Business management

Placements and internships: a win-win situation?

Taking on an intern can bring benefits not just for them but also for your business. Three small business leaders talk about what they have gained from offering work experience placements and internships.

Perhaps you are looking for new ideas or different ways of working; or maybe you want to forge stronger connections with your community or feel like you are giving something back. Perhaps you could simply do with an extra pair of hands. If any of these ring true, offering someone a work experience placement or internship could be a positive step for your business.

Giving something back

For Caroline Kenyon, founder and director of the Food Photography Awards and the World Bread Awards, the most compelling reason she has offered around 40 work experience placements and internships over the past 15 years has been to give others the same opportunities she enjoyed when she was young.

“I was very fortunate in being offered some amazing work experience in my late teens and early 20s,” she says. “I received a great deal of kindness, met wonderful people, learned a lot, and had some blue-chip names to put on my CV. So, when I was in a position to help young people myself, I wanted to offer the experience I had received to others.”

Two of the people who began as work experience placements are now full-time staff, she adds. “Georgia came to us when she was 16. I was really impressed with her, and now, at 29, she has been our PR manager for the last year. Alyssia also came when she was 16. Again, I thought she had real quality and was thrilled that she was available when I had a sudden vacancy two years ago.”

The feeling of giving something back also appealed to Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature, which produces allergen-free snacks. “I was only 22 when I started Creative Nature,” she says. “I wanted to support other young people too, so early on we had interns coming in. It’s about passing the ladder back down and inspiring others.”

Good for the business - and the intern

Susannah Davda, founder of The Shoe Consultant, says it took her many months to decide to offer an internship. “I was concerned about the responsibility of being a new employer because it had only been me in the business up to that point,” she explains.

Young people shouldn’t focus on their lack of experience, given that we’ve all grown up with one of the most vital marketing tools you can have: social media. We have a huge competitive advantage in that

Grace Beverley
Founder, Tala

Yet with the help of a business coach, she worked out what kind of support she needed. “I wanted help with generating social media and mailing list content, communicating with potential clients and keeping on top of admin,” says Davda. “I was also keen to provide the kind of internship that would benefit the intern as much as it would benefit me and my business.”

Davda has now taken on three internships in the past year. “My first intern, Dahlia, worked for me for two months, during which time she set up systems to structure the way we worked, from a customer relationship database for keeping track of potential clients, to finding the right social media scheduling app, setting up a marketing calendar, and selecting a project management tool.”

Her next intern, Laura, stayed with the business for seven months and helped with some of the more creative elements. Davda’s current intern is freelance and, based in Belgium, works remotely. “Nick is a talented marketing professional with an obsession with shoes,” she says.

Helping hands and fresh ideas

Employing interns has enabled Davda to focus on the parts of her job she loves or can only do herself. “Researching the best system, app or way of doing something is time-consuming, and can feel quite frustrating when my to-do list is waiting, so it’s a joy to be able to hand these tasks to someone capable.”

Ponan remarks that not only have their interns helped to carry the workload, but they have brought in new ideas and taught them a thing or two as well. “It’s about fresh eyes that bring something new and dynamic to the table. An intern who is confident can ask that question you’ve not asked or see a solution to a problem you’ve got bogged down in,” she says.

“The key thing about business is that every day is a school day, and you can learn from anyone at any time. Our latest intern, Eshna, had some great ideas about blogging and social media posts and themes – and as this is an important aspect of our PR that really helped us.”

Davda also feels she has learned a great deal from her interns. “Asking them for their opinions has been incredibly helpful,” she adds. “In fact, I no longer feel I need a business coach because there is always someone there to bounce ideas off.”

Room for improvement

Taking on work experience placements can also teach you about what may not have worked so well about the process, or what you might do differently next time.

Kenyon plans on asking future placements about what they would like to achieve from their time in the business. “As we’re so busy, we usually expect them just to muck in and get on with it. But I do want them to leave us with a sense of satisfaction. I have never had the impression that they didn’t enjoy their time with us, but I’m sure we could do even better.”

When it comes to giving advice to other small businesses, Ponan recommends embracing work experience as a project and thinking of it as the start of a relationship. “You must have an abundance mindset with them; they are not there to make the tea or do the mundane tasks everyone hates,” she says. “Be realistic about how many people you can manage in any one year. It’s better to have fewer, and embrace and support them, than many who sit around doing nothing, feeling bored and undervalued.”

Davda is convinced that the expense is worth it. She says: “When you delegate, you grow. When I got into the swing of working with someone else, I wondered why it had taken me so long to build up the courage to offer internships. I have been incredibly lucky to attract such dedicated and talented individuals.”

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