An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Bringing on an Unpaid Intern by @projectmaven

You’re an event planner, a designer, or another type of solo practitioner. You’ve developed a good list of clients, but now you’re at capacity. The problem is, you have no margin of earnings to cover your budget if you lose one or more of your projects. And in the freelance world, this is ALWAYS a possibility. Perhaps you could handle more business if you had some assistance, but you’re not yet earning enough to pay someone else.

You need an intern.

“That’s it!” you cry…

But before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to know. Bringing on an intern may not be the answer to all your prayers, but it certainly can be a great way of getting you through the transition from a one-person show to a company capable of significant growth and development. The right kind of assistance can help you become more organized and capable of increasing your revenues.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you think having an intern will be helpful to you.

Interns Are People, Too

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an intern is little more than a servant, or worse yet, a slave. You will get the most out of this arrangement if you treat it like you would any working relationship – as an opportunity to create a mutually beneficial exchange.

Think about what you have to offer, besides money, to someone who is giving their time and energy to you on a regular basis. Your industry experience, your day to day knowledge of running a business in the real world, your connections – these are all valuable resources you can share with someone who is motivated to learn from you and contribute to your success.

Create a pleasant environment for your intern. Little things like snacks and beverages can make a difference – maybe pick up an extra latte when you take a coffee break. Think about how you’d like to be treated, and do the same for your intern. You have the power to foster a positive vibe that will motivate your intern to work hard on your behalf. Don’t waste this opportunity!

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Colleges are a great source of talent when it comes to finding a qualified intern. If you are lucky enough to be located close to an institution of higher learning, investigate their internship program. Most colleges and universities will offer their students academic credit for putting in a certain number of hours towards the fulfillment of a specific internship based project. Check out the requirements of the schools in your area. You may be surprised to learn about the possibilities.

Keep in mind, some colleges prefer that their interns work in more traditional businesses, with offices. If you’re like most nascent entrepreneurs, you may not yet be able to afford an office, let alone a spot in a co-working space, if there’s even one near you. You may, in fact, do most of your work in your living room, your bedroom or your local Starbucks.

If you don’t have access to a designated business location through a friend or colleague, consider proposing an alternate arrangement to the institution with whom you are attempting to build a relationship. If your work can be done remotely, why not suggest working with the student at a campus library, student center or other public meeting area such as a local coffee shop or other mutually convenient and safe location.

It’s understandable why schools would not be comfortable sending one of their students to someone’s home. However, the reality is that most new businesses, even the ones that become the most successful multi-million dollar operations, start from very humble beginnings. Any college or university that is serious about training their students to become entrepreneurs should understand the changing nature of the employment landscape and be willing to evolve their thinking in this matter.

Today’s Intern Could be Tomorrow’s Employee

If you are diligent in your screening and interviewing process, you should be able to find someone who is motivated, talented and able to learn how to best serve your needs as a business owner. If you give them appropriate guidance, your intern may grow naturally into the role of paid consultant or employee.

Make sure you have clear goals for what you want your intern to accomplish in the time he or she is working with you. It helps if you specify not only the daily tasks you require them to perform, but understand how you can use their time to help make your business more efficient and capable of handling additional work going forward.

Having an intern gives you the opportunity to start thinking like a business manager. You must be ready to delegate specific responsibilities to someone else, in service of your larger goals. Make sure you build in time for regular communication and exchange of feedback. If your intern is doing a good job, let them know. If not, be clear about what you would like done differently. Give them an opportunity to make adjustments, learn from their mistakes. At the end of your time together, you should have a good idea as to whether or not this person would make a good long-term addition to your company.



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