No Business is an Island: Interns, Contractors, Employees

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No man (or business) is an island. While many of us begin our small businesses to live life free from ‘The Man’ and the drudgery of the 9-5, few successful small businesses remain one-man bands for long.

Over the past eight years, I’ve engaged a variety of different support to help grow my business. Trying to ‘do it all’ has a pretty short shelf-life, and attempting to carry the load on your ownsome for a large community of clients can lead to resentment for your business, emotional burnout and a drop in the quality of your work.

Whatever you do, make sure you engage people as part of your business sooner than later. Ideally, engage them before you truly need assistance to help your business function. Once you’ve got to that stage – of needing help – your judgement about the particular candidate (and form of employment you’ll offer) is likely to be skewed. I know how difficult and dicey a decision to employ before you’re ‘fully ready’ can be – but once you’ve got additional helping hands on deck, you’ll find that your business begins to scale in ways you could never achieve alone.

Today, I’m pleased share a practical guide to the various forms of support you can bring to your business as you grow – realtalk on the pros and cons of employees included!

Interns

I began using interns as part of Ruby Slipper around two years into my business. Internships have been given a bad name by corporates who engage people to undertake nearly full-time employment for extended periods of time without pay. That is clearly an abuse of your responsibility as an employer. I’m not talking about that kind of an internship.

Internships only work when you are in a position to genuinely mentor and educate. If you can’t happily sit next to your intern for 6 months, for several days a week and coach them on your craft – painstakingly correcting their work, coaching them on best practice and effectively completing their degree experience in a way that tertiary education cannot – then don’t take on an intern. Internships must be a genuine exchange of education for work, with benefits for both parties apparent.

Pros of Internships: 

  • Support for your business without upfront cost in funds. You’re paying in time, education and patience instead.
  • You have a trial-run at recruiting, which puts you in good stead for actually employing people.
  • You have a trial-run at terminating professional relationships – another business skill you’ll need in your professional life.
  • You will learn how to teach what you do, forcing you to institute systems and processes which are of great value to your business.

Cons of Internship:

  • You cannot expect the same level of commitment to your business from interns as you might from an employee. Whilst most of the interns I’ve had in my business have been exceptional and have gone on to find terrific work within industry, there have been a few which haven’t worked out. Them’s the breaks. It costs in time, naturally.
  • The huge time in cost and productivity on other projects and growing your business.

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Contractors

I first began using contractors in my business a year into the venture. I recognised there were particular elements of my business which I wanted to outsource, which would save me time and allow me to do more enjoyable tasks or focus on growing my venture.

Pros of Contractors

  • You’re paying someone for their expertise, which means you ideally shouldn’t have to spend much time editing their work.
  • It’s a scalable form of employment, allowing you to offer additional work to your contractor in busy periods, and reduce their work when you’ve less on your plate.
  • It’s a very flexible form of engagement – you can negotiate to pay someone a daily contracting rate, or a ‘per piece’ rate (depending on your business).
  • Whilst you might spend some time working together at the same place, contractors regularly work in their own spaces – so you don’t need to have a formal office to feel comfortable using a contractor in your business.
  • It’s a great way of trying out a paid employee relationship when your business is growing – it’s pretty low-risk in terms of commitment.
  • You don’t have to pay for holidays or set aside their tax. (Please consult your own accountant for tax matters relating to your business.)

Cons of Contractors

  • You may have to spend considerable time training them on the specs of a project, or you might need to spend lots of time editing their work if they’re not the right fit.
  • Contractors have no responsibility to set aside time exclusively for your business – necessarily, they are not as committed to your business as you are, or as an employee might be. You might have a particular contractor you begin to lean heavily upon, before discovering they’ve sold all their time for a particular week.
  • Using contractors can still feel like you’re a one-man band: you’re the only interfacing team member dealing with your clients. Until an individual is fully an employee, it’s hard to ask them to take responsibility for your business’ intellectual property and workload as you ultimately require them to.

Employees

Becoming an employer is probably a bit like becoming a parent for the first time (I imagine). It’s scary, it’s unknown, and you feel as though you’re putting your fate in the hands of destiny. I began formal employee relationships in my business in the past couple of years. It’s the ultimate next-level moment for a business owner, and one you should be proud of: to get there, you’ve done a lot of hard yards.

One thing I do know, however, is that true business growth begins with formal employment. You should feel like you’re no longer isolated, bearing all the responsibility for your business. You should feel free to bring employees into your client meetings (or interface with your clients, however your business model runs). It’s an amazing privilege and responsibility – it should embolden you rather than make you shrink.

Pros of Employees

  • You can expect a high level of personal commitment from an employee. If they’re the right match for your business, they’ll take a sharp interest in the things you and your business’ clients have to say. They’ll share your burden through workload, and they should make you feel supported.
  • They will be able to interact with your clients on your behalf. When you hand over the reigns of independence to an employee, there’s no doubting it’s a scary moment. But if they’ve been trained properly (and you continue to support them as they grow), it means you’ll have so much more time to build your business. You’ll also be given a bit of breathing space from your clients, allowing you to return to them with enhanced enthusiasm and fresh ideas.
  • You can go on holidays! Finally! Leaving your business in the hands of employees can be freaky, but it’s a perfect testing ground for checking on your systems and processes. In your absence, what falls down within your business? In your absence, what have your team stepped up into, even innovated? Holidays are good for you as a business owner, and they’re good for your business in the long-run, too – revealing weaknesses and strengths.

Cons of Employees

  • Public Holiday Pay, Sick Pay, Superannuation and Withholding Tax. Yep, it’s time to put on your big-girl panties. You’ll need to set aside holiday pay each week for your employee, in addition to your other responsibilities. I recommend having your accountant assist you with this. It’s a big deal – but at the same time, once you’re doing it, it doesn’t seem that big a deal. It’s business, innit?
  • Covering holidays with contractors. Your employees’ time away from the business will need to be covered – so you’ll need to develop a relationship with contractors who can assist you in these times. You’ll need to onboard these external members of your team with systems and processes – all of which take time. Holiday contractors can be expensive, too.
  • Management and difficult discussions. Whilst not strictly a con, employees require your attention, affection and support in the form of management. Not all of us are great at people management, which is essential to being an employer. Having difficult discussions about wages and role expectations are also part of being an employer. You probably can’t be ‘prepared’ for these tough moments, but you must be willing to enter into fair discussion when the moment arises.

Photography: Breeana Dunbar

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