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Great Resources at Low Cost for Market Analysis

Updated on January 21, 2012
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Ed has been an entrepreneur and business owner/start-up generator for 15 years. He has also been a shotgun coach!

Gaining Experience Is Their Pay

I was very fortunate to have a man call my house asking if I would be interested in working on an internship for the Edward John Noble Foundation. He was responsible for finding likely candidates to live and work on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia known as St. Catherine's Island. It had requirements of grades and recommendations as well as an intended direction at the time - a major in Forestry Resources was initially required. The program would pay me minimum wage, provide me room and board, and a scholarship equivalent to my tuition and books each quarter. I worked from the time school was out until it started back up in the fall. The island, at the time, had no telephone (and there was no mobile phones then) but we did have ship to shore radio. We had electricity and could pick up Savannah television channels. Running water, indoor toilets and showers, all the modern conveniences - but it was a 30 minute boat ride to "the hill" anytime we needed to go ashore to buy anything. I jumped at the chance. My jobs varied from feeding the exotic animals that were on the island in an agreement with the Bronx Zoo, to cutting and spraying pine beetle infected pine trees, to working on the boats, trucks, and houses on the island. Basically, doing anything that needed to be done. I was in heaven!

The experience was something I have cherished my entire life. I remember things I did there 35 years ago like it was yesterday. I learned a lot about working with different people, interactions with nature and life in general. We had scientists that would come out and study the flora and fauna of the island and try to postulate what may happen over time from their experiments. I also was engaged in removing wild hogs and feral cattle that populated the island.

What did those companies get for my work? At the time I certainly didn't know and really didn't care. What they did get was really cheap labor - educated, hard working labor. They also engaged an advocate for what they were doing. There was no indoctrination to do so - it was just as much a part of me after I left the island as it was when I was there. Had I stayed in the area and become active politically, I would most certainly supported anything related to the group. So how does that fit in any other business?

What can an Intern Program do for My Business?

There are a few distinct opportunities to utilize interns within your business. First let's define the concept of an "intern." Generally defined as a white collar apprentice, interns are typically college oriented and can fall into either paid or non-paid categories.

What kind of work can you turn over to an intern? Pretty much whatever you are comfortable doing with any new employee - keeping in mind these are the most temporary of temp employees! Critical jobs that will take longer than the internship will run are not good ideas and end up incomplete - and you with a bad taste for interns. But don't just put them on the most menial of jobs either. If you do, the intern - who you may find is better than any other person in the office - may never want to set foot in the office again.

If your intern is oriented to accounting (God help them) where would you assign a new hire if you brought one in tomorrow? Better yet, what is the most interesting part of the accounting department (I'm sorry, I can't figure how any of it could be interesting). Maybe it is forensic accounting on figuring out where something went off track. That may be more helpful and more interesting than just credit and debits. I know one accountant who is actually the salesperson for his firm. He works with McDonald's franchisees to bring them to his firm. Since all they do is McDonald's franchisees, and he actually worked for McDonald's corporate for a few years, they really know their business. Grooming a potential new contact that could possibly take over that role would be very valuable for both parties.

If your idea is more along the lines of engineering, maybe you can plan on moving the person around the office a little letting them work in a group for a month at a time through the summer. Here, they can do a lot of the busy work, even get coffee, but can be engaged in seeing how something must come together to work for the end customer.

A sales intern usually requires some oversight. I know of at least one company, for example, that hires on campus representatives. They are to be coordinated by the representative that actually is supposed to be selling products to the University. The intern reports to the rep and looks for direction and interaction from the representatives. The problem or opportunity here lies with that rep. If he isn't a leader, if she isn't a trainer, don't "give" them an intern. If they don't have the maturity to develop a new person, don't give them one - or if you want to see how they would be as a sales manager, this is a great opportunity.

Keep in mind, these people are typically wanting to either figure out if this is a job they want to do, or more specifically if this is a company they want to work for.

Another possibility for interns is to do that investigatory work you have always wanted to do to see what would be needed for your company to enter a new field or add a new product. I know of a company that is using interns to see just what would be involved in their taking products internationally.

Do you pay them? I highly recommend that you pay your interns. Working for free never works out that way for either person. You don't have to pay them big bucks, but you do need to be sure their expenses are covered to do the job well. I've heard of both ends of the spectrum on paid internships from one offering a summer internship - actually one semester - for packaging science that paid for room and board along with another $20,000 for the 3 months - basically their intent was to pay for the students next semester of school and not have them have any living expenses while they worked.

In the other direction was a company in the technology business that expected the intern to perform tasks on campus, in particularly sales, with no direction and no communication - and only paid a minimum wage based on hours submitted. Neither the intern nor the company gained much off of that relationship.

Think these things through but know you have a great opportunity to freshen your potential employee pool by utilizing these fresh minds. Put an intern plan in place at your business, but take the time to plan out just what it is that internship is all about.

The Inventurist


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