Getting Help: What I Learned in Hiring & Working With Interns

InternsI need help. And let’s face it, we can all use some help.

This year I have taken active steps to learn how to better integrate others into the things I am creating. A primary way I have done this is by hiring summer interns. I wrote about the process of finding an intern here, and provided a mid-summer update here. I hired three people (seen on the right): Diane Krause, Kathi Gadow, and Rachel Burns.

Now that the summer is over, I wanted to reflect on what I learned from the process of hiring & working with interns, and on other aspects of what it means to “get help” to develop momentum in your life as a creative professional.

ASKING FOR HELP IS AN EMOTIONAL HURDLE

There is the stereotype of the man who is lost and refuses to stop and ask for directions out of an obstinate sense of pride. I don’t know if this is why I have resisted getting help for so long, or for some of these other reasons that may (or may not) feel familiar to you:

  • You can’t convince yourself of the return on investment. EG: if you pay someone $100 to do something, if you aren’t completely convinced you will get at least $101 worth of value of out of it, then you put it off.
  • You can’t make the time. There is this compelling feeling that “it will just be quicker to do it myself, than to teach someone else how to do it.”
  • A voice of pride that says: “No one can do it better than me!” 🙂 This
    speaks to the fear of someone who has a profound sense of caring & ownership of their work, such as an author or any creative professional. When you are creating something on your own out of passion, you tend to invest loads of detail-oriented work – to the point of obsession. The fear here is that someone else may just view it as “a job” and not put in the TLC that you will.

  • Fear of commitment: you don’t want to be forced to do anything. When you involve others, you are essentially making commitments to do something, and/or to be responsible to them for doing it. There can be a sense of perceived freedom in just ‘going it alone,’ because it allows you to make every decision an emotional decision instead of creating a plan you are committed to.

The common part of many of these things is that EMOTIONS drive action, or in this case: INACTION to get help. Another is this: the fear of change. Few people like change, and asking for help sometimes FORCES change.

For many people who fear change of any sort, they tend to make an adjustment that they are emotionally comfortable with, sometimes precisely because it LOOKS like progress, but requires no real change to their comfortable habits.

TAKE A RISK

Getting help means taking a risk. I have seen so many people identify that they need help, but then stall because they convince themselves that they are working on a PLAN to get help, and just need to work through all the details.

For instance, if you are hiring someone to help, WHO to hire can become a task that becomes arduous and takes months or years. And it’s easy to justify that delay since it is hard to feel 100% guaranteed that you find the right person – so you just keep waiting and searching.

But progress requires risk.

And with risk is learning.

Even if you stumble because of a bad initial decision, you can apply what you learn to the next iteration.

Don’t get crushed in the process of creating a plan of how to move forward, or use the “plan” as a barrier to making actual change.

To make this process safer, put boundaries on it. For hiring interns, I did this in several ways:

  • I asked advice from people who had practical experience with interns, and people I inherently trusted. This meant that instead of me doing general broad research, then deciding what I trusted, I was able to hear advice from someone I trust, and then just ACT on their advice. This is an incredible time saver. Likewise, because I talked to these friends, they were able to speak to and assuage any fear I had. It wasn’t all objective stuff – it was comfort level stuff.
  • Even though my long-term goal is to have people who are permanent members of the WeGrowMedia team, I crafted internships as a 3-month engagement. In fact, I originally started this process not as looking for interns, but as wanting to hire someone as a part-time employee. The friends I reached out to convinced me to instead start with interns.
     

    The nice thing about limiting the time commitment is that you avoid any awkward discussions of “Um, well, maybe we should part ways.” You define the end date at the beginning. But there’s more…

    You can always EXTEND the time you work together if you both want to. This is exactly what I am doing. One intern will be working with me for (at least) the next 3 months, and likely with more hours each week. The other interns will both continue on into the Fall in a limited capacity. I have REALLY enjoyed working with all three of these interns, so I’m trying to find ways to be able to work with them when it fits with their needs, desires, and schedules.

  • I was able to make the financial commitment feel safer by also limiting the number of hours each intern worked per week. As I wrote about in a previous post, my original intention was to hire one intern, but I hired three. I managed this financially by only offering a very limited number of hours per week. Since each of these interns also had other jobs, and because this is a virtual internship (that they do all work from at home), it totally worked for their needs. It also meant I could set my budget in the beginning and never worry for a moment after that about how much this may cost me. Let’s face it, our relationship with finances tends to be HIGHLY emotional, so I wanted to not have that fear bleed into my daily work with these interns.

STOP COUNTING PENNIES

Since we are already talking about financial stuff, let’s dig into something that was another big hurdle for me to get past. To not try to justify how the investment in hiring an intern will equate to specific dollars and cents return on investment. Instead, I focused on the larger need for me to learn how to manage staff and integrate others into my business.

As I created a budget for summer interns (and now for extending these relationships into the Fall) I am setting a reasonable budget, but never for a moment doing what I used to do: obsessing over it. At no point am I saying “Gee, I could instead use this money to pay for that attic fan we need.” Or “Could I get 12% more return on investment by instead purchasing Facebook ads?” I know that the skills I am developing, the ways that this process is increasing the capacity and quality of what WeGrowMedia provides, and the fact that I am now helping each of these interns earn a living far outweighs some percentage point of return on investment in terms of dollars and cents.

I suppose I view the budget for these interns almost as I view how I would invest in education. I am learning SO MUCH about how to have others be a part of WeGrowMedia that the value can only be fully appreciated as one considers the value of paying for college. I am investing in capacity, skills, and relationships.

As someone who runs a small business which is responsible for supporting my family, this was a big hurdle to get over. What I have found is that this has pushed me into amazing new directions, and I have been blown away by how many good things have come from it already.

SHUT UP AND LISTEN

So for years now, I have this voice in my head whose job it is to say one thing to myself:

“Shut the f*ck up, Dan.”

Sorry if this sounds crazy. But I love this voice, it is the voice that encourages me to shut up and just listen. Patiently listen. Listen, even when someone is enthusiastically describing something you already know. Listen, even when you think you “get it,” but the person who is speaking isn’t finished yet. Listen, because in between the words, in between what you THINK they are telling you, is the wisdom that you may not expect.

“Shut up and listen” has been a primary focus for me this summer – to give each interns as much freedom as possible, and when they came back with their research or their recommendations to do this:

  • Thank them (recognize their work)
  • Listen to them explain it (and ask any questions I had)
  • Ask for clear recommendations
  • Take their recommendations and turn it into action
  • Illustrate the results of their work as clearly as possible

This may sound basic, this may sound like “management 101” to you experienced managers, but it has been something I have been obsessing over.

Why? Because I have sat in too many corporate meetings where the tone of the meeting is that it is being driven exclusively by the emotional needs of the person with the highest rank. That they would ask for help from others, but then when they received that help, they would reject it, diminish it, or if they liked it, quickly add the cherry on top and abscond with it.

There was SO MUCH WISDOM in what each of the interns provided this summer. And it was so critical for me to listen for it, to provide enough space in my own head to carefully consider their recommendations.

The bottom line: each of these interns made WeGrowMedia better at serving writers.

PEOPLE FOCUS CREATIVE ENERGY

Each intern had their own project, and this helped me focus on pushing long-overdue tasks forward. For months now I have been wanting to launch a course on email newsletters, and because of Rachel’s work, it launched this summer. I am now mid-way through the course with the first group of writers.

I have had a laundry list of ideas to add to my consulting process to make it even stronger, and because of Diane’s work, we implemented so many of them. This allows me to provide more value not only to future clients, but we were also immediately were able to integrate new ideas into my daily & weekly workflow with existing clients. That felt awesome.

Kathi helped me reframe an online event I am planning for later this year. When she started, I had a vague vision of what I wanted, and she has been instrumental in vetting these ideas, doing loads of research, and giving us a firmer footing to begin development of the event in earnest.

I have no doubt that without Diane, Rachel, and Kathi, I would not have moved forward with these projects this summer. Not just because of the incredible work they did, but because working WITH them focused my own energy to push forward. Having deadlines and being accountable matters, but even more than that…

WORKING WITH OTHERS IS FUN!

Can I just tell you how much more fun it is to work with others on projects you are passionate about? I know this from the work I do with writers – that when they partner with me – they feel less overwhelmed, have more resources, and are able to push forward more quickly. But it was so wonderful to experience that for myself with Diane, Kathi, and Rachel.

I now have three amazing COLLEAGUES who offer their own unique experience and skills to the mission of WeGrowMedia. And perhaps, for the first time, this feels a bit more like “WeGrowMedia” – a company – instead of just “Dan Blank.” Which is a direction I have been slowly working towards for years.

OTHER WAYS YOU CAN GET HELP

Most writers I know are overwhelmed and juggling so many responsibilities in addition to their writing. As I consider the idea of “getting help,” I wanted to explore other ways to consider doing so:

  • Hire people to take non-creative tasks off your plate: this is a bit of the flip side of what I did with these interns, who helped in very creative ways. For instance, you could hire a cleaning company to clean your home each week, freeing up hours of time so that you can write or develop your career. Or you could hire a landscaping company to mow your lawn and manage the outside of your home, all for the same purpose. Can you justify spending $50 or $100 per week to experiment with these options? You may not know until you try.
  • Getting more energy. I have often stated that your energy (and how you use it) is usually as important (if not more important) than how you use your time. So perhaps you invest in getting more energy by getting healthier. This could involve joining a gym, paying for a personal trainer, hiring a nutritionist, or doing what I have been doing recently which is going to physical therapy to deal with a lingering back issue. It is easy to reject these ideas because of time or money – but what I find is that when you invest in yourself, new opportunities open up.

    Also: as I mentioned above, when you turn these processes into SOCIAL processes, you are more likely to actually go through with them. This is part of the value of having a personal trainer: when someone is waiting for you at the gym: you show up. In the past I have written about how this is one of the many reasons that Weight Watchers is so effective.

  • Deal with the fear. You could hire a life coach to help you deal with creating momentum in your home and work life. Or go to a therapist to confront deep emotional barriers that hold you back. Or hire a book coach to help you learn the craft and habits of getting your writing done. So much of this is about confronting the fear that you have – and moving forward in spite of it.
  • Partner with others. This could be formal or informal, with financial arrangements or without. But finding someone to share your passion and pool your resources is something worth exploring. Some obvious partners in the publishing process would be getting an agent, or a publisher, and you can even consider a retailer (such as Amazon) as a partner, but there are so many other ways to consider partnerships.
  • Hire a consultant. Some of these are obvious: hiring a developmental editor, a copy editor, a publicist – people who have a very specific professional task to increase the quality of, or the scale of your work.
  • Join a group of like-minded folks with the same goals. This could be a writing group or a mastermind group you join, or it could involve you creating a group such as a group of beta readers or a
    street team. This could also be more informal, such as becoming very active in an online community, such as the good folks over at WriterUnboxed.com.

This is not an exhaustive list, and when I asked a group of writers I know about how they have “gotten help,” they mentioned even more: from the value of generosity (that when you lend assistance, you tend to receive assistance); joining organizations such as Romance Writers of America; books; conferences & events; engaging with specific communities in social media, such as groups on Facebook or Google+.

What has worked for you in terms of “getting help” so that you can create momentum in your life and career?

Thanks.
-Dan

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