2009 Small Business Guide
A cartoon man holding a bag with a green "%" sign in it and an orange background
small business
Choosing a small business intern

Go beyond your own skill set

Don't limit yourself only to interns who plan to pursue a career in your field. Interns from outside your field may offer expertise you don't have. "We had two aspiring graphic designers," legal assistant Ngaruri says. "They designed our fliers. They did some work on our Web site."

Don't skimp on training

Lay out each project and task in great detail. Remember, your intern is still learning the ropes. Basic knowledge you take for granted may be all new to your newbie.

Use any failure as a teaching tool, Frier says. One of Frier's interns was terrified at the prospect of calling "The Today Show." "We wrote a script for her and explained the different layers she would have to go through to get the information," she says. "Not only did she get the right producer on her second try, but her confidence was boosted and we couldn't keep her off the phone."

Schedule regular appointments to check progress and ask questions. "You may discover the intern missed a step," says Linda LaSala, cofounder and editor of Girlawhirl.com in Norwalk, Conn. Or, on the flip side, "Some of our interns were so shy or intimidated by the office that they never told us they were finished with the task, and just sat there waiting for us to ask them," LaSala says.

Give big-picture projects, not just tasks

A set of tasks can become a project, depending on how you frame it. For example, instead of asking an intern to give you the names of the 10 best-selling baskets from online sites, give your intern the big picture with your plans to create gift baskets using your products and then break that project into tasks, says Julie Braun, co-founder of Super Interns in New Haven, Conn.

Start interns with nonessential projects before giving them mission-critical work, Fisher says. "Once I've built some confidence in them, I'll let them work on more important projects," he says.

Don't dismiss their ideas without careful consideration. Give your intern a chance to prove a project can work. You may be amazed at what an intern can accomplish beyond saving your business money. The first intern youth pastor at Fairview Missionary Baptist Church wanted to take 10 teenagers on a short-term mission trip to the Caribbean at a cost of about $10,000 -- a bold move for a church with average attendance of 100, says Timothy Palla, pastor of the church in rural Ohio.

"He did his research, made a presentation to the church, taught the teens how to raise the funds on their own, made contacts with appropriate organizations, recruited chaperones and ended up making a huge impression on a lot of people," Palla says. "Today we are keeping more of our young people than we did five to 10 years ago. The whole program made a life-changing impact on our church."

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