The Low-Risk, Cheap Way To Find The Next ‘You’

Raise your hand if you'd like to pay a star salesman $100,000 to come help grow your business. Sound good? Anyone?

Raise your hand if you’d like to pay a star salesman $100,000 to come help grow your business. Sound good? Anyone? I didn’t think so. Especially if you’re a startup strapped for cash.

If you’ve broken free of a 9-5 job, and started your own successful business, the six-figure sales recruit is likely not in your DNA. It’s almost anti-entrepreneurial.

Big and fancy, and overpaid.

That’s not us. That’s not scrappy.

Of course, doing something to grow your business . . . that’s interesting. Growth is good, in most cases. Let’s do the exercise again.

Raise your hand if you’d like someone to help you grow your business. They won’t cost much, if anything. They will be smart and motivated and at your beckon call. And best of all, in 2 months, you irrevocably get to decide if they can stay or go. Sound good? Well, sure!

You need an intern.

Don’t shoot down the idea right off. I’m not talking about someone to fetch you coffee and make copies. This isn’t 1990. You presumably are not a C-level executive at IBM. You own your own business. It’s a rollercoaster, and it’s your baby. I understand.

You could use another hand. Trust me.

For the fourth year running, my research business welcomed a handful of summer interns. We just saw them off after a very productive few months. After yet another positive experience, I felt the need to outline what it takes to get a great summer intern, and to remind you that internships aren’t just for big corporations.

 

Finding the Next ‘You’

Quite the contrary. The next “you” is in college right now. He or she needs experience and would much rather spend the summer helping grow your small company than doing long division for the big boss at State Farm.

First off, you have to find the right kid. We always look to local universities. I studied journalism, but my second career is as an entrepreneur. College professors are often open to local entrepreneurs (Bonus: if you are an alumnus of the school) coming in, and speaking to their students.

So, your first course of action is to find a school and contact a professor. Ask about opportunities to come in and speak to the students about your experience launching your business. It won’t take long to find an “in”.

At the same time, most schools have formal mentorship programs, internship/job boards, and other public forums for companies to connect with students. Use them. Get the word out.

 

Hiring Student Interns

The next part is key. Whether you are speaking to the students in a classroom, or using one of the more direct advertising platforms, play up everything that makes you and your company different from what’s traditional.

Kids know about the big companies. Many will want to intern there because they think it’s what’s expected. You want to find the students that immediately resonate with the idea of owning your own business. In a word, make it sound cool. Cause it is.

No dress code? Work directly with the owner of the business? See the value of your contribution to the business immediately? That’s enticing, and powerful. Ambitious students who truly want to explore entrepreneurship will see the value in working alongside you. To me, that’s the opportunity we’ve “sold” and it’s worked to filter in the right students.

After speaking to a class, or posting a profile on the internship boards, we tend to get more interest that we can handle. I meet with each student for a quick coffee. It’s the no B.S. approach.

 

Photo: Suits; Source: USA Network
Photo: Suits; Source: USA Network

I tell our story, and mention how the student can come in and help us with sales, or marketing, or software development. I’m honest about our challenges and how they might help us get closer to addressing those challenges. And I listen to their story. After 20 minutes, it’s obvious who is a fit and who isn’t. Pretty simple, and definitely a small investment of time and effort on my part.

Getting an intern won’t take much from you, if you do it right. A few hours of time to find the right one. Most are willing to do the internship for free. (Although one year did pay $10-15/hour.)  So they’re in the door for next to nothing. Just make sure your internship meets legal requirements.

Unlike our stud $100K sales person, interns arrive under the specific understanding that in a few months, they are back out the door. If you’ve ever had to fire an employee, this is welcome news.

It’s dating. Not marriage. It’s cheap, not expensive. Most of all, it’s fun. Young energy arrives at your business. The five things you’ve been putting off for months can now be completed. Either by you because your intern handles something else, or by them directly.

 

Delegation Leads to Advancement

A common objection I hear from peers when I praise the value of interns is that they can’t work on anything valuable. The time period is too short. They don’t have the necessary skills.

Not in my experience. It depends on your business, but every small business led by an entrepreneur I know can use any intelligent pair of hands at their disposal. I have to remind the doubters that delegation leads to advancement.

Many founders continue to do menial tasks long after the launch of their business. Many small teams have a laundry list of “someday” ideas. Here’s your chance to change, and progress. If nothing else, it’s a good short-term exercise in trying to tackle those items by plugging in new talent.

Don’t forget that the dating analogy can also extend in to your long-term recruitment plans. This “test” might have lasting benefits. Much like corporate America, internships can lead to careers. You may find your next hire, or a future co-founder. We certainly have. I already miss our interns from this year. Sign me up for more in 2016.

 

This article has been edited and condensed.

Paul Saitowitz spent 15 years a journalist before founding a research company in the finance industry. He has contributed to the LA Times, OC Register, OC Business Journal, and more. Connect with @saitowitzpaul on Twitter.

 

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