By Abby Hoeft

One of the most common reasons for not putting a great idea into practice is not knowing where to begin. How do you as a business owner launch a successful internship program if you’ve never had one? Start by developing a plan! Brainstorm ideas about what you hope to achieve through your internship program. Ask yourself what your business needs are and how an internship program can help fulfill those needs. Think about what educational background and experiences you want in an intern. Consider the responsibilities you want an intern to take on and who you want to train and mentor the intern.

Think Specifics

After you have written out your vision for your internship program, create a written job description and contract or training agreement. How long will the internship be? Set an exact start date and end date. What hours will the intern work? Be flexible, especially if the intern is in school. Define terms of compensation. In the job description, write out what your expectations are and what the intern will be specifically responsible for. Plan out tasks for the intern to work on each day and deadlines for when the tasks should be completed—use a calendar and consider the other employee’s schedules and your business’s daily workload. Let students know upfront if they will have a wide-range of work experiences or if they will be working in one or two specialized types of jobs. From the written schedule you have created, specify how the intern’s time will be spent by percentage of time spent on each given task (e.g. 25% of the time the intern will be writing up e-newsletters). If you go through an educational institution to find interns for your program, find out if the school offers educational credits for internships; many degree programs require this and have training agreements already in place.

Pay the Piper

Before you even think about advertising your internship program, determine how you will compensate your intern for his/her time. Will you pay the intern? If so, when and how much? If the intern will not be paid for their time and efforts, consider what else you can offer them. Maybe give them a store discount, access to business resources, or the opportunity to attend business meetings and educational seminars. Be creative; no one wants to work for free, but rewards and valuable experiences can go a long way in motivating any employee. Interns are no exception.

You have a plan. Now what?

Now that you have your goals for your internship program written, along with your intern’s terms of employment and compensation, training mentor, job description, and work schedule figured out, you are ready to advertise your internship program. But, where do you look for interns? First, look within your network; perhaps you know someone whose son or daughter is in college and looking for some relevant work experience before graduation. If not, ask around. Additionally, broaden your search; don’t just focus on universities. Look at technical colleges and trade schools, too. Contact a local job center or school’s career center and learn how to post your internship online and participate in an internship fair. Get to know the department chairs in the schools you are looking into, they can help you find the best students in a given academic program. Also, approach academic clubs; find out who the faculty advisors are and ask them to let interested students know about your internship program. Moreover, seek out speaking engagements with academic programs and clubs—this is great PR for your internship program as well as your business and career field. And, be sure to advertise online through job boards like Career Builder or

Try Before You Buy!

All in all, internships are an excellent low-cost way to increase productivity across the board and gain good press for your business. Plus, you never know—your star intern may just become your next great employee.

Want to improve your small business? Consider starting an internship program. Here are seven reasons why internships are a fantastic idea:

1. Interns increase productivity across the board: Interns help manage daily workflow and allow for regular employees to focus on other projects and begin new ones;

2. Interns offer low-cost labor: Interns can serve as temporary fill-ins during your busy season and because interns are looking to gain relevant experience, they will be less likely than permanent hires to demand higher pay—some internships can even be had at no-cost, especially if the school they attend offers academic credit for internship programs;

3. Interns improve the leadership and supervisory skills of more seasoned employees: Having a student to mentor will help even old pros remember the value in what they do and everyone enjoys “playing teacher” with a student willing to learn.

4. Interns bring new perspectives and are eager to learn: Interns want to put what they’ve learned in the classroom to use in a real-world setting and gain work experience to put on their resume;

5. Internship programs serve as good press for your business: People talk and if your business is a great place to work, your interns will likely spread the word;

6. Internship programs test drive the talent and work ethic of potential hires: So, someone has a degree in marketing—big deal. Internships allow business owners to see who is out there and what they will be like as an employee (trial by fire before hire);

7. Internship programs can serve as your year-round recruiting tool: Interns can fill the gap when it comes to looking for new hires—if you already know someone as a rockstar intern, why not hire them when you have an opening?