At Roundpeg, we love interns, so I was delighted when Lindsey Paho, a writer at Professional Intern offered to send us a guest post.

If you’re one of those brave souls at the helm of one of the United States’ more than 5.6 million small businesses with employees other than yourself, you solve problems every hour. Some of these problems have become routine, but others loom large, such as how to expand without wrecking an already tight budget. Even more daunting is figuring out a way to grow your own knowledge base to effectively manage that small business when it’s not so small anymore. One often overlooked means of approaching both challenges is through hiring an intern who’s working on their online MBA. They can bring to your company more than affordable labor; they can pave your way to being a better owner.

“Intern? Isn’t that for Fortune 500 companies?”

Good question, and the answer is “no.” While major corporations do hire plenty of college interns, for the most part, they select from the best of scores of applicants and place the intern in departments applicable for the intern’s studies and interests, but what is a small business but a very much scaled down version of a large business? Both IBM and your company have similar goals, such as making a profit and maximizing the return on investment. Interns and companies, large and small, enjoy a symbiotic relationship that is measured best by the way in which the intern is employed at work.

Why an online MBA candidate? Two reasons: One is that an intern taking distance learning courses is more than likely someone with some real-life experience he or she can bring to your work, and two, the relationship you develop with your intern can inform you of options you can take to someday pursue that MBA you’ve always wanted to add to your business card. Ask around your contacts and generate a short list of schools offering internet classes leading to an MBA, then narrow your focus on finding the right intern.

As you think about the next big step for your company, think about the resources you’ve relied on so far, and those you’ll need to expand. So far, you and perhaps a small cadre of associates have carried the business on your product know-how and judicious decision making. What you probably don’t have, though, is a couple of decades of experience in marketing, business planning, finance and other subjects whose most current best practices are being taught to – you guessed it – MBA students. Interview your candidate and find out which ones have budding knowledge in the subjects you need and you’ll have found an intern who has a good connection with subject matter experts in those topics they teach to MBA candidates.

We’ve all heard horror stories about interns not getting paid fairly, or not at all, and we’ve heard about interns “fetching” coffee for obnoxious managers. That’s not going to be you, of course. Bring your intern in as more consultant than flunky. Find out what skills or experiences your intern wants from the relationship and negotiate how best to meet those desires. Set your own expectations right at the get-go and let them know what you’d like to learn from their knowledge and access to resources. Develop for your intern projects that you’ve put off due to lack of resources and support them in achieving the goals of that project.

A mutually beneficial intern experience can set the groundwork for the successful growth of your company. Part of that success will no doubt include you, the business owner, updating your own skills and staying at the lead of current industry developments. More than a few hard-working small business owners have determined that their own MBA would provide the foundation for that subsequent expansion of their business, the planned growth of their scope and the major future investment that puts you into the big league after you’ve wisely managed your company through those first seven to ten years. The lessons you learn from your intern through a productive partnership, not some temporary make-work episode, can open doors you may not know exist while you’re helping build a student’s own future.

Lindsay Paho
Something such as Lindsey Paho loves writing and business. She is considering her online mba and enjoys blogging in her free time.