In the heart of your busy season, wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra pair of hands around?

Yet for many photographers, the thought of hiring a full time employee can be daunting. Can you really afford to pay them 12 months of the year?

Why not hire an intern instead? Internships can be a great benefit for both you and the intern if you approach it in the right way. An internship for a high school student can begin giving them career goals, and showing them how to own and operate their own business. An internship for a college student can provide work experience as they move towards their dream job. And for a photography student, it can show them real world experience and how to apply their coursework towards building a lifestyle.

While internships can be a valuable asset to your business, it can also be a miserable experience for both you and your intern if you don’t approach it the right way. Here are a few tips to running a successful internship program.

1. Start with a plan – The biggest mistake you can make is hiring an intern and retrofitting them into work. Having them sit around watching the clock, or making coffee and copies won’t do. Instead, look at your workweek and determine where they can help. Can they create a system for your office to get you more organized? Use the skills they are learning at school.

2. Find great interns – Interns can come either on a free or a pay basis. Keep in mind that you’ll have more of a selection if you are willing to pay them something. Start with your local school, colleges and art institutes. Talk with career counselors and find out more about the process. They usually know the school well, and can offer you tips for finding great interns. We actually found an intern in her senior year of high school that was a great photography assistant. She worked with us every summer all through college.

3. Set challenging goals – Use their knowledge and experience to help you move forward with your own business. Because your intern will probably be a teen or in their early 20’s, use their knowledge of social networking skills. Can they help you develop marketing ideas for their age group? This is a great tool to have, especially if you are targeting the younger generation for senior portraits or even weddings.

4. Don’t become the babysitter <– If you interview and find the right intern, you should be able to give them a project and walk away. Remember this is a way for you to get twice as much work done in half the time. If you are micromanaging, it’s as if they aren’t there.

5. Provide more opportunity along the way – Show trust throughout your time together. If they do one job well, build on that concept and give them a harder task. Don’t expect things done your way – learn from them too. This is a way to get second opinions on ideas you’ve been planning. You can even move them into more complex tasks – how about cold calling, and offering them bonuses if they bring in sales? We had a booth one year at our local Parade of Homes, and had our intern work the booth throughout the event. We offered a bonus on any portrait client she brought in to our business.

6. Treat it like a job – Make sure your intern realizes this is a job. Set up regular hours, and abide by rules and deadlines. If you let them head off to the beach one day, they’ll continue to slip away every chance they get.

7. Make sure you know the rules – If you pay your intern, they may be considered employees. But if you offer an unpaid internship, you have to abide by the US Department of Labor rules. Make sure you meet the six criteria for unpaid interns.

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