The most bittersweet and frustrating part of being a small business owner begins when finding enough business is no longer a hurdle – it’s finding enough time to get it all done that becomes the challenge.
I’ve been there – I’ve worked 16+ hour days and pulled all-nighters. Yeah, the pay was great, but I was so exhausted, I could hardly enjoy anything.
When I got to the point where I was spending all of my time, including nights and weekends, working and not spending quality time with my family, that’s when I realized, I needed some help.
The problem was that although my business income was increasing, it hadn’t increased so much that I could afford to hire an employee. By the time I paid someone, the profits that I had made would’ve become non-existent.
I needed a secret weapon – I needed to delegate some of those tasks that didn’t exactly require a personal touch from me. I needed someone who would appreciate the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and knowledge in lieu of pay. I decided to offer an unpaid internship opportunity to college students in my area.
Many students are required to complete up to 100+ hours as an intern. The goal is to for them to get first hand experience in their major field of study.
While these internships could be paid, payment is not a requirement. The requirement is that the student gain experience and create mutually beneficial networking relationships with professionals in their industry. Their pay comes in the form of a satisfactory grade rather than cash.
But please notice that the keywords are “mutually beneficial” – that means that if you choose to work with an intern, that you will not limit them to getting your coffee, your lunch, and/or licking envelopes all day – instead, you’ll actually spend some time training them to do what you do and then delegate related tasks to them and monitor their progress.
After giving it some thought, I located a school and contacted their career services department. I provided a detailed description of the internship. I made sure I included a GPA (grade point average) requirement to ensure that I’d get to work with one of their brightest students. I ended up working with two very intelligent students. The only downside was that at the end of the term they graduated!
After having such a great experience working with students, I wondered why more small business owners weren’t making use of this awesome free resource.
Pros and Cons
Of course there are pros and cons to working with an intern successfully. I’ll provide a few to help you decide if offering an unpaid internship is right for you.
Pros of working with an intern:
- You free up your time so that you can enjoy more time with family or doing some of those fun things you’ve been missing out on – like sleep! For me, this was the absolute #1 perk of working with an intern.
- You save money, of course.
- You get to work with someone who values your expertise and is happy to learn what you have to share with them.
Cons of working with an intern:
- You must spend some time training them. When you’re already busy, it may be difficult to set aside the time. It can take several days up to several weeks to train an intern appropriately.
- Interns are usually seniors, this means that at the end of the semester, or the year, they will graduate, leaving you to either decide to hire them full-time and pay them what they’re worth, or select a new intern.
- If you have to select a new intern, you will have to spend time training them all over again.
- Not all interns operate at the same level of integrity you’d like, so choose carefully.
How to Work Successfully with an Intern
Working with an intern is obviously a serious commitment not to be taken lightly. You will be required to provide feedback about the student’s performance and possibly assign a letter grade, also. You want to be fair and make sure you give the student enough opportunities to practice their skills. This can be a challenge if like me, you like to be in control of everything and have difficulty delegating.
Keep it Simple – Give Clear Deadlines
I had to take it slow. When I met with the students, I kept things simple and only focused on one task for them to complete at a time. When I felt that they’d grasped the concept, I then gave them a few assignments to complete on their own. I gave clear deadlines and allotted enough time for completion.
Develop an Appropriate Working Relationship
I made sure the students felt comfortable asking me questions or letting me know if they needed clarifications. You also can’t expect them to just know what you want or understand everything – it’s okay if you have explain things more than one time.
Just like any other employee or colleague, you also can’t expect to just bark orders at people and expect them to comply. Just because the intern is still a student doesn’t mean you should treat them as less than a professional. They are professionals in training and should be treated with the same respect – they are not free labor to be exploited.
Offer your Help and Wisdom
The partnership you establish with an intern has to be just as beneficial to them as it is to you. In exchange for their valuable service, you should offer your help as much as possible and share your knowledge and wisdom with them.
By the end of the semester, the students I worked with had learned the basics of freelancing and blogging. They gained a new awareness of how to use blogging and social media to gain leverage in the field of mass media. They also knew that they could continue to contact me with questions or if they needed help. I still hear from my former interns to this day.
So if you’re in need of a secret weapon for your small business, I suggest getting in touch with the career services department at a local college or university.
If you need to refer to an example of what a detailed internship description looks like and steps to take before contacting the school, visit this post for details: The #1 Least Expensive Way to Outsource…
For more tips, check out these posts:
- How to Effectively Use Interns in Your Social Media Marketing Efforts
- How to Find an Intern
- Should You Let an Intern Manage Your Social Media Marketing?
Photo credit: Eduard Titov