Are You on Sale? Stop Giving Yourself Away for Free

Stop giving yourself/your work away for free.

Because that’s all you’re doing by working in unpaid “internships.” You’re just giving someone else free labor and delaying the start of your REAL business.

The best way to gain confidence and learn how to run your business? By working with your own clients, not someone else’s. It’s the only way you’ll hone your own consulting skills, define your own policies, standards and boundaries, and figure out who your ideal and unideal clients are.

The truth is most of these unpaid “internships” are not in compliance with labor laws. And of all the unpaid “internships” and the conversations around them I’ve observed online and in the forums and listservs I belong to, people really are offering these as a way to get free labor: “Want help in your business? Get some unpaid interns!” They don’t even realize that what they are proposing is illegal.

As one unpaid intern who ending up sueing stated, “This culture of expecting to be able to get free labor if you slap the title intern on it has become so pervasive that people don’t question whether it’s ethically wrong or legally acceptable.”

Even in our own industry, people like to pretend (even to themselves) that they’re somehow doing a favor for the interns, but really, they’re just taking advantage of those who are new, naive and don’t know better.

The NY Times did a piece on this topic recently: The Unpaid Intern: Legal or Not?

In the article, acting director of the Labor Department’s wage and hour division Nancy J. Leppink states: “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

There are 6 federal legal criteria that must ALL be met for an unpaid internship to be legal:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainee;
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;
  6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

From the Warshanksky Law Firm in New York:

“These are very strict criteria that effectively bar most unpaid internships, which are intended to benefit both the intern and the company; otherwise, why would the company offer the internship in the first place? Yet the Wage and Hour Division has stated unequivocally that a company may derive ‘no immediate advantage’ from the internship. The upshot is that if an intern performs any useful work, however simple or menial or clerical in nature, the intern must be treated as an employee, subject to all applicable labor and employment laws. Failure to comply with these laws can result in liability for back wages, back taxes, and other civil and criminal penalties.”

People who want you to work for free are taking advantage of your newness, eagerness and naivete.

Everyone who starts a new business is unsure of themselves and lacks confidence to some extent. But there’s an important distinction I want you to understand:  just because you are new to starting and growing a business does not mean you are new to the work. Just about everyone who starts a service-based business does so because they already know how to do the work. They just need to grow their business skills.

If you need to gain confidence in getting your business off the ground, you can get mentoring, encouragement and know-how from people like me and my blog here, and by joining our forums and Facebook groups, etc. And you don’t need to work as an unpaid employee to get them. 😉

One Response

  1. Catherine says:

    Oh my goodness! This was a BRILLIANT posting! I know that many that venture into the realm of “new business entrepreneurs” may feel they need to wiggle into the market by offering a lower price, then increasing it “once they get established.” Instead of accomplishing what is hoped, this is a sign of a lack of confidence in their abilities. (I know… I’ve often had to battle the same feeling!) Truthfully, I know what kind of experience I have and I know what I can do. If I undersell that experience, then I am only advertising my lack of confidence in that experience and prospective clients will also question my abilities. In short, what might initially seem like a good idea would actually be a form of self-sabotage. Thanks so much for such an enlightening article!

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