What to Do When You Need Help, but Can’t Afford an Employee

By Suzanne Kearns

4 min read

So, your business is growing and you need help, but you don’t yet have the funds to hire an employee. Will you have to continue working 20-hour days to get it all done yourself, or is there another way? Luckily, small business owners — even home-based ones — do have alternatives for finding help, even when their budget is strained. Here’s a look at three ways you can get the help you need without breaking the bank.

1. Hire an Intern

There are a lot of misconceptions about hiring interns, and there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about it. For starters, you should keep in mind that interns are becoming more and more in demand, and as a result, are being choosier about who they sign up with. It pays to make your company as attractive as you can so you’ll attract the cream of the crop. A 2012 study [PDF] by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that the four most important considerations for interns when deciding where to work are:

  1. The ability to grow their career (77 percent).
  2. Salary and compensation (74 percent) That’s right —  interns rarely work for free anymore (see below).
  3. The location of the business and commute (41 percent).
  4. Company culture and values (41 percent).

Whether you must pay an intern depends on a number of factors. Judge William Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in 2013 that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying two interns during the filming of Black Swan. The ruling upholds some stringent guidelines created by the Department of Labor. If you ask an intern to work for free, you must meet these requirements:

  1. The internship consists of training as in an educational environment.
  2. The internship experience benefits the intern.
  3. The intern doesn’t take the place of the regular staff, but is closely supervised by them.
  4. The employer does not receive an immediate advantage from the intern’s activities. (In fact, its operations may be impeded by them.)
  5. The intern isn’t entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If you can’t meet these requirements, you’ll have to pay an intern minimum wage at least, which is still probably less expensive than if you hired a full-time skilled worker.

To find an intern, you can approach high schools, colleges, and trade schools and tell them what skills you’re looking for. In addition, you can place intern ads online on sites like InternshipFinder and CEI Internships.

2. Hire a Temporary Employee

Another way to get the help you need is to contact a temporary staffing agency to ask about hiring a temp. These days, temps do more than answer phones and make coffee. Today’s temp agencies specialize in specific professions, such as lawyers, medical personnel, computer programmers, engineers, and a lot more. In addition, most agencies pay a lot of the costs that business owners normally absorb, making it possible to have a “full-time” employee without all of the associated expenses. Here are a few ways you’ll save money by hiring a temp instead of a full-time employee:

  • Hire on an as-needed basis. For example, you can bring on a temp during your busy season or to help complete a large order.
  • You won’t have the expense of recruitment. Simply let the agency know what type of skills you need, and it will recruit and screen the applicants for you.
  • Temporary agencies often train their employees, saving you the expense.
  • You won’t be responsible for health insurance or paid vacation time.
  • The agency pays all federal, state and local taxes — as well as unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance.

Many small-business owners view this as a step toward hiring a full-time employee.  In fact, if the temp works out, you can often strike a deal with the agency to hire the worker full time.

3. Hire an Independent Contractor

Another way to get expert help without taking on a staff member is to hire an independent contractor. These types of workers are self-employed and will save you costs associated with a staff employee. You can find accountants, social media managers, writers and editors, office assistants, and just about any other type of worker this way.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2014 report [PDF] estimates that employers spend an average of $30.11 per hour for an employee. Of that, 30.2 percent goes toward benefits. An employer is responsible for employees’ taxes, insurance, and benefits, while independent contractors pay their own. They won’t ask you to pay for sick days or vacation time, either.

It’s important when hiring an independent contractor to adhere to the government’s employee classification guidelines [PDF]. If you mistakenly classify an employee as a contractor, you could be fined by the IRS and Department of Labor.

To begin your search for an independent contractor, check out Elance, Freelancer.com, and Guru.

You don’t have to do everything yourself. With a little planning, you can get the help you need without all of the expense.

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Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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