Free labour sounds great.
Well, doesn’t it?
Between you and me, I love the idea of hiring young people who are hungry to learn and help you with your business. (I’ve been on both sides of the table and the experiences were fantastic.)
But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Before you jump in, make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Here are the biggest mistakes I’ve seen that you can make when hiring an intern for your small business…
1. You don’t understand the relationship
Interns need experience on their resume so they can get a job, which is why they’re working with you.
That’s great – we all get our start somewhere.
But you need to realize they are with you to learn. Your job is to invest in them and help them develop the skills and processes they need to succeed, give them the opportunity to learn in the field, and the freedom to make plenty of mistakes.
If you don’t have time to mentor someone, you don’t have time for an intern.
2. You’re intoxicated
Don’t jump on the first person you meet.
While you may want to go easy on them because you’re intoxicated by the idea of free labour, you won’t be doing anyone any favours if you hire the wrong person because you didn’t know who they were.
Be as rigorous when you’re interviewing an intern as you would for a paid position.
3. You don’t have a plan
So, you’re ready to dedicate time to share your best practices, and you’ve found someone who’s a perfect fit.
Seriously, what are they going to do?
What are your objectives with their position? What are their deliverables? How will you hold them accountable? What materials do they need to do their job? How are they going to learn about your brand and your business? How does their role fit into your overall strategy?
You get the idea.
4. You call them “your intern”
Would you like being called an intern?
A leader in social media management, Hootsuite, has had great success with their internship program. One of the first things they do is give each intern a title – it makes them feel important, plus it helps with role clarification.
Their Community Director, Dave Olsen, wrote a fantastic 2 pager on what makes their program a success. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re hiring an intern for your small business.
5. You don’t hire for long enough
You’re not volunteering.
You’re hiring an intern for your small business.
If you want value from an internship program, make sure your interns stay long enough so that you see some of the benefits of the investment you’ve made.
Naturally they’ll be more valuable to your business at the end of your program, which is why I suggest hiring them for a minimum of 4 months. From my experience, 3 is too short. You just start to see things working, and then they leave. Four gives you a chance to gel and create something before they fly the nest.
6. You forget to fill your pipeline
It’s hard to say goodbye.
It’s harder if you don’t have someone to say hello to.
If you’re serious about working with interns, then you need to be serious about filling your pipeline. Your intern will leave to go back to school or find a job. And if you can’t hire them, you’ll have a gaping hole when they say goodbye.
I made that mistake when we invited Spokal’s first intern to join us last summer. Dean was brilliant. I was so excited about having him on the team that, like many founders, I was in denial about him going back to school. But he did.
I didn’t fill the pipeline, so some of our projects got dropped or stalled until I could pick them up again. I should have been more proactive.
7. Your intern is not free
This should be #1.
You may not pay your intern a salary, buy them a laptop and smartphone, or even give them office space, food and drinks…but how much is your time worth?
If you can’t make a strong business case for investing your time in someone that will produce results (and if you’re not mentoring to meet your philanthropic goals), then you owe it to all future interns not to hire them.
Does it sound like I’m anti-internship?
Surprisingly, I’m not.
I love interns!
I wrote this to set expectations that will increase your chances of success working with them, so that you give them the best opportunity to grow personally AND to grow your business.
I’ve noticed the best internship programs usually happen in 2 environments.
- Big firms who have the resources to hire and properly train them – many use it as a 4 month vetting period to determine who they’ll hire the following year.
- Small businesses that build large internships teams. This allows you to scale training, and it allows the interns to collaborate, saving you from being interrupted every time they have a question (plus it gives them freedom to toss ideas around with each other, often leading to better results).
But like we talked about, their internship program works because they heavily invest in it – they have weekly lunch and learns, regular one-on-one meetings, goal setting sessions, host networking opportunities and invite (and pay for) their interns to attend industry events. They also give them the authority to make decisions and the freedom to test new ideas.
It’s no surprise that Kristy is a huge fan of working with interns, but she’s the first one to admit that it takes a lot of effort and time to build a good program.
We started at the end. I assumed you were going to hire an intern, so we didn’t even chat about the business case for why you should hire one.
It makes sense for many small business owners, after all, you can’t spell “internet” without using the word “intern.”
So, what are your thoughts? Would you recommend hiring an intern for small businesses?