Why The Work/Trade Model Doesn’t Work as a Long Term Business Model

Can I just start off by saying a massive THANK YOU to every single one of you who have taken the time to email us asking to come and stay in exchange for work. We’ve been blown away by how many people are willing to volunteer in our space, simply to be able to experience it. Thank you, truly. 

Now, if you’ve emailed us, then you’ve probably received a (very loving) no on our end. 

Here’s why:

1) We employ locals first.

It’s important to us that we provide jobs to local people first and foremost. If there’s a job that a local person can, will, and wants to do- then they have priority over someone else who’s just passing through. 

2) Consistency builds trust with your customers. 

As great as it is to meet people from all over the world who pass through to volunteer, this will inevitably lead to inconsistency. When it comes to building a business, the most important element is TRUST. Trust is build between you and your customers through reliability, consistency, and predictability. 

Think the telephone game you might’ve played as a kid. You sit with a group of people in a circle, and one person whispers a message to the person next to them. That person passes the message along to the next person, and so on, until it gets back to the beginning. Usually, the message has changed along the way. 

This same thing happens when you have high turn over rates with employees. This can happens even WITHOUT high turn over rates, when you have implemented clear communication techniques between employees for their days off. 

We want people who come to Still Salty Escape to know what to expect should they choose to come back again, again, and again. This is more likely to happen with long term staffing, as opposed to new work traders on a monthly basis. 

3) Compensation is vital for the outcome you desire.

Look, I know people can get all weird talking about money. But the reality is that it’s a necessary component for living in today’s modern world. Of course the work/trade model DOES provide SOME compensation (usually food, room, and “experience”).

However, as most founders or business owners will understand, your business is your baby. It’s your dream that you’ve nurtured for a lifetime, and that you’ve (probably) sacrificed extensively for. The truth is, no matter how much you pay someone, they simply won’t care about your baby the same way you do. 

Now, imagine that you don’t pay them AT ALL. Or, better yet, imagine how much you’d care about doing a job that you weren’t getting paid for. 

I think we can all agree that even the worse jobs are much more tolerable when the pay makes up for some of that discomfort, right? That’s because payment is an energy exchange. Money is a tangible item that says, “this is how much I think your job is worth.”

So, when there’s NO money involved, you’re sending the message that the job isn’t that valuable. If the employee feels that lack of value, both personally and professionally, then performance and security are at risk. I mean, c’mon, it doesn’t matter how airtight your agreement is, this person can leave at any time if they’re unhappy, because they have nothing (ie: MONEY) keeping them there. 

4) Long term versus short term mindset.

We’ve seen many business owners in our industry rely heavily on work/trade in an attempt to keep costs low, and profits high. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing. That’s the whole point of business, right?

Yes and no. 

Low costs and high profits with the work trade model tend to have a short term benefit, because- back to consistency- returning customers will undoubtedly have varied experiences over the months/years they come back. Or, a disgruntled volunteer’s lack of care might not provide your guests the best experience, and they don’t come back at all. 

The Exceptions:

All of that to say, we DO actually allow SOME work/trade positions from time to time. These are ONLY for positions that are sort of “extra,” rather than necessary. 

We allow photographers/videographers to pass through during retreats. Now that we have an established aesthetic to our branding, we can pick from portfolios of people that are aligned with our look. 

Usually photographers and videographers come for relatively short stints (1 – 2 weeks), which prevents possible burn out, or that risk of leaving early. Plus, retreats don’t require CONSTANT shooting (otherwise the shots get repetitive real fast), meaning you are providing the value of the retreat itself, as well (around $1.8k). 

Lastly, if this person did bail last minute, or left early- the event itself is unaffected. That’s not to say the content isn’t valuable, because I think we all know how we need photos and videos for just about everything nowadays. But in regards to the guests’ experience or the quality of the retreat, it remains the same with or without them. 

Although we tend to hire local instructors more often than not, when we have consistent surf retreats (like we do in April 2023!), then we prefer to invite instructors out, instead to create a cozier, in-house experience. 

I know what you’re thinking: surf instructors sure seem like a necessity for a surf retreat. And you’re right! They are. But, if they did bail, there are locals who could take their place. 

As we continue to get the Salty Farm off the ground, in hopes of creating an even MORE sustainable plant based kitchen, this position would be great temporarily. 

Why? Because this person could train our local staff who is already working the farm, rather than take their job. They can share the knowledge they have to expand what we’re doing, rather than complete it. 

Overall, we think the work/trade model certainly has a ton of benefits for the owner, the volunteer, and the guests. However, for vital roles in your business, it’s best to provide a salaried position to create consistency, longevity, and high performance. 

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