Internships can be a great source of free or low-cost labor. In order to convince interns to work for free or for submarket wages, you must offer something special, like hands-on experience learning a trade or skill, or a "real world" taste of a certain industry. Remember that interns typically expect to use their experience with you as a stepping stone to a future job. You are unlikely to find an intern to complete menial tasks for little or no pay, but if you're looking for an assistant to help you do research for clients or help organize events, you may be able to interest a student in coming to work for you.

The best way to get started is to call colleges and universities near you and ask how to set up an internship and what the requirements are. Remember -- students are supposed to get course credit for their experience, so the requirements in setting up an internship may be substantial.

Volunteers are a great way to get work done for free, but they are hard to come by and sometimes hard to rely on. Unless you're a not-for-profit organization or one that serves "glamorous" constituencies such as the arts, it will be hard to find anyone willing to work for free.

You may be able to find free consultants to give you advice about marketing, finances, getting a loan, or organizing your operations by contacting your local branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Its SCORE program for retired executives matches up people willing to share their expertise with small businesses in need of assistance.

Occasionally, would-be entrepreneurs will volunteer to work in a business similar to one they're thinking of starting. If someone approaches you with such a plan, don't agree to it until you're sure that they're not planning to start up a competitive enterprise that will drive you out of business as soon as they learn all your best ideas.

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Published on: Feb 4, 2000