Set Up Your Intern For Success: A Cautionary Tale

I will say that interns are a great resource. We’ve had some here and for the most part, it has gone well.

The backstory as to why I’m writing this now? I spent a total of two days of billable hours fixing the work of a Client X’s intern from this summer.

This wasn’t doing new work, this was fixing work that had already been done. To the tune of $75/hour.

Doing this has pained me, not just what it is financially costing this client but because of what it can cost you. Because if you think this upcoming generation of ‘digital nomads’ always knows what they are doing on a computer, I am here to tell you that is not even close to always the case. Whether your intern is 13 or 31 or 113, the rules are the same.

Give them a structure.

So in this case the intern for Client X did keep the site up to date… but there was no method to where the information was placed on the website. A new page was created for every event and there was no hierarchy. For example, if you wanted to see all the events that happened in 2013, there was no way to do that easily since they were scattered all over the place.

Also, all the pages were formatted differently. Some were centered with big pictures, some had thumbnail size pictures and were left justified. Some even were in different fonts. So if you looked at a couple in a row, it looks like a crazy person maintained this website. Only it wasn’t someone crazy, it was someone who had no structure.

As the person hiring, you need to create the structure for the person to follow. When in doubt, create the how-to document for them so they can refer back after the initial training.

If part of the reason you hired this intern to create methods, have that be the very first thing they do. For example, say that you want a consistent new format for every flyer your company creates. Have them not only figure this out (possibly after researching how other places use flyers for event promotion) but make the how-to document so anyone creating a flyer in the future can follow the instructions. This will ensure the work is done consistently.


Evaluate their actual skills.

With Client X, the intern told them he was a website expert. But before giving anyone the keys to the car, why not give a small driving test? Have them write some copy for your website or chose and resize images for a slideshow. (These can be given to someone like me to upload very quickly.) If that goes well, have them do something a little technical like make an intake form that gets automatically sent to three people when filled out, including yourself. Over the course of a couple weeks, you will have a very good idea of what they can do (they do it right away, it works great) and what they can’t (they’ll ask a lot of questions, the work doesn’t get done, an outside expert sees the work and warns you).

I’m not saying give them fake work during this period. Give them things that need to get done… but do so in small pieces of increasing complexity, testing different skill sets during the process.

I can say this from experience: I once worked with a subcontractor where I assumed that, since they could use Twitter to send tweets, they could successfully schedule these tweets in Twitter. I went in to check their work, only to see they had all the tweets scheduled to go out on the same day instead of throughout the month. Had I not caught it, this would have been disastrous. (31 marketing tweets from a company = lots of people unfollowing and otherwise annoyed) From then on, I had the intern write the tweets and I did the scheduling. The moral? Play to their actual strengths, not the ones they mention on their resume.

Note: If you were going to have this person for over a year, by all means train them on more difficult tasks. But if the point of an intern is short term work that helps you move forward, you are best playing to strengths versus training out weaknesses.

Double note: If you don’t know enough to evaluate this person’s skills, find someone who can help you. This is not a step to skip.

Check their work. 

Just because an intern is there, doesn’t mean you have less work. It means you spend more time on other things, one of them is checking this person’s work, especially at first.

If you don’t like what you are seeing, speak up. Talk to your intern, showing them concrete examples of what you want different. Otherwise they will do what they are doing for the whole period of time, making cleanup for the person behind them that much more substantial.

Give them training.

Give your intern a leg up by giving them some training. An online seminar, adult ed class, or even someone coming into the office for a couple hours can be relatively low cost and give the intern some of the skills they need to do the work you want them to. If during the initial testing period you find, for example, that they can’t code well in HTML but you need them to do that regularly, offer to pay for their time to take a class on the topic online. If you want them to edit video but no one in your office can use the software you want them to use, look around for a local expert and have them come in to train your intern. (Sure, I taught myself how to use Sony Vegas with the owner’s manual at one job I had but it took me a couple months. I could have gotten there a lot more quickly if someone would have sat with me even for a couple hours to show me around.)

While this idea of training seems like an up front cost, this will save you hundreds of dollars of productivity time or staff time redoing intern work. Bonus? You can send a staff person with the intern to also get the training so then you have two people in the company who can do new things, one who will leave and one who will be around to help other people in the future.

In short:


Not because interns can’t be smart or helpful or life affirming… but because they need some help from you to get there.

How ‘Checking In’ Works

I saw one of my Facebook friends ask people to check into her business on Facebook and Twitter.

I slapped my forehead because she can’t actually can’t track that unless she’s clairvoyant. (And if you are clairvoyant, by all means close your business and make a ton of money on that skill!)

Having people ‘check in’ on social media allows for several things, including increased visibility for your business on social media and an incentive for people to physically come in to your place of business.

If you are encouraging this behavior (and offering people something to do it), it’s important to understand how it works.

I joke with people that the opposite of what I want people to do is come into the Breaking Even office so I don’t go out of my way to promote in this way. That said, I have some advice that might help those of you who want to encourage this behavior.

1) Encourage people to check in and show someone at that moment for a reward.

If you want people to check into your business (on Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook… or all three), have them do the checkin on their smartphone and show it to a cashier. (A simple sign at your business can accomplish letting people know they can do this).

Then the cashier can give them something: a chocolate, a pen, some other novelty. Then the cashier can note about who checks in and what website/social network they used. Heck they can even use a camera to snap a picture of the person holding their phone so you can keep track:


(That’s me being the Foursquare mayor of Dog and Pony after checking in. Stop being jealous.) + Read More

Three Google Analytics Metrics I Care About (And Three I Don’t)

On Facebook awhile back, Breanna asked about reading Google Analytics:


I’m sure she’d want me to say she sent that from her phone and it typed it for her. She’s normally a very clear sentence writer. But I totally get what she’s saying. And since I’ve never written about it before I thought this would be a good time to do it.

If you have ever looked at Google Analytics, you know it’s enough to be overwhelming. And while I am writing this from my business point of view (year round, service-oriented business not doing ecommerce) it might give you a few good places to think about (or not think about)

Three Metrics I Care About

These are items I look at when I figure out how I should be spending my time.

Social Overview

socialmediagoogleanalytics + Read More

Seasonal Businesses And Social Media

closed-signAbout half our clients are seasonal businesses. This isn’t surprising when you think of the town we are in swelling from its year round population of 5,000 to at least double that for the months of May-October. A coastal town with the second most visited national park in the United States, there are cute shops, ocean views, and as much beautiful nature as you can stand. And most people prefer this in the warmer or foliage changing months.

But after Columbus Day (mid October in the US), about 70-80% of businesses close or open for very limited hours until Memorial Day (in May). Many storefronts are literally boarded up as the seasonal workers leave and the seasonal business owners move south to work another seasonal business or relax post-summer craziness.

Since I am online and local, year round, I do notice a dip in people keeping business social media accounts up-to-date. Most people will post they are closed for the season and not touch their Facebook page, Twitter account or website until they, in April or May the following year, come back and try to get everything ready for the upcoming season.

In general, I have lived here long enough to know not to counter this approach. I have tried doing the ‘let’s get your website ready early’ pitch or holding workshops in February when seasonal business owners are least busy but it seems people aren’t interested.

What I will say though is there is merit if you are a seasonal business to updating your social media profiles year round, even if you do so less often in the winter. Here’s why:

Maintain momentum.

When you update a Facebook page daily (for example) you get a lot more engagement (see 5.95% and 5.26% on the daily one) versus 2.78 and 2.36 percent on the several times a week page, even though the lower engagement one has more then double the fans:



If your page is growing like crazy in the summer, updating it through the winter will sustain growth and keep those fans engaged. (As you can see the more often you do it, the more people see/react to it.)

Let locals know when you’re open.

I got engaged in January. The part of the story I didn’t mention? Driving to FIVE restaurants looking for a place to celebrate and only finding Geddy’s, a dive bar turned tourist trap, open. I am still annoyed at the two restaurants whose Facebook pages I checked (their hours on Facebook said open but hadn’t been posted to in about a month. We had figured one of the two would actually be open!)

If you want more locals to come in (and recommend your place to their friends who visit in the summer), seem like you’re open on social media, especially in the offseason. There are plenty of times I would have cleaned off my car of snow and drove into town if I knew that more than Geddy’s was open, not just that particular evening.

Promote your online store or virtual events.

While your storefront might be closed, winter is the perfect time to sell some stuff online. Whether you are selling on your website with an online shopping cart or using something like Craigslist, post what you’re up to on social media to a group of customers who already like you. You might be surprised to make more money off your merchandise in the slow months… or how holding a virtual event can get some new prospects to try you out. Keeping it online means locals don’t have to drive anywhere and your far flung fans can support you year round.

Tempt people ahead of time.

Especially if you are in the lodging or transportation business, there is nothing like teasing someone with a beautiful Maine photo mid March and urge them to book their vacation. We had a rental client do this via an email blast to a couple hundred customers and he got four weeks booked before April 1st.

So consider working your online presence year round… you might get more out of it then anyone is expecting.

What Are My Social Media Accounts Worth?

Our friend Christina asked an awesome question on Facebook:


As someone who has had a business valuated, I understand there is way more than one way to quantify how much a business is worth and that each way can be seen as valid. Rather than using one formula, it might be wise to average a few.

Similar to this, I’ve seen Facebook fans being valued anywhere from $0.50 to $1000+, depending on the product being sold (the $1000 one was a bit of high end software).

But let’s try two ways for fun to valuate fans, using the Breaking Even page as an example.

Option A: How much traffic is it driving to your website? Do these visitors convert?

This calculation says, how many people came from Facebook (who otherwise might not have come) and what was their purchasing power.

Why is this good? It looks at who got to your website and regards Facebook as a marketing tool to get people there.

I went into Google Analytics and looked at what drove the most traffic to over the last two years. Here’s what I found:



Three of these are Facebook (the first one is the app that pulls our blog automatically into Facebook).

So let’s go to each source and see if people get to one of two pages I want them to get to: 1) contact or 2) schedule meeting.

Here is what I see when I run the numbers:

296 contact visitors got to the contact page from Facebook (combined from the 3 sources).
240 schedule meeting visitors got there from Facebook (combined from the 3 sources).

Now if I look at the success rate of each of those forms we can get some better numbers.

1% of visitors fill out the contact form and 1.7% of visitors fill out the book meeting form according to analytics so…

296 x .01= 2.96 people filled out the contact form from Facebook (let’s call it 3)
240 x .017= 4.08 people filled out the schedule meeting form from Facebook (let’s call it 4)

So 7 people got to the website from Facebook and bought something: consulting time, a website, social media marketing…could be anything. If our average customer is valued at $500, that means Facebook generated $3500 of revenue for us via our website in the last two years (or $1750/year).

When you valuate a business, it’s usually earning power over the course of about five years so let’s say this rate was steady, that would value this Facebook page (if it was maintained at the current rate) at $8750 ($1750 times five years).

Value from this scenario: $8750

Option B: How many of your fans are customers who have actually purchased something? What is their average spend? 

This one is way more time consuming to run.

Looking at our actual Facebook fans and their spending power is different than Option A because it treats Facebook as its own community, not just a tool to get people to your website. We can also argue this looks at the idea of repeat customers a little more closely.

At the moment, we have 463 fans and, for the sake of this exercise, I went through and assigned a monetary value to each actual customer that has spent money with us.

Total fans: 463
Number of fans that are actual customers (versus friends, relatives, or general well wishers): 60
Number of those 60 fans who have only ever spent $25 with us: 20 (1/3)
Number of repeat customers (more than one invoice in Quickbooks): 42 (70%)

OK so our social media customers are repeat customers, even if not a large part of our fanbase. But what is the average value per customer we have on Facebook? If you take the total these 60 customers have spent (ranging from $25 to $10,000, the total was $62,950) and divide that over the 60 customers:

Average Facebook customer: $1,049.17

These are people who actually spent money. And if we divided the total revenue over all the Facebook fans (including the friends, relatives and well wishers who haven’t bought from us yet):

Average Facebook fan value: $135.96

The $10,000 customer throwing you off? Let’s take that number out of the equation and make it 59 customers who have spent a total of $52,950.

Average Facebook customer: $897.46
Average Facebook fan value: $114.36

(Aside: Now our average customer is probably worth more than yours if you sell, say, ice cream or t-shirts. But if you went through your Facebook fans with your staff- even a random sampling of them- and assigned an approximate value per customer, you could run similar calculations and figure out how much your average Facebook fan is worth. You might have more fans that are worth less but that is still valuable!)

Is there a way to export your fan list? Not easily but it can be done theoretically: I just sat here and made the list the copy and paste way.

So the page valuation (in my opinion) would be to take the amount of repeat customers (in our case 42) and multiply that by the average Facebook fan value (we’ll use the lower one):

42 x $114.36= $4,803.12

Value from this scenario (on the low end): $4803.12

Ideally, the longer you’ve had Facebook, the better of an indicator this is. Also, just like with any valuation formula, running a few different ones will give you a picture.

But to be fair, you need to subtract the time it took for you or an employee to maintain the account, since that was a cost. 

So Facebook value – time to maintain = true value of Facebook page (While I think it’s a bit nosy to go into how I pay myself, I will say with both valuations if I subtract my time, I am still in the black, though barely for that second lower one)

Now the price of anything is really what someone is willing to pay for it so this is subjective. But bringing some well reasoned numbers to the table will make the person buying your business think of this asset as being much more valuable than they were probably originally thinking.

And looking at Facebook as both a way to get buyers to your website and a way to engage a community of customers is a more complete way to think about this asset, or at least begin the conversation with the person buying your business.

Why I Don’t Volunteer Web Work

About a year ago, I made a policy that I don’t do volunteer work related to my field. And I told people.

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won't do anything that involves a computer. (This isn't me, but I did offer to do it.)

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won’t do anything that involves a computer. (This isn’t me, but I did offer to do this. Just for the record.)

99% of people totally got it… and some even said it was a ‘great idea’.  About 1% don’t say anything (and secretly think I am a jerk I’m sure).

Note that the lack of volunteer work is in my field only. I will happily lug boxes for the food pantry. I will help clean my church during spring cleanup. My help just doesn’t come in the form of a website, blog, social media, or email newsletter.

There are a few solid reasons for that:

1) Less time at the computer. For someone who once had carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both arms, being at a computer 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week is enough for my body. More seems like asking for trouble.

2) Get to do/learn new stuff. Although I get to problem solve all day, it’s fun to solve a completely not-typical-for-me problem or learn to do something completely new. Sometimes this knowledge (like taking on credit card processing for the MDI Seafood Festival) ends up being helpful in my daily work, though sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with either.

3) Heads off bad leads. The other day at Rotary, one of the other members said to me, ‘This non-profit was asking me about you because they need a cheap website and I told them you don’t do volunteer work.’ I could have kissed her. If I am going to lose money on a project (and I’ve gone over why websites cost what they do and why social media marketing costs money), I don’t want to do it as part of the business.

4) It’s not fair. For awhile, my policy was to do three volunteer projects a year. If you hadn’t gotten to me in January, basically it was a no go. But ‘you helped so and so’ worked against me when I said no to a new volunteer project. So even though I helped three organizations FOR FREE, I was still being guilted. Now to give you an idea of the workload, there are more than 400+ non-profits on the island I live on. Just the island itself. Add to that my actual family and friends who don’t make a ton of money who I’d like to help and you see a workload I could never take on for a reduced rate, let alone for free. So I just charge everyone the same so no one can feel slighted.

5) People don’t value what they can get for free. I once volunteered for a very big website project for a non-profit that had ‘no money’. It took over 100 hours of my time and made the lives of all involved easier. I took phone calls nights and weekends. I came on site three times for staff training. Three years after, when they had a budget for a website redesign, did they come to me for a bid? Nope, they went straight to a competitor. I was mad, not because I didn’t get the project but because I wasn’t even considered for the job. My theory: when you get it for free, you don’t value it, even if it is awesome. Paying for something means thinking about what you want… and the time involved for someone else to do it. Both of these mean the person is happier with the end product, even if it is actually crappier.

6) I have a big enough portfolio. When someone tells me their project could ‘build my portfolio’, I have to smile. I’ve been doing this six years. I’ve helped build over 100 websites. I have worked with over 300 companies and non-profits with online marketing. (P.S. It’s kind of condescending to a professional to imply they need to build their portfolio, especially when you have not looked into their actual past work.) Every paid project I’ve ever done has helped build my portfolio, and will continue to do so. Volunteering is something I do for good, not to further my business.

So if you are looking for a cheap or free website, I suggest you go elsewhere… but if you have insulation you need sprayed in the crawlspace of your homeless shelter or want some bread baked for your cocktail party fundraiser for the local skate park, I’m actually pretty good at those things too.

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