for Starting up a LETS Group
There are five main
1. Check for Local Groups
LETS is usually run on a voluntary basis without external
funding, and running a LETS group is not something to do on
your own unless you are very multi-skilled and have a lot
of time to spare, as it usually requires much co-operative
effort. So first of all look
on this website to see if there is already a group near
you, and if there is, consider joining them - they might well
benefit from the extra energy you can contribute. To be referred
to a local group follow the link at the foot of each county
2. Is a New Group Needed?
If there is a contact nearby but when you follow up you find
the group is not able to respond satisfactorily, please tell
us. It may be that they have run out of energy and need extra
support. We can approach them direct and find out what their
needs are. Or, perhaps the group serves a particular section
of the community that you do not belong to - LETS comes in
all shapes and sizes, and if this is not the group for you,
then, yes you can consider starting a new one.
3. Know your Theory
You can get the basics elsewhere on this
website. Make sure you understand that LETS is not just
a barter system in which people do direct swaps, but is more
sophisticated because "points" from one transaction can be
stored for use in another transaction and can also be used
to value goods - this is called "Mutual Credit".
You have lots of different options in developing the character
and purposes of your group. You can order our info-pack,
but please note it needs updating and will not give much guidance
on technical aspects.
4. Join LETSlink UK
When you are ready, please register your new or intended group
with LETSlink UK, by sending a £25 subscription fee
accompanied by an introductory statement about your project,
so that we can support you in the early stages - the sooner
you join, the sooner you let us know about your project and
will take advantage of what we have to offer - the registration
process is your first step in getting our help towards launching
your LETS project.
5. Participate Fully
Groups and individuals who are LETSlink UK members can obtain:-
(i) access to advice and practical tools, (ii) website hosting
to manage your LETS project at very low cost, (iv) participation
in ongoing research about what works and what doesn't work
in running a LETS, so that you can benefit from the advice
of experienced LETS organisers and don't have to reinvent
the wheel. Our next key project is to develop a national intertrading
hub, to connect up LETS groups all over the country, meanwhile
we will aim to put you in touch with local organisers.
6. Gather your Core-Group
Whilst you are learning how to run a LETS, get in touch with
others who might want to help set it up. You may already have
a group of friends who are interested. Likewise, LETSlink
may have contacts for people in the area looking for a LETS
and just waiting for someone to take a lead - please ask.
Call an initial planning meeting, and make sure there is sufficient
consensus to be able to work together so that you are on a
firm footing before advertising widely for members to join,
and report the outcome to LETSlink. During this process you
will need to:
7. Identify Your Mission
LETS is more than a person to person trading scheme - its
real value is as a means to build community. In your planning
meetings, try and get a sense of what the style of your LETS
group will be. Is it mostly for people running small businesses,
eg crafts, therapy, gardening? Is it mostly voluntary or "friend
to friend" in nature? Are there particular projects in your
community that you might want to use the LETS to support?
Is there a community centre or organisation that is behind
the initiative and will provide material and/or moral support?
8. Define Your Catchment Area
What is the community your group will serve. Eg a village,
a church congregation, a school, or tenants association? Do
you see it serving a number of villages in a particular valley?
Are you thinking county-wide or city-wide? Or is it to facilitate
co-operation between the members of a particular interest
group, maybe people who are working on an arts project, a
political campaign, a charitable project, a small business,
or sharing resources that are expensive to buy individually.
9. Check out nearby Groups
Get in touch with nearby LETS groups, if there are any, and/or
Permaculture/Transition groups to find out if their activities
overlap with what you are planning, and invite them to engage.
Timebanks work on the basis of hourly trading and tend to
serve particular communities, so hopefully you can co-exist
happily with them and refer suitable people to each other.
A representative of your group can attend meetings of other
organisations and/or invite them to attend yours. Discuss
with them if there any joint ventures you could co-operate
with them on, for example if there is a county fair, could
several LETS groups share a stand and tell the public about
the different LETS groups in their area. Perhaps an individual
can take a lead in networking between neighbouring schemes.
10. Name your Group and your Currency
Ideas for naming your group and your currency will probably
emerge in the process of these discussions. Choose a name
that is meaningful in your area, that will give your members
a sense of ownership, and will generate a feeling of loyalty.
Names that are snappy, easy to pronounce, and have a sense
of humour work best. If there are competing ideas, you might
have to defer the decision until you are ready to hold a public
meeting and have a vote on it, proponents of competing names
making speeches in support of their choice.
11. Form Your Organisation
Groups who meet mostly "online" tend to avoid heavy-duty
"governance" - social forums even call themselves
a "space"! These groups won't have a bank account,
and may not need one, but neither will they be accessible
to people who do not have access to a computer. If you decide
to charge joining fees, it's essential to set up a bank account
in the name of your organisation with several signatures to
help co-ordinate your funds and enable organisers to claim
legitimate expenses. A well thought-out constitution and set
of rules can save many problems later and enables committee
members to pass on responsiblity for their tasks, which keeps
the organisation going when the original founders can no longer
do it - LETSlink can provide models for these. Even at an
early stage it's useful to divide up jobs between members
and get a feel for who is good at what and what else is needed.
12. Value Your Time
Having a rule that members' time is valued equally might discourage
people with easily marketable skills but could be the best
approach for some groups, at least to start with. A workable
compromise is to decide on a rate per hour for members to
use when they want to trade equal, but to allow members to
vary their charges where appropriate. Importantly, a standard
rate per hour gives your group a baseline to use when exporting
or importing accounts if members move to another area, or
for occasional "intertrading" - ie when a service
is obtained from a member in another LETS group. Some groups
prefer to use Gifting, especially when dealing with goods,
as they move faster, and a no-charge option is a good one
to incorporate in any scheme, as it still allows number of
trades either way, and "satisfaction" scores to
13. Find Meeting Places
Look about your neighbourhood for organisations and centres
who may wish to be involved by providing meeting space - such
centres might need more "volunteers" to help them
run their activities, and a mutually beneficial relationship
can be forged. A regularly monthly "Talk & Trade"
meeting in a public place can work well. Alternatively, some
LETS groups like to hold meetings "round the houses" of the
members in turn, which makes for a friendly informal group.
You can experiment with any of these approaches - some groups
may be happy just to meet "online".
14. Agree Your Methods
Most LETS groups use paper-based methods, eg printed newsletters
and cheques, even though they might use computers to help
produce them. However, people enquiring about LETS often say
"can't we just log on?", and LETSlink provides web-based
systems to support LETS administration. Systems that allow
members to update their own information online will enable
the group to scale up and allow the core group to concentrate
on what really matters in the neighbourhood. You can plan
an organised "buddy" system from the start to ensure
that those who can't get online are partnered up with other
members who help them run their account. Be prepared to be
flexible and run a number of different styles in parallel,
eg printed vouchers and forms are handy for market-day trading
and auctions - the transactions can be put on to a digital
system later. Whilst initial discussions are taking place,
if you want to do some practical trading, including recording
the plannng work initial members are doing, you can set up
short-term systems, just to get things started. This might
include a directory on a word document, addresses on a database,
and a spreadsheet for recording trades. However, the sooner
you have an online system, the better, eg an initial web page
and enquiry form, which we can set up for you can be used
to direct new enquiries to you.
15. Think about Finances
The amount you will need to charge in joining fees depends
on the style of your scheme, and what other support you can
call on, eg if a community centre or organisation can host
meetings and provide printing services, you can charge a lower
fee, likewise if members are going to pick up information
from one place, you won't need to incur postage costs. The
lower your fees are, the more inclusive your group is, but
having your own funds, however, minimal, does give your group
a sense of independence. A sliding scale is one way, or even
better have a set fee, some of which can be charged in your
local currency - some groups avoid the chore of annual renewals
by only charging a subscription when people first join, others
use a "donation" strategy making an equivalent payment
in local currency which adds flexibility. However, don't forget
that you will need to cover an annual subscription fee to
16. Is External Funding Required?
At this point you might want to think about whether external
funding is needed, but in our experience it can add additional
layer of complexity that can skew your planning, for example,
having a paid worker can discourage other members from actively
working to organise the scheme, and unlike other voluntary
organisations, you can agree rates of pay in local currency
for bona fide administrative tasks, although many LETS groups
feel it's ethical for planning work to be done on a voluntary
basis. Small funds for specific costs such as printing (or
contributing to consultancy provided by LETSlink) may be relatively
easy to obtain, and will avoid issues of parity between members
of the working group.
17. Check in with LETSlink
Report to LETSlink UK on what you have done so far. You may
be able to give us an idea of your resources, eg those with
IT, design, and organisational skills. Do potential members
have computers at home, or can access be arranged at a local
community centre, library, or internet cafe? Answers to suchlike
questions will enable you to describe to us the kind of support
you think you need: some groups prefer to be independent,
whilst others will be glad to tap into ready-made systems
that help them to support their group locally. We may need
to meet up with you for some issues to be worked through,
and/or you may be able to get advice and moral support from
accessing our online members' area.
18. Install a System
Whatever type of system your group decides to adopt, you will
need to transfer existing data into it, so that there is continuity.
Key members of your group will need to ensure that they know
how to run it. This is the time when you are most likely to
need intensive support from LETSlink and might be a good time
to arrange for someone from LETSlink to meet members of your
group, help define coregroup roles, and identify what training
is required - we aim to provide sufficient training to ensure
that members of your group have the confidence to run the
system independently. Here is a checklist, originally written
for existing groups, for going online.
19. Test Your System
We recommend a period of working quietly, as a first stage
of expansion from your core group. Try to get other friends
involved, before going public, so that coregroup members can
become comfortable in their roles, gain experience of running
technical aspects of the system, and identify and sort out
problems as they arise while things are small. We suggest
you minute your coregroup meetings and keep a log of this
process, and share it with LETSlink, using facilities on the
system. This will help you, and it will also help us give
a better service to other new groups getting started.
20. Expand your Membership
Once you have built up confidence, you can begin outreaching
to likely organisations, who can benefit from joining you,
getting them involved one at a time, eg a mother & toddler
group, a school, a group for the elderly, a group for the
disabled and their carers. You need to be clear whether you
are inviting them to encourage their members to join the LETS
individually, or you are inviting them to join as an organisation.
Either or both approaches are valid. Some local councils,
or CVS organisations supply lists of voluntary organisations,
which are an invaluable source for outreach - if you find
there are many relevant organisations this will be an ongoing
process. Make sure they know about you, and become a member
- if they have public events, turn up and make yourself known.
21. Access Local Support
Use all means available to make your group known. Leaflets
can be placed in libraries, and local shops, and on noticeboards.
Also if you've not lready done so, connect with local netorks,
such as Transition Groups, Freecyle, Streetbank and Streetlife.
In some areas, the Local Authority or Council for Voluntary
Organisations run free listing services. They sometimes have
paid support workers to help voluntary groups: find out out
they can help you. They will have lists of other voluntary
groups that you will wish to tell about your forthcoming launch.
They may be able to assist you to obtain funding, which can
be used for start-up costs, including support for LETSlink
UK, which we can help you with by specifiying our requirements.
22. Hold a Public Launch
When you have gained confidence, you can plan a public launch,
which will be your main opportunity to enrol members of the
public enmasse, and really build up volume. It will require
your systems to be functioning, attractive literature with
your logo on it to be designed and printed, local newspapers
and radio to be briefed, catering to provided by your members,
a local personality, or official, perhaps even the mayor,
to make an opening speech, someone to conduct a sponsored
auction, computer training, stalls, amusements and entertainments,
perhaps a creche, and photographs to be taken recording the
23. Contact Local Businesses
Once you have had a successful public launch, you may be in
a position to approach local businesses, especially those
that need to expand their customer-base. Prioritise those
whose philosophy is compatible with a green lifestyle, such
as complementary health centres, small theatres, organic box-schemes,
wholefood shops, and vegetarian cafes. Tell them they can
use their LETS credits, for example in getting "volunteer"
help to run their enterprise. Explain that they can accept
your currency in part-payment (printed vouchers may help here),
and that they should use it for business-based expenses rather
than personal drawings.
24. Continue Outreaching
Follow up on the publicity created by the launch. Run regular
open events, make contact again with local community groups,
and discuss how LETS can help them, for example if they need
more volunteers, a project to support them could be set up
withing the LETS. If there are insufficient practical skills
on offer, you can headhunt the trades you need by answering
newspaper adverts. You could invite them to a meeting, and
explain that joining the LETS can enable them to offer their
services to people who would not otherwise be able to afford
them - and become part of a very friendly network. All these
approaches need to be managed carefully one at a time.
25. Stay Tuned
There's a lot more to learn, so
stay in touch with us: LETSlink <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
MF/mf First Draft: 20/7/2007, Last tweaked 24/8/2016
- Comments and Feedback Welcome.