Turning complexity into clarity.

It's All About Henchmen

I saw this great video about how to do white-hat link building. Link building is a terrific way to build relevance with a brick-by-brick approach. The speaker had a lot of solid ideas until he came to one element. To paraphrase: "get your intern to search for new link directories and input your site." The indelible part: "Your intern." An intern is an unpaid person who toils on your behalf to learn at the master’s feet. If you are trying to earn your first $10,000, you have not mastered this gig yet so no one has likely flocked to your cause.

This is a big catch-22: you need interns, henchmen, lackeys, underlings.There are several reasons you need help even before you’ve cracked through the poverty line yourself.

A henchman is different from an employee. An employee costs /yr. in salary-- even if you outsource the work. An intern or henchman is a free worker who is doing your bidding to build experience or show allegiance. Because they are a $0/yr. workforce, their costs scale well (eg. 10 x $0/yr = 100 x $0/yr.). You do need to keep an eye on the interns-- even a virtual eye-- to make sure they are acting in your best interests. That supervisory element is one of the few limiters on getting interns to do your work.

The world is fair. Every person is capable of one person’s worth of success. If that were entirely true, there would be no millionaires; the world’s income would just be distributed evenly to every worker. That’s clearly not the case: there are rich people and very poor people. What’s happening is that there’s a clustering of prosperity. Instead of doing work, you can amplify your output by directing others to accomplish some of your tasks.

You Need Help
There are three routes to interns: sympathy, size and salesmanship.

Sympathy
When you’re starting out small, you can drill for interns / henchmen / unpaid help in the same place you would mine for investment: FFF; or Friends, Family and Fools. They will donate their time to you out of sympathy. Don’t turn down a free lunch: take people who are willing to type or submit links or stuff flyers under car windows. Before you start cranking out your sales, this free help is all you can afford. Your relatives are always willing to help-- that’s what Mom is for (payback for your hundreds of hours of unpaid tech support). Your friends, should have your back. As for fools: you have to dig a little. You can Craigslist your call-- but some people will pepper the same list with retorts. A great place to plea for help is a site set up to find interns / henchman: http://www.someexperiencerequired.com/ And, lastly: post flyers asking for help. A good place to post these is at the local university or college. Look at all of the people there churning out unpaid work: students writing papers. They have the mindset you’re looking for. Beyond that, any bulletin board is fair game. People who are doing laundry or waiting for their CPR class to start are bored and may see your call for help. Get ready for rejection: most people who read the call will ignore it. Most people who contact you will go cold after you tell them that there’s no money in it now.

Size
You have to get to be very big to have interns based on the size of your company. I know of places where they pounded through billing, had 10 full-time staff and were still too tiny to woo real interns. If your business is large enough or interesting enough, you can lure in interns. Until that point, people will guess that you’re trolling for free labour. Well, you are: but when you’re big enough, that’s okay.

Salesmanship
People can be talked into anything. A salesman can make you part with your cash. But it’s easier to make you part with your labour. A $100 of cash in your wallet seems more valuable than 10 hrs. of your time at $10/hour-- salesmanship can get a volunteer to part with their time. Even when you don’t know the person or you’re just starting out, you can sell your concept and get someone interested.

Why Have Henchmen?
The head of the company can make bad deals; but not a henchman. When you do work or interact with others, you want to get to decision makers, to lock down a deal under your own terms. When someone comes to make a deal with you (or your company), you want to be able to have someone else negotiate it, tee it up and then stop with “I have to get this approved by my boss.” That’s a terrific moment make sure that something holds water before it gets approved. It also allows for a little more negotiation room.

Interns convey a sense of size. When someone sees that your business has all of these people, few people will think “how many of these people are interns?” I was impressed with the number of employees on staff at a local TV station. I was less impressed when I found out that most of them were part-time, many of the remainder were unpaid interns and there were only a half dozen paid full-time staff. People don’t ask about your payroll. They look at your company size and its body count.

Henchmen can be anyone. Here’s a little secret: you can be your own henchmen. Maintain several email accounts: sales, billing, orders, shipping, et cetera. Then control the email flow and respond appropriately. Some outfits will make up names for their henchmen. I don’t believe in this concept-- I actually stung one place that tried this, quoting their individual staffers in correspondence that preambled legal action. In other words: imaginary people are great to build up a work force, but it could really sting you.

Henchmen have specialties. If you have a repetitive task, your interns may be up for a task that you can’t handle without going squirrely. Maybe they have time during the day when you’re tied up. Maybe they have a list of contacts who could survive your congenial spamming. An intern could even do what do you well, but she/he may be willing to do it. You can benefit from these specialties and capacity to build your concept.

How To Keep Henchmen
The dividing line between staff and interns is wages. Once you pay them a dollar, you slide from having a well loved volunteer to having a poorly paid serf. If you are going to pay them a salary make it a decent salary and realize you’ve crossed them across the threshold. If you cannot afford the ongoing responsibility of paying for your staff, then don’t start. What you can do to show your appreciation: praise and swag.

Praise
Your interns are not paid. You have to be give them the only currency you can easily dispense: praise. Give your staff an attaboy and some kind words. Praise is also the perfect time to nudge in course corrections: talk up what you like about their work maybe even contrasted with what you do know like so much. You have to remember that you cannot push them too hard, but you do have to urge them to do their best.

Swag
You know that the 7-11 clerk earns the equivalent of two bargain trips to London every month? The worst income in the world could pay for some of the coolest benefits. While you cannot pay an ongoing wage early in your business building process, you can spring for bonuses.

Your homework: find work you can delegate. Get an intern (even your mom). Give them some work to do that will really help you.