How to keep an intern on your team and pay them what they're worth, even if you can't afford to hire them full time

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How to keep an intern on your team and pay them what they're worth, even if you can't afford to hire them full time
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How to keep an intern on your team and pay them what they're worth, even if you can't afford to hire them full time
From left: Panelists Caroline Constas, Kimiko Avilez, Sharon Miller, Cate Luzio.courtesy of the Luminary team
  • Building a team can help small-businesses owners grow financially and creatively.
  • But it can also be expensive to hire and retain full-time employees.
  • Two founders share how to responsibly scale your team and pay workers what they're worth.

For entrepreneurs, building a team can be an exciting step when growing a business.

For Kimiko Avilez, founder of the corporate event and travel companies Glow Event Management Co. and Glow Travel Group, building a team was necessary for her company's success.

"I realized in order for me to be successful and to do what I do, it takes a team," she said.

However, Avilez — whose business was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions — is among the many founders today who don't have hefty hiring budgets. So offering internship opportunities with the potential for future work has allowed Avilez to build on a budget, she said.

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Avilez and Caroline Constas, who founded an eponymous clothing line, recently spoke at a panel for women- and minority-owned businesses about growing a team you can afford. Here are their tips on building a strong team sustainably.

Subcontract workers for one-off events

Internships are a great way for founders to test the waters with new employees without increasing costs for the business. Some interns work for school credit instead of financial compensation, while others work hourly without health insurance, benefits, and other expenses that come with salaries. But there will be times when internships end but you want to keep the workers on as team members, Avilez said.

In these cases, she gets creative with her next steps. Her business hosts corporate events and group-travel experiences, which means certain days require extra hands. Avilez hires her former interns as contract employees for one-off events or projects if she can't hire them full time, she said.

"Subcontracting them has been a way for me to pivot and to retain," Avilez said.

Find creative ways to support workers

While Avilez pays her employees per hour, she also finds additional financial avenues to support them. One way she does this is by automatically including gratuity in every client contract so her workers can earn tips.

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"There is a bare minimum that they have to pay gratuities to the people that work for me because I know the effort and the time that they put into it," Avilez said. "That's how I've been able to leverage that gap."

She suggests other founders find similar ways to pay their workers without creating their own budget-line items.

Scale at a responsible pace

While additional employees can support a scaling business, it's important not to rely on potential growth for employees' pay. "It's very important to scale at a correct pace," Constas said.

For example, if Constas meets someone she wants to work with but can't afford to hire that person full time, she'll try to find other employment options.

"Whenever I meet someone who I think has a ton of talent but I'm not able to bring them on full time, maybe we could do two hours a week, maybe we can do four," she said.

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Regularly including them in company work ensures they're incentivized and still bringing their ideas and skills to the table, she said. Additionally, there's hope that it could become a full-time position in the future.

"It's happened to me many times where I meet someone, they start off as a freelance position, and now they're full-time employees," she said.

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