I’ve always wanted to work for a small business. There’s something mysterious and exciting about seeing a handful of people making great things happen – a vibe I’ve never felt from larger companies.

I like the intimacy, the way things operate and the breadth of responsibility that comes with it. So when NIMA agreed to take me on for the summer, I knew I’d fit right in! It’s been an exciting couple of months, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Just ask. Small businesses rarely advertise short-term (+/- 3 months) internships. When I first spoke to Nicky and Mark, they weren’t looking for an intern, but I asked anyway – I had nothing to lose, and I was really keen to see the inner workings of NIMA. So if in doubt, it’s worth asking the MD to meet over a coffee and tell them what you have in mind. And just be yourself. Because the last thing you want is working in a small team of people that you have nothing in common with. For me, practicalities were important; asking how they find clients, operate their systems or create strategies can be helpful, for example.

Expect to be given a lot more freedom (and responsibility!) than in your typical internship. Unless you’re taken on to work on a very specific project, such as market research, you’ll most likely be responsible for taking initiative and getting things done. I became an integral member of NIMA from my first day, which came with plenty of responsibility and lots of unanswered questions. Bit by bit, you’ll start understanding your strengths and limitations, and you’ll find areas where your work is more impactful than others. All that’s left to do is put those skills to work!

Don’t get caught up in the lifestyle. I’ve always been guided by schedules – from school to university to my friends and family working 9-5. When I started working with NIMA, I was surrounded by self-employed professionals who wake up late, work until late and work on weekends. And it’s definitely quite liberating to be able to take a 2-hour lunch with a friend and not have to worry about what your boss will say. But as an intern you’re not expected to do ridiculous hours, so don’t get caught up in it. Remind yourself to keep a healthy work-life balance before you catch yourself working evenings, too!

Get real with yourself. Working for a small business is definitely not for everyone and not every start-up will match what you’re after, either. Marketing suited my skill set: I have my own blog and regularly guest blog, I know how to operate social media from a professional perspective, I know how to design some simple artwork and, most importantly, I enjoy all of it. Interning with a real estate agency is less suited to my skill set, so I wouldn’t apply to one. Given the amount of responsibility I was given, choosing the right industry and people to work with was very important – it allowed me to own my work and be autonomous from day one (or day three, maybe!). Ask yourself honestly if it’s what you want, because a lack of enthusiasm will be felt, and could harm the business. You could always ask for some work shadowing if you’re not sure.

Strive to make a difference. I genuinely like NIMA as a company, and I like Nicky and Mark. I wanted to make sure that was reflected in my work, and if I felt demotivated (which hardly ever happened), I thought of them. You could certainly be the sort of intern that makes coffee, or sits on their phone all day (shocker!), but your time could be so well spent if you put your skills and creativity to good use. I worked as if NIMA was my own (minus the extended hours!) because I wanted it to work! I focused all of my attention making sure the service I was providing was up to standard and keeping within NIMA’s image. For a start-up, having an extra pair of hands can be a huge deal in terms of productivity and impact – so make it really count!

Give and ask for honest feedback. Towards the end of my internship, Nicky and I sat down to discuss how it had been and how we could move forward. There are definitely things I found difficult during my time at NIMA, which I expressed very honestly. Feedback is very valuable, and you shouldn’t be reluctant to receive constructive criticism (or just praise if you were totally awesome). It’s also a good opportunity to learn how to get feedback and improve your performance the next time around. That being said, if you feel like you aren’t getting enough feedback throughout the internship, schedule some one-to-one time with the owners to make sure your work is going in the right direction!

Bonus tip: If the business you work for operates from a collaborative workspace, make the most of it! I’ve always found initial introductions awkward, but I quickly got to know a few people in the Hiscox Business Club, with very different businesses and skillsets from mine. There were certainly days where I spent more time getting to know people than sitting at my laptop, but you know what? Relationships are invaluable; who knows, you might meet your next big client. Thanks for having me, NIMA!

written by Elise Evers, Bare Lifestyle.

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