How My Intern Doubled My Productivity (and Where to Get One)

There are just so many hours in a day. You have to go to work (be it full-time, part-time or project-based). You have to do chores around the house, go shopping, spend time with your partner. Sometimes sleep, watch TV or enjoy a nice walk in the park.

Nowadays there seems to be an abundance of opportunities and jobs available online. Problem is: you just can't handle all the madness by yourself. Sure, you could ask your partner to help, but he/she is probably busy doing something else as well.

The answer? An Intern. You could call him an Assistant, a Secretary or a Productivity Manager (I like this one the most).

What an Intern Can Do for You

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You first have to set some goals, some boundaries and a budget. For me those were: increase my freelance work capacity, no personal involvement and around $100 per month. I chose these because I had very specific needs. You can, however, outsource or improve pretty much any part of your life. According to AskSunday, a website dealing exclusively with Virtual Personal Assistants, some of the services include:

  • Social Media Management
  • Outbound Calling
  • Data Analysis/Entry
  • Online Research
  • Graphic/Web Design
  • Travel Planning
Ask Sunday

I wasn't interested in outsourcing my personal life, but the idea did came up. On a financial level, I try to keep all of the receipts for payments and purchases I make. Only recently did I start using CashBase, a personal finance system, for keeping track of expenses. In the future, I might think about hiring someone to take care of this for me. Up to 2 hours each month are spent wasted taking care of this side of life.

In my case, I wanted to maximize what was working and was fun (freelance work) and minimize or outsource parts of my life that were boring, but needed (taxes, bills, research and so on).

Finding someone suitable for my needs was surprisingly simple. I had reached out to a friend whom I interviewed for my Podcast about Romanian StartUps. Knowing that he was still in high school, I hoped he might be able to find colleagues who were interested in becoming my Intern. Lo and behold, without even blinking, he told me he'll do it. One email and one phone call later, he was doubling my productivity.

The Differences Between an Intern and a Personal Assistant

A Personal Assistant is there to help you and that's pretty much it. An Intern is always eager to learn. And I'm always up for some teaching. You get to a point in life where you realize your knowledge is useful to others. Placing a price tag on it is silly.

Besides, teaching someone to do something can be seen as a barter. So you're essentially saving money if you help the other person, while he's providing an extremely useful service for you: giving you more time.

Because let's face it: cloning yourself is not a solution and a permanent Personal Assistant might be too much for what you're looking for. My choice? A small business owner, still in high-school with an itch to help, learn more and earn money. The perfect combination for me.

The Costs Involved with Hiring an Intern

It might sound a bit ridiculous, but I was planning on hiring someone who had experience with Human Resources to do the hiring for me. It's sort of a Catch-22, so I decided against it for this part. Pricing can actually be quite low – I've seen prices from $1.80 per hour online. I was worried that I was getting too much of a good deal. So my advice: pay more, expect more. I was lucky enough to call the shots and see the results within a day, so $10 per hour was what I offered and was accepted.

As I was also offering my Digital Marketing expertise for free, you could argue that the intern was getting way more value. But I see it as a learning experience on both sides and try not to put price tags on everything.

There is also the element of time. You're gaining way more by hiring an Intern, but be prepared to spend a few hours explaining the process. My solution? Create videos and .PDF guides with your needs and how someone can achieve your objectives. You want to make it as simple as possible, so you wouldn't have to explain anything. You also want to make sure there aren't any mistakes made, if you decide to switch Interns.

Where You Can Get an Intern

Remember, because we're looking for an Intern and not a (Virtual) Personal Assistant, looking in the usual places like oDesk and Elance can prove to be inefficient.

Elance Assistant

What you're looking for here – if you were to hire someone as a VPA (Virtual Personal Assistant):

  1. Reviews – you want that as close 5 stars as possible
  2. Jobs – how many total jobs he's worked in the past 12 months
  3. Clients – how many total clients vs how many total jobs, how many repeat clients
  4. Earnings – some have this as public so you get an idea of how successful they are

Reviews are there like a grade in school. Click on the number of jobs and you'll get a second screen, showing you feedback. Not just from the client, but also from the Assistant's side, which is good to know. If you're in a hurry you can skip this and just look at the number of reviews and final rating.

Elance Assistant Reviews

Jobs are important because you want someone who's active, who's working on a daily basis. That gives you a basic idea that he's constantly learning. It's also important to have an overview of how many hours that person works – if it's too many, the Assistant might provide an inadequate service and slow you down.

Clients should be diverse, so if they've only worked in the medical field, they might not be a great fit for you. If they're all-around technical – that's great. The Assistant should be able to handle research, doing data entry, working in Microsoft Office and handling emails.

Earnings are there to let you know if this person is barely surviving and could improve with more money or if they're doing just fine.

Going back to where you can find an Intern – start from your own group of friends. Look for people you look up to. Ask them about friends who'd fit the profile. Don't mention money, unless it's a deal breaker. You want to emphasize the idea that what you bring to the table is far more valuable than money: experience. Becoming an apprentice is a lost social and professional skill and we should strive to get it back. Phrase the conversation in the context of what help you're providing, not what you need done.

If needed, you can print some simple posters and flyers and hang around in places where your ideal candidate would be – co-working hubs? University campuses? Art cafes?

The Country Stigma

It's getting harder and harder to understand the rationale behind paying $15 per hour for the same job that could've been achieved for $5 or even less. The question then becomes: “How fast will the Assistant adapt to my needs and language?” Not only is Pakistan's and India's main language different, but their cultures differ too. I heard a few stories of how Indian people aren't great communicators. One story went:

For about 2 weeks I had been working with someone from India implementing a website design. It was my first time working with someone overseas, so I was nervous. I had, however, agreed to pay a sum of money upfront for the job. So I was entitled to updates. Which rarely came. Every time I asked about progress, he kept saying it was good. Or right on schedule. I sent him designs as soon as my US partner gave them to me, so it was all good on my side. After about 3 weeks I was fed up and demanded a refund. I never got one and instead got a very buggy implementation of the design, about 2 more weeks later.

My friend soon learned that this was a sort of defense mechanism for buying time. The programmer kept saying everything is all right, not to upset the client. Especially since there was money paid upfront.

It's easy to generalize and think that all non-Americans are like that or that you should only get an Assistant that speaks English as a native language (or your specific language, for your needs). It's an oversimplification of reality and a mistake to make. From a business perspective: do you even care who helps you, as long as he's doing a great job? So set aside your thinking and focus on the work at hand.

Final Thoughts and a Word of Warning

I didn't realize how amazing the self-cloning process was, at first. There were suddenly two of me, doubling my daily productivity and leaving me to concentrate on the most important tasks. Because it had become second nature to me, it seemed like having an Intern is what we were all doing. My colleague at work was shocked to find out my tactic. She didn't even realize that was an option.

Now that you know my productivity secret, you have to be careful with the way you apply it to your personal and professional life. It's easy to get carried away and outsource more and more things – can't I hire a babysitter while I go to dinner with my wife? Can't someone else wash and iron my shirts? What about the dishes? Or client invoices?

I advise you to only use an Intern for a short period of time (3-6 months), while you get organized. By that time, his skills will improve and he might realize he can start a business of his own. Which is great – after all, the apprentice will and should overcome the master. And then the Intern will get one for himself.

What about you – have you felt the need for a helping hand? What holds you back from hiring an Intern?

Featured Image Desigbed by Rozina Szogyenyi from the Noun Project

Sorin Amzu is a Digital Marketing Specialist, interested in Content Management and Growth. He shares advices and articles on growth hacking on this twitter account.
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