IMAGINE PUTTING ON a small meeting without writing a check. Organizations that use barter to secure meeting space have found that it's simple to use, efficient, and especially suited for small meetings.

“With small meetings, you could virtually pay for the entire event [through barter],” says Tom McDowell, executive director of the National Association of Trade Exchanges, Mentor, Ohio.

Barter — the process of trading goods and services for other assets — is big business, generating more than $2 billion in incremental business for companies in North America, according to NATE. Some 200,000 businesses trade on 500 barter exchanges, in the United States and Canada for everything from office supplies to hotel rooms. In fact, hoteliers and event planners are among the most active users of barter, says Sandy Sweig, spokeswoman at Barter Business Unlimited Inc., a Newington, Conn.-based barter broker.

Barter transactions do not involve a direct swap between two companies; rather, all deal making is done through an exchange. So, if a hotel offers $50,000 worth of rooms and meeting space for barter, it has that much “credit” within the exchange to buy what it needs. The company that trades for the meeting then “owes” the exchange services or products of equal value for others to use.

While it works best for a small meeting, says McDowell, larger groups can use barter to pay for portions of a meeting. It can even be used for an exhibition or trade show, where planners might be able to fill remaining booths through barter.

Chateau …lan Winery and Resort, Braselton, Ga., uses barter, recently trading meeting space, lodging, and F&B to a group of about 150 people for roof repairs, office copiers, and other items. The transaction was brokered through the Atlanta-area exchange The Barter Co. Dave Zerfas, director of operations at the resort, agrees that the system often works best for small meetings, such as corporate holiday parties, which they have booked for December through barter.

Media and technology companies are two of the biggest users of barter, says Tim Brown, partner, Meeting Sites Resource, Irvine, Calif. Media companies barter advertising space; technology companies often trade out equipment or services. Even independent planners can use barter to trade their services for office equipment or advertising.

To barter, membership in a trade exchange is required — usually a one-time fee of $300 to $600, says McDowell. For each transaction, there is an additional charge of 12 percent to 15 percent of the value of the transaction. To locate an exchange in your area, go to www.nate.org.