By Arie Hefter

You might have seen them, scurrying around the office from time to time, carrying coffee from here to there, shuffling papers from desk to desk. Yes, I’m talking about interns—those flustered little creatures whose names you might not even know.

In truth, small business interns can be incredibly valuable assets for your business relative to their cost and, if utilized properly, can go leaps beyond their initial investment. Too often companies fail to use interns correctly and they completely miss the opportunity to use them to their full potential. For this reason, here are some key ways you can get the most out of your interns.

Ask For Their Input

Though most times interns are just college students, they have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal just waiting to be tapped. If nothing more, they can offer an outside perspective on a project—something that might be hard to see from within. So make sure to be open from day one and that they know it’s okay for them to speak up. Ask them questions, seek their opinions and get them involved. You just might learn something in turn.

The next time you’re sitting around the conference room discussing a project, ask an intern what he or she thinks—especially if that intern actually worked on it him or herself. Not only will this give you another point of reference (something that is always valuable), but it will stimulate their motivation by letting them feel included. After all, you only have something to gain.

Create a Level Playing Field

While true, interns are just temporary hires, you should treat them like a regular part of the team. Do that and they will be inspired to produce good solid work for you and the company—sometimes even going beyond the call of duty to prove themselves. Nothing kills motivation faster than being treated like a second class citizen, so unless you do in fact want to drive productivity down, treat interns like regular employees.

Remember, whether or not you actually end up hiring them, when interns leave they will become the faces of your brand—sharing their experiences not only with future prospective interns, but also with potential customers. Don’t you want this to positively affect your reputation? If so, make sure they feel like valuable members of the team. Invite them to company happy hours, bring them along to team bonding activities—anything to make them feel included. If at any point, they forget they are actually interns, then you have succeeded.

Give Them a Chance at Real Work

Interns come with a burning desire to show you what they can do, so why not give them a chance? Sure shredding papers and fetching coffee might be unavoidable intern tasks, but they always should be balanced with substantial work opportunities. Give them tasks that require legitimate thought. Let them attempt projects that could actually be implemented. If you give them responsibility for something, chances are that they will run with the opportunity in order to impress you. Give them ownership of something and see first-hand what they can do.

If you have a project that’s been on the back burner for a while—one that’s maybe not your highest priority but still valuable—let the intern take a stab at it. If nothing else, they can get the ball rolling and establish some solid groundwork for the future. If worse comes to worse, you don’t have to use their work, but this way you can give them the opportunity to prove their skill.

Be Open

Remember it’s a two way street. Interns come not only to help your company, but also to learn, so be open to their questions. Make sure they know these questions are welcome—from their first day. By nature interns are shy and don’t want to inadvertently step on any toes. So, on day one of the internship make sure to encourage them to speak up. Hold periodic feedback session with your interns every couple of weeks, not only to share feedback with them, but also to find out how you or your team can improve. Don’t forget, feedback is always a good thing.


This article was originally published on Funding Gates. Funding Gates is the world’s first CRM platform for receivables management. Serving as an online credit department for small businesses, Funding Gates is set on making managing receivables the easiest part of running a business.