Intern, Employee, Entrepreneur

by: Courtney Helena

I remember fondly sitting on the edge of Mary's desk in a one room office-top floor of the Sinsheimer building. I was young and eager to learn, to be seen and respected as an actual adult. A junior at Cal Poly, I already was thinking of my future. What would I do when I graduated? How would the next 10 years of my life look? I was given an amazing opportunity to be an intern at a new marketing firm and I didn't know the first thing about marketing. I was about to learn some of the greatest lessons of my life.

When I think of the stereotypical image of an intern, a stressed young person comes to mind, fetching coffee and picking up dry cleaning for a power hungry boss. My experience at Verdin was far from that. I learned how to write a press release, the importance of branding and public relations and how to cultivate healthy and respectable business relationships. Mary took me under her wing and brought me along to chamber mixers, non-profit events and client meetings. To a young person, this overall view of running a small business was not only inspiring but it gave me a a sense of confidence, like, "ok, I can do this."

Mary hired me after my internship and the company started to grow. I loved writing copy and press releases, but one of my favorite aspects of the business was the creative brainstorming meetings we would have for advertising campaigns. To this day, I can still remember some of the slogans we came up for client postcard advertisements. One in particular matched the famous lyric from West Side Story, "I feel pretty, oh so pretty," to a photo of a grumpy old man raking leaves. I am sure we invented the first meme...before it was a thing.

I became very interested in the power of marketing and began buying and reselling fashion on eBay as a side hustle to supplement my income. I didn't realize it, and I don't think she meant to, but Mary actually inspired me to take a leap and start my own venture. When I sat down in her office crying and explaining that I had to follow my heart and turn my side hustle into a real business, she surprised me. Not only was she excited for me and supportive of my decision, but she said if It didn't work out that I still had a position with her. This may not be the common response of most business owners, but I am forever grateful to Mary for giving me that security.

It is now almost two decades later and I am growing my second business from the bottom up. Marketing and advertising have changed and social media is now one of the dominant life-forces of small business success. I have been lucky to have had several amazing interns of my own, some ending up as employees, others making their time with me a stepping stone in their personal development. I have enjoyed mentoring them and teaching them about my small business and appreciate the help they have given me. And that's just the thing-an internship is meant to be a mutually beneficial experience. The intern, green and hungry for knowledge, learns the ins and outs of the job and the business gets an extra hand in exchange. This is the experience I try to give my interns and it was inspired by the incredible internship experience I had with Verdin.

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