be difficult, and your receptionist may continue to be a problem, even if you reduce her role at the studio. When you implement these new management practices, she may decide that she no longer wants to be in this role or is unwilling to change. At this point, you must follow through and make necessary changes in staff. The people on your team must be able to implement and uphold your policies and procedures with professionalism, regardless of your history, your relationship or how you pay them.

For more information, see

Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of

Photo by B Hansen Photography, courtesy of Suzanne Blake Gerety

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