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Leveraging The Best From Interns For Your Small Business


by Kelly Gregorio

As a small business owner your mind (among other things) probably wanders over to the subject of money more times than you’d like to admit.  After all times are tough, and if running a small business wasn’t difficult enough, staying profitable within one can sometimes feel impossible.

So when the subject of interns comes up it may seem like a light at the end of a long financial tunnel.  By taking on an intern you get an eager set of hands that are willing to work for free.

Like any smart entrepreneur your next questions should be, “but’s what’s in it for them?”  And the answer needs to be: you!  Read on to discover the very necessary and yet too often underused give-and-take of small business interns:

What’s In It For Them?

When you make the commitment to take on an unpaid intern for your small business its important to first have a conversation with yourself.  Define within your own standards and abilities what effort you will make to turn this intern’s time into a worthwhile experience.

Will you take them under your wing as a professional mentor?  Will you position your teachings based on their future goals?  Will you be willing to invest the time it takes to teach?  Hopefully your answers will be “yes.”

Like most things in life, this is a situation where you get what you give.  Interns are bright and shiny upon his or her first few days of work, but what will keep them motivated for the long haul?  The answer lies in your effort to enrich their experience with valuable lessons, hands on experience, respect and consideration.

Personal Projects.

Chances are you’ll have a list of places an intern’s touch could help; from answering calls to making orders you’ll be eager top reap the benefits of an extra set of hands.  That’s great!  Just make sure that’s not it…

Take the time to talk to your intern and learn the thing they most want to gain out of the experience (i.e. social media).  Then find a way in which you can deliver that experience with the boosting confidence of a personal project (i.e. running your business’s Instagram and starting it’s own Pinterest page).   Having a separate project that your intern can take charge of will give them a personal stake in your business and will provide some organic room for loyalty.

Goals and Grunt Work.

According to the rules set by the Fair Labor Standards, the intern experience must ultimately benefit the intern.  Now this doesn’t mean that request for copies and coffees need to stop; it just means things cannot stop there…

Be sure to set measurable goals for your intern through the beginning, middle and end of their internship.  Motivational moves like this will keep all parties interested and will keep focus fresh.

Give and Take.

Setting goals is not enough; you’ve got to check in along the way and provide honest, constructive feedback.  The more your intern grows throughout their time with your business, the better overall experience they will have.  You have the power to not only reap the benefits of an unpaid intern, but also make the experience equally fair.

Considering the effort and commitment you have to make on your end, be sure to find the right intern for you.  Interview for qualifications and attitude; aptitude is important, but so is a likeness to your company’s mission and culture.  You deserve an intern that feels like a fit just as much as your intern deserves a well-rounded experience, and with a little give and take you both can make that happen.

What have been your experiences with interns? Share your small business advice with us!


Kelly Gregorio writes about topics that affect small businesses and entrepreneurs while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a provider of merchant cash advances. You can read her daily business blog here.