Startup Internship Guide: Run A Sweet Internship Program

We created a small business owners guide to starting and running the sweetest internship program. But before we provided it to you, we wanted to ensure that you have six tips for creating an internship program as a small business owner. 

TIP #1: Be confident that you can provide a valuable internship program (irrespective of your size or resources)

Be assured that a small business can offer a valuable internship program. Small businesses are perfect for interns, because of the intimacy and lack of room for  “bullshit work” it provides to trainees. Small business owners can work one on one with interns (even if only as mentors) and provide them work that impact the business (drives sales, increases social engagement, etc.3 :). In most cases, larger companies or organizations’ interns are given remedial tasks (getting coffee, picking up laundry, filling and only observing the real work being done). However, the actual goal of an internship is to apply coursework learning to real-world work environments. Small businesses offer this opportunity, giving interns real work, being hands-on projects. In a small business, we’re limited in resources so we can’t afford sitting around. Therefore, you rely on everyone (including interns) to pull their weight and provide real value.

It makes interns really employable when they can say they’ve written an employee handbook or actually posted on social media platforms.

TIP #2: Identify valuable (Sweet) ways to pay interns even if your budget is tight

HUEISH--WHAT-ENTREPRENEURS--CAN-LEARN-FROM-PINEAPPLESAlthough we believe that you should pay interns (at very least minimum wage), we understand that sometimes as small businesses and entrepreneurs, things happen. Before we begin detailing alternative methods of compensating your interns, please make sure you’ve tried to create a budget. Start planning as soon as possible.  If you’ve solidified plans to hire four interns for two months, try to budget funds for this (at least minimum wage. Check your local government laws for the latest minimum wage rate). If you can’t afford it, no sweat. Schedule to have interns work part-time instead of full-time to cut down on that expense.

If all of the above has been exhausted, don’t fret. You shall overcome. One of the best parts of being a small business is that you can provide other forms of value to interns without compensating as much or at all (should they agree). But it’s essential that you’re extremely transparent with interns, ensure that you adjust your level of expectations, and assign an appropriate amount of workload according to your forms of payment.

Other forms of payment include:

1. Providing one on one meetings that allow time for mentoring and career development
2. Allowing interns to attend networking events with you
3. Planning extracurricular group activities
4. Sharing access to amenities (great for home based businesses)


TI3: Give interns meaningful and impactful work

Interns need to be able to walk away from the incredible opportunity of working with you, adding “SMART” tasks to their resume.

Interns need to be able to walk away from the incredible opportunity of working with you, adding “SMART” tasks to their resume. Therefore all work you assign to interns should be:

S-Specific M-Measurable
T-Time sensitive

TIP #4: Don’t overwork your interns nor overload your expectations onto your interns

It’s tough. You’re torn between the desire to get work done and give them a realistic experience into the career path their considering. Just don’t. Interns end up being resentful and quickly burn out.

TIP #5: Record your preliminary discussions, (pre-hire and exit) interviews

This was critical for me especially while running marketing platforms like Africa Fashion Week. Interns begin with so much enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s based on the high of working with someone they admire, or sometimes it’s more about the ‘hype’ around the projects. Enthusiasm can easily turn into something other than enthusiasm, towards the conclusion of the project. Record and document all interactions. This helps you log activities, evaluate trends in your hires moods, and adapt your hiring and working policies and flows.

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