Internships at a small business - Our experience. May 15, 2017 11:42 2 Comments
I had just read and reviewed In the Company of Women, when a friend asked if I would be interested in having an intern join Denys & Fielding for a week or two. I hesitated. A million little questions, doubts and concerns zipped through my mind at lightening speed. Mainly focused on whether I could offer an enriching experience for Andree, a talented, mature student undertaking a masters in Fashion and Interiors at the University of Creative Arts, with a background in furniture design. Gulp.
How would she feel about working in such a small company? What would she make of the 'hands on' nature of assembling the garden chairs for dispatch, packing up cushions and garden apron orders? The daily 'stop / start' nature of running a business interjected school runs and homework (theirs not mine. Although to be fair, it's a thin line...) The LONG hours that such a staccato timetable creates?
Then I got a hold of myself. How could I possibly turn down the opportunity to welcome a creative woman into this little company, having only just evangelised about the importance and the life affirming value of supporting and cheering the success of complete strangers? So, in the spirit of sharing, here is how we made it work...
I've never been an intern, but I have experienced that nullifying effect of having to 'shadow' someone in the first few weeks in a new job. Honestly. What a waste of time. I was determined that the experience I would offer would be far more rewarding for both parties. So, a few week's in advance, Andree & I met up and scoped out some ideas about how we would spend our time together.
It sounds obvious, but our initial first step was to discuss what we both wanted in terms of ideal outcomes. We started off quite broad; each taking turns to discuss the bigger picture of our respective work, and then, starting to focus down on the gaps. We looked for areas where those gaps overlapped - providing an opportunity for both of us. Together, we came up with an overview of the two weeks - which included attending and selling at a garden show, packing up orders for stockists and customers; a review of the business, prototyping and producing a canvas storage bag for our stowaway chairs - (providing an ideal, protective cover for easy storage in the boot of a car or shed) and finally, developing a new print for our collection.
Quite a ten days. But by meeting in advance, and spending a couple of ideas sharing our experiences and our ideal next steps, we were really able to get in 'sync', understanding each others' priorities.
Step out of that comfort zone!
Throughout the two weeks, there were moments when both of us felt out of our depth. For Andree, it was my insistence about the business review. Here was a great opportunity for someone to provide me with some feedback, with a unique perspective from both from outside and within the business. Hooray! And yet for Andree, the thought of undertaking this task in such a small business where the people and the company are synonymous, was uncomfortable.
For me, I worried that my 'self taught' approach to running Denys & Fielding might start to unravel. And I really worried about the sheer volume of packing and dispatching that needed to take place. As a result, we ring fenced time that would be dedicated to design and development, versus time for 'domestics'.
Reflect and Review
Last Thursday night, after a few days away from each other to reflect, we met for a celebratory drink and to review our combined experiences. For me, our review was a really special evening. A milestone if you like, not just of a two week internship stint, but of the fact that our little company is strong enough to absorb and add value to an additional person. I came away with my business review - beautifully presented of course, but packed with constructive, honest feedback. I've already implemented at least three ideas.
Thankfully, the task of the business review also provided value and insight for Andree, replacing the initial feelings of doubt and discomfort. Meanwhile, back in her comfort zone, Andree somehow managed to create two stunning new prints which blend traditional elements with an edgy, contemporary twist. To me, these new designs are two cousins to our existing collection - different but connected. I felt quite moved by Andree's interpretation of our style and her development of it. For Andree, she felt she gained a really practical insight into the running of a small business - the good, the bad and the ugly! And together, we achieved an awful lot.
Would I recommend internships for small companies? Absolutely. It won't implode your business. It will make you more organised, not less. And it will give you a rich, new perspective that money cannot buy.