In 2014, I had the chance to bring an intern onboard. Both of us treated it as a trial period to see if there was a good fit, and if he wanted to proceed down the path of internet marketing and entrepreneurship.
If he complimented my skills, I was thinking of making him a 50% partner (not something I would offer at this point), so there was an incentive for him, even if there wasn’t any immediate financial remuneration.
In due course, we launched a new business under the umbrella of Red Flame called Outsource Blog Content. In addition, we put together several videos and podcast episodes for AS Movies & Games, and the internship was also one of the catalysts to launching a site called Compuxor.
In all, I believe something positive was accomplished (especially considering the timeframe) during these two months.
Having an intern around also taught me several important lessons, which I will share here.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for Everybody
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying — I don’t believe that entrepreneurship is only for a special kind of person. Anybody can choose themselves.
The issue is that some people just aren’t ready to take on the stress, pressures, risk or challenges of business. My intern was not in a position to be able to do unpaid work for a long time, and there was also outside pressure for him to get a job. Eventually, those outside voices won.
The potential to earn money was always there for my intern, and I gave him many opportunities to earn commissions and plenty of time to explore his own project ideas too. But our agreement did not include salary, as I was not in any position to offer that.
With that in mind, unpaid internships are not completely unheard of, and if you’re just getting started in an industry, your willingness to work without pay will communicate to the company that you want it. In many cases, it would only be a matter of time before they made provisions for a paid position.
If you want to get involved in business (as an intern), I would say the main thing is to make sure you have your basic expenses covered (streamline and reduce costs if you must), and develop your mental toughness.
Business will take you out of your comfort zone repeatedly, so you must be willing to push through the challenges. Developing a long-term mindset is also key, as businesses don’t often take off overnight.
Systems are a Must
If you want to integrate someone into your business, you must train them well. Arguably, the best way to get someone up and running quickly is to have documented Standard Operating Procedures that they can refer to. This does not mean that you can bypass the time it takes to train them altogether, but it does shave a lot of time off the training period in the long run.
I understood the need for SOPs before I ever started working with my intern, but sadly I just wasn’t together enough to have them ready in time for the internship. I regret that fact.
Not having systems turned out to be a bit of an issue, because I couldn’t help my intern quite as much as I would have liked. I had work that needed to get done, so there was only so much of my time I could give him.
In hindsight, having a basic set of documented procedures for things like uploading a post to WordPress, writing an email to reach out to prospects, or distributing and marketing content would have been useful.
The reality is that many businesses don’t have systems because the business owner doesn’t even know that they should have them. Or, they just don’t have the time to document what they are doing on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong — documented procedures aren’t terribly exciting. However, once you realize how much time and money they can save you, they sure start to look a lot sexier!
If you want your on-boarding process to go smoothly, build a culture around systems.
Vision is Obligatory
Again, like systems, I had recognized the need for a vision or mission statement before initiating the internship, but I didn’t have it in place yet. Why is that important?
Well, when you have someone join the team, they’re probably going to come to you with a lot of ideas. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it distracts you from doing the things you should be doing, it doesn’t do you any favors either.
The company goals, the mission and the vision need to be crystal clear when you’re on-boarding someone new. That way, it will be a lot easier to tell if your intern fits the culture of your business. You’ll spend less time answering questions too, because your team will have a better idea of what they need to be doing to contribute.
My intern came to me with several ideas, some of which I could never see myself getting behind. If there was a vision in place, this probably wouldn’t have been as much of a problem. Because there wasn’t a clear end goal, I couldn’t maintain 100% leadership over the situation.
Of course, you can’t go exploring every new idea that comes to you either. Most businesses take a lot of time to build, regardless of your expertise or the field you’re going into.
Like James Altucher, I believe that coming up with new ideas every single day is a useful practice. When you are regularly exercising your mental muscle, coming up with creative solutions in a pinch becomes much easier.
I think the idea here is to create a “mental dump”, a place where you can unload your various ideas while you continue to keep your focus on the tasks at hand. Then you can always come back to your repository of ideas later.
I implemented this practice with the understanding that I wouldn’t be using all of these ideas. Most of them probably aren’t great ideas anyway. The point is to keep sharp and look for creative solutions, no matter what challenges arise.
You may already know what you hope to accomplish with your business. Assume that your team doesn’t, and then make it easy for them to follow the path you’re already on.
You as a business owner should have a good idea of whether you have the resources and/or the need to hire someone. There’s no need to hire just because you can, and there’s no reason to work alone if you have the resources and you’re completely overwhelmed.
An unpaid internship gives you the opportunity to assess your potential employee/partner. Is your intern serious about a career in your field? Are they a good fit? Could you form a long-term partnership with them?
Though things didn’t necessarily go perfectly with this experiment, I don’t see it as a failure. The lessons I learned were worthwhile, and I believe the work my intern did was value-adding to my operation too. He thought of lots of things I simply didn’t have the mind space for, and took a lot of action too.
Two is better than one. Maybe not always, but most of the time.