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How to Get People to Work for you for Free

It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

If you've missed past Expert Briefs, you can click on the undies to see them all –>

One of my “super-powers”, as my friends say, is that I'm really good at getting people to work for me for free. 😉

For instance, I just got a fabulous new intern that I'm really excited about working with.

That brought up the question …

Do you work with Interns?

If so, how do you structure the relationship so that both parties get a fair deal? Any tips or warnings?

Here are their replies.

kellyKelly McCausey of Solo Smarts says:

Internships have been a big part of my online business strategy for years. What started with a need for someone else who could do what I do turned into a content creation dream and the development of a popular new information product.

My internship program is the answer to the requests for free help that invariably come in. It gives me the chance to work with talented newcomers who have more time than money. I get to help them learn and they get to earn their way to access for all of my resources. It's win-win.

If you'd like to dig deeper, I've got a transcript for you of an audio I produced for SoloMastermind members. I share a lot of ideas and important considerations if you're thinking about taking on your own intern.

->Click here to read that that Transcript

Be sure to check out Kelly’s coaching program here. Solo Masterminds – it’s where I got started!

ConnieConnie Ragen Green of Affiliate Marketing Secrets Explained says:

I tried working with interns when I was just getting started online, but I found that it was too early in my own online career for me to be guiding others properly.

Once I had been online for several years I again reached out to people who wanted to learn in order to find some good interns who wanted to move forward and learn additional skills.

My Project Manager now chooses one person every six months to help with some of my clerical tasks, and then moves them up to more substantial duties as time goes by. At the end of the six month internship they are ready to move into a paid position or to be recommended to someone else who needs help in their online business.

How Has Connie won so Many Affiliate Contests? Find out here -> Affiliate Marketing Secrets Explained

David Perdew of NAMS says:

An internship was the thing that jolted my journalism career into high gear!

I worked for the Courier Journal in Louisville, KY, for the summer as an intern in 1976. I was a junior in college.

My wife and baby lived with her mother that summer because I knew how important it was for my career to make the connections, get the practical experience of daily metro journalism, and get a leg up on the competition for the limited jobs.

Without that internship, I would have never been successful in the newspaper business.

Eight months later, I purchased a weekly newspaper and launched my career – a very successful one at that. I shortened my learning curve by years.

Internships are worth gold. Even unpaid internships.

Hooking up with someone who is already successful at growing the business you’re interested in is the best way to learn fast. Ben Franklin became a master printer – and America’s first true entrepreneur – by learning his trade as an apprentice in another printing shop.

Often, people don’t want to do internships because there’s little if any pay involved. But that’s incredibly short-sighted. When you find a business owner willing to take on interns, he’s willing to give you personal attention, training and insight into his business that no one else gets.

And sometimes, it becomes a long term partnership.

We’re in the process of setting up our NAMS internship program with 12 slots to focus on different and specific areas of doing business online. Yep, we gain a bunch from working with people for 10 weeks. But believe me, the intern gets an amazing amount of real life training that can’t be had any other way than being in the trenches of daily business.

  • We interview interns carefully.
  • We expect them to participate in the design of their 10-week program with specific goals that THEY want to accomplish. We make sure those goals are in synch with the goals WE want to accomplish. Then we help the intern build a plan for achieving those goals.
  • We expect interns to give us at least 10 hours per week.
  • We promise to be involved in their process, to monitor and critique their work.
  • We do not pay our interns. We do hook them up with a free ticket to NAMS workshop

And if they’ve done a great job, they go on their way with a letter of recommendation and introductions to other business owners.

Be sure to sign up for David's free weekly webinars here: NAMS Training

Jeanette S. Cates, PhD of Organize Your Online Business says:

I am not currently using Interns, but I had a good-sized program several years ago. I recruited people from my list who wanted to grow their business. In exchange for 5 hours per week, they got to see the “inside” workings of my business – and I met with them once a month to consult on THEIR business. So it seemed like a fair exchange. I set up my team training site (that I still use with my staff) to facilitate the work and interaction.

Unfortunately it only lasted a few months. They got busy or decided it was too much work to build a business online. I spent a lot of my time supervising, correcting, teaching. In the end, I felt I could hire professionals who already knew what they were doing and didn't need “encouragement” a lot cheaper. That has been the best decision for me, since I can earn more by spending my time doing what I do best – and outsourcing the rest!

Train your Interns. Dr. Jeanette Cates teaches how to set up a Team Training Site in her One Hour Membership Site course.

ShannonShannon Cherry of Get Free Business Help (ie. How to Get Interns) says:

I love the internship model for a growing business. As a matter of fact, I got my start in television as an intern, so I really value a great internship experience.

I've been personally using interns since the beginning of my career, and when I started my business more than ten years ago, I used the internship model to help me grow fast (so much so, I've created a product about how to do this!)

I have three very important rules for using interns:

1) They want experience, give it. Do NOT have interns doing the simple tasks you just don't want to deal with. Create a balance between those not so fun tasks and what they really want to learn.

2) Treat them like any other person you would hire. To give them real world experience, treat them like they would be treated in the real world. Use hiring contracts, operations manuals and job descriptions so there is a complete understanding of what is expected. And that also means don't be afraid to fire an intern if its not working out.

3) Make it fun. After all, if its not fun… is it really worth it? I send my interns little gifts to show I appreciate them and bonuses for going above and beyond.

I've personally saved more than $27,000 last year alone by using interns. It's a great way to get work done by offering others a wonderful opportunity.

Shannon's course teaches you how to Get and Work with Interns – including the necessary contracts to have in place.

jasonJason Fladlien of Double Your Productivity for Life says:

We have someone on staff who is somewhat an intern, he's a paid intern for Pakistan, and he does a lot of video work for us. He works out real great, my only regret is I don't have enough stuff to keep him busy. The funny thing is he asked me one day if it was okay if he told people at his University that he worked for us…

A lot of overseas ‘interns' or outsource workers are very proud to work for American based companies, and if you get someone like that you should keep them – but they usually have great work ethic and aim to please.

Jason is freaky-smart and uber-productive. Get his productivity training here: Double Your Productivity for Life (I bought it and am reading it now.)

NicoleNicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

Not surprisingly, my internship program is pretty fluid. And, kind of warm and fuzzy, too. Heck, most of my systems are like that. I'm not a real “set in stone” kinda gal if you haven't noticed. 😉

For instance, one of my first interns that stuck (I seem to have to go through a few to get the hard workers) was none other than my (now) good friend, Tracy Roberts. You know, the same Tracy who I just spent the weekend brainstorming with in a condo at the beach?

Yeah, internships can definitely grow into awesome working relationships and friendships.

Tracy actually worked for free for me for an entire year. She just kept telling me that there was more that she wanted to learn. And, I liked having her around. She didn't feel quite ready to move from the role of an Intern to a Virtual Assistant at the time, so we agreed to continue having her work for free, in exchange for more of my time, for awhile.

Now she's rocking and rolling and I'm so very proud of my friend!

My latest intern seems to be a spit-fire. Motivated. Enthusiastic. Smart. She's got the whole package and I  know her business will do awesome once she gets some focus and momentum behind her.

The terms of my internships are:

  • 15 hours/week for 10 weeks.
  • I will provide business training from the start. If I see a skill they should develop, I'll buy them a course on the topic. (Or give them one of my own.)
  • I don't start coaching about their business until we are a few weeks in. They've got to put some effort in before I do.
  • I am available on Skype and via email to them, but I expect them to be self-motivated before asking a question. If I can quickly search Google and find the answer to their question, that's not a good sign, because that  means they should have been able to figure it out without asking me. 🙂
  • They have access to my Project Manager as a first line of help, in case I am not around.
  • I will provide them with a variety of tasks that they need to complete, so they don't get stuck on one thing or end up waiting on me.
  • I expect daily email check-ins that explain the tasks completed as well as total hours worked for the week.

What do I assign them to work on?

Well, the first thing I do is a quick assessment of their current skills, interests, and goals.

If a new intern is really interested in publishing on the Kindle, then that's what she'll be studying and working on. If she's interested in writing, then that's where we'll start.

I like to assign work (for both paid contractors and for interns) based upon aptitude and interest. I find I get such better results that way.

However… of course, there is a balance between “fun” work and “necessary” work. Some things may not be fun, but they may be necessary to learn – and get done in my business.

What do they get from me?

  • Feedback. I let them know what they are doing great and what can be done differently for better results.
  • Access to various resources. Things I may buy just for them to go through and take notes for me.
  • Access to all of my products at the end of the term.
  • Direction when they ask questions. Not always answers, but definitely direction. Oftentimes, I find they learn more by being sent off to figure out the solution than to have me sit and explain it. Of course, they're sent in the right direction.

At the end of the 10 weeks, there is the possibility that they will continue to work for me.

If so, this can either morph into a coaching barter or a paid assignment.

There is also the possibility that I will refer the intern to friends who are looking for great people.

Talk to Me.

Do you work with interns? If so, do you have any questions, tips, or suggestions?

Nicole Dean

Recommended Resources:

  • Be sure to read the Transcript that Kelly offered (very generously) of an audio she produced for SoloMastermind members. There are a lot of ideas and important considerations if you're thinking about taking on your own intern. ->Click here to read that that Transcript
  • Jeanette shares how to set up a private Team Training Site (to set systems for your interns to follow) in her One Hour Membership Site course.
  • I use Dropbox to keep all files with my Interns and all of my staff. Here's a video that shows how I use it. Dropbox.
  • I have a course “Outsource Weekly” that teaches a bunch of great stuff about Outsourcing. It's a tad outdated at the moment in specifics, but the strategies are solid. (So sign up for the free outsourcing mistakes lessons and I'll give you a heads-up when the course is updated.)
  • Of course, check out all of the resources above. It's good stuff. 🙂

I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Tracy Roberts

    Boy, was I blessed when Nicole agreed to work with me. Little did she know that I just wouldn’t go away 😀 One of the best business investment decisions I’ve made – hands down.

    Love you!

  • Sharyn Sheldon

    Hi Nicole! This was a very timely post for me since I’ve been considering hiring an intern for some of the higher level tasks in my business that involve a lot of research. Someone can learn a lot while working at the same time. I’ve just been trying to work with a VA in the Philippines and so far I’ve spent so much time training that it just hasn’t been worth the expense for the results I get.

    Where do you usually find your interns? I heard about a site called Urban Interns that looks interesting, but I’d love to hear where you do your search.

    – Sharyn

    • Kelly McCausey

      I’ve just put the word out via social media and my list. The best intern is someone who knows you and wants what you can offer.

      My ‘failed’ interns have almost always been someone who didn’t know me well before they started.

    • Nicole

      Hey Sharyn! 🙂

      I found Tracy and most of my other interns (and VAs, and Graphics people, and Transcriptionists… I’m noticing a theme) through Kelly’s mastermind at

      I’ll take a look at that site you mentioned and see if it’s something I can recommend or not.

      My latest Intern is one that Kelly hooked me up with. THANK YOU, Kel.

      I don’t actively look, unlike how Kelly does. They usually find me by contacting me through my support link.

      I’m actually considering looking locally for my next Intern. Not sure how that will work, but it would be nice to have someone come into my office to work.

      Thoughts on that, Kel?


      • Sharyn Sheldon

        Thanks for the tips. I’d definitely prefer a recommendation, though it’s not always possible. The downside of that website I told you about is that the employer has to pay $50/month to post a job. Well, they have to make money somehow!
        – Sharyn

  • Kelly McCausey

    I love reading the other internship viewpoints!

    My favorite part of my internship program is when it’s OVER and I get to watch them go off and do something awesome 🙂

  • Samantha Angel

    I’m currently an intern and its unbelievable how much more I’m learning than I ever would just trying to figure out the tasks on my own. It really is a win/win situation!

    • Nicole

      Samantha, thank you for sharing. I know not all internships work out, but when they do – it’s truly an awesome experience.

      Come back soon, please. 🙂

  • Kristin

    Love the opportunity an internship provides! I have learned more from Nicole in three weeks than I have in 9 months of researching online business. Love what I am doing and I agree with Tracy, it has been a true blessing to work with you. Can’t wait to see whats up next! 🙂


  • Justin Lee

    Great post Nicole,

    I like how you included different views on internships.

    I also agree with @Kelly, watching my former interns flourish is great. One of my former interns has already started his first company, by age 22. It’s a great success story and we still keep in touch to this day!

  • Collette Schultz

    How would you explain the difference between internship and a mentorship?

    • Nicole

      Hi Collette. 🙂 Hope you are doing well!

      I’ve been thinking about your question. Here’s my answer.

      * There can be mentorship during an internship. (And there should be.)
      * There can also be mentorship without the internship side of things.

      For instance, I mentor my coaching clients, my friends, and even some of my Virtual Assistants, even after they are out of my internship program. I mentor my readers to some extend through my blog and infoproducts.

      However, an internship is a very specific arrangement that leads through mentoring but through DOING.

      At least that’s my vision.

      What do you think?

  • Angela Wills

    I really appreciate this post! I’ve done a few internships myself – some successful and some not so much.

    The VA I work with now was an intern who I’ve now been working with for about a year so that worked out really well.

    I think there’s a good time to just hire people to do the work and also a good time to have interns… just not entirely sure how to decide when the best time for each is.

    • Nicole

      “I think there’s a good time to just hire people to do the work and also a good time to have interns.”

      I definitely agree, Angela. There are several things to take into account.

      1. Obviously security of your business. You wouldn’t set a new intern or even a new Virtual Assistant up with access to too much of your business.

      2. Return on Investment. For me, one of the projects that my intern will be working on is updating the formatting for all of my Kindle books – and the new ones that I will be writing soon. This is something where I’m uncertain on the Return on Investment, at least initially, so I don’t want to pay a Virtual Assistant $20/hour (for instance) if I later find that the Kindle books don’t sell as I’d hoped.

      3. The ongoing nature of the task. I have systems in place for a lot of the things that I do. I wouldn’t want to interrupt those systems to get temporary free work, and risk upsetting things that already work and risk losing my loyal helpers who are running things smoothly already.

      Just a few thoughts I had on that issue, as well.


  • David Leonhardt

    That is great. Yours are really a win-win. The challenge is that to make internship work for the business, you almost have to give them something really dull and routine. Otherwise you are spending so much of your own time explaining and micro-managing that it would be much cheaper to hire somebody. On the other hand, the intern is there to learn. Finding the happy medium that benefits both the business and the intern is not as easy as people think.

    • Nicole

      Agreed, David. The balance has to be there.

      I wouldn’t accept an intern who, for instance, didn’t know how to use his or her computer. That learning curve wouldn’t be worth it for me to teach.

      But someone who is comfortable using their computer, already using Social Media, and who has taken the initiative to start something… anything… even if it later gets tossed away? That’s someone who I would look at.

  • Alice Seba

    I appreciate this realistic look at internships. They aren’t just free work, they take plenty of work and effort from those providing an internship. While I don’t know how everyone here operates their internships personally, the ones that I do know, you do an amazing job and have a lot of dedication.

    • Nicole

      Absolutely, Alice. It is a true balancing act. The expectation has to also be set so that the intern understands they are going to be doing some grunt work and not going to be hand-held the entire time.

      That’s where I struggled the most in the past with a few of my interns. Setting boundaries. I learned that it really would have been better just to look for someone efficient and qualified and just paid them to do the work.

      Another mistake I see is people looking for interns when they themselves haven’t made consistent money – on purpose, yet. That’s the blind leading the blind and I really think it’s unfair to the intern.

  • Brandy Roberts

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m currently in an internship for the first time and it rocks! I am learning so much and getting to know the ropes of the online world from someone you look up to is an amazing experience. Right now the only drawback I see is I’m getting hooked on wanting to learn more. =)

    • Nicole

      “Getting hooked on wanting to learn more”.

      That is an awesome attitude to have! 🙂 Just make sure at the end that you’re taking action in your own business the same way you are now for your internship.


  • Alex

    The trick is not to get interns (paid or unpaid) but to mechanise or outsource processes that waste time. For example, I saved a huge amount of time, and money, when I stopped sending big mailings out from my office, and outsourced the work. I now have a printer driver on my computer that sends my mailings to a mailing house. Works a treat.

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