Yes, it’s officially holiday season. And yes, festivities are all around. But let’s face it — as business owners, we work on our own calendar. While some parts of the business world are winding down for the year, many of us still have a hectic few weeks ahead of us.
We know what you’re thinking – - I can sure use an extra hand! Couldn’t we all? But for many business owners the thought of bringing on help is fraught with concerns. Where will I find someone? My office is too small, I have no room for anyone else. Will it be more hassle than it’s worth?
Well, business owners-listen up. There’s a new trend in small business hiring – one that allows you to delegate some tasks you just need to get off your plate, bring someone talented onto your team while staying true to the fact that many of us like to run lean operations-hiring virtual part-time staff, and particularly virtual interns.
Back in September, the Wall Street Journal first reported that virtual internships are on the rise. A few of their key findings:
* Virtual internships are most popular among small to mid-size companies and online businesses.
* Virtual internships first became popular in the late 1990′s in information technology and software development. Today, they also include the sales, marketing and social media departments of companies across various industries.
* One of the many benefits of virtual internships includes an expanded pool of candidates and saved money on office overhead.
We’ve seen this trend continue first-hand over the last few months, and in fact virtual positions make up one-third of all posting on Urban Interns.com.
Virtual work arrangements have become fairly common place in the small business landscape. From virtual assistants, to outsourced marketing teams and outsourced web development shops – let’s face it, entrepreneurs need to be creative in building out their team and having a full time staff is often cost prohibitive. The taxes, the insurances, and the payroll fees….not necessarily what entrepreneurs think of when they think “lean and mean.”
Nevertheless, just because something is new doesn’t mean its right for your business. If working virtually is new to you, before jumping in and hiring someone completely virtually (i.e. you’re in NY and your intern is in Seattle), test the concept with someone semi-virtual (i.e. you’re in Boston, so is your intern). This allows you to have the benefit of bringing someone on without increasing your office overhead, but still gives you the opportunity to meet face to face as needed.
And how do you go about selecting someone to work for you virtually? Unlike a traditional job interview, this interview may be entirely over the phone or Skype — meaning there’s no opportunity to evaluate body language and rapport. So how do you navigate the online world to find the best fit for your organization?
Consider the Three P’s of Professionalism, Performance, and Presence:
* Professionalism: Prior to your interview, you will likely have many initial interactions with a candidate over email. First impressions are still powerful, so even in these early interactions, you’ll be able to get a lot of insight. If a candidate is writing you quick emails and forgetting to capitalize letters, think of it as the modern day version of walking into a room and forgetting to make eye contact or address you by the proper name. Just because it’s a virtual position does not mean your standards of excellence should be any lower.
* Performance: If you’re adding to your staff in any way, it means you’re busy and need help. You need someone who will ramp up quickly and deliver stellar work. Ask for samples of work, professional references and perhaps consider asking the candidate to do a short exercise so you can evaluate work product.
* Presence: That’s online presence. With all the social networks and ways to get in touch, we’re all so discoverable these days — including candidates. Go ahead and take a look at the information that’s publicly available online. You are certain to learn a lot.
Once you find a wonderful candidate (as we’re sure you will since today’s market is flooded with talented people looking for opportunities), some managerial tips to keep in mind. First, set up the structure for communication at the outset. Do you prefer to talk on the phone once a day, or receive an email update once a day? Especially because you won’t be sitting together and your work style can’t be observed, it’s particularly important that you set the rules at the outset.
Another important piece to remember is scheduling: Is it necessary that someone is available during business hours or can they work on their own schedule? With a virtual arrangement comes a lot of independence, so if you’d like them to be working more on your schedule (and not potentially at 3 am!), it’s necessary to state this at the outset.
So many daily needs of today’s small business owner lend themselves to virtual work: blogging, online research, executing a social media strategy. And imagine having access to a pool of talent- students and graduates from top tier schools, seasoned professionals – that extends beyond your local area. Finally, part with the model of bringing someone on for a role and think about bringing them on for a function. You don’t need to jump in with a VP of marketing, think about hiring someone to specifically focus on a few tasks in your social media strategy. Take baby steps when it comes to hiring as perhaps then you’ll finally feel the courage to bring on the help you desperately need!
About The Guest Author: Cari Sommer and Lauren Porat are the Founders of Urban Interns.com, a national job board for small business owners to connect with part-time help and interns, virtually and locally. You can follow Urban Interns on Twitter also @urbaninterns.