If you dream of being your own boss one day, you’re not alone. A recent study from Kelly Services shows that nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce is made up of free agents – solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, temp workers and others without a single, long-term employer.
No boss? No schedule? No cubicle, HR department or employee handbook? No wonder some experts predict that 40% of the workforce could be free agents in just a few years.
There are downsides to the free agent lifestyle, of course, but the benefits are undeniably attractive to many. If you’re planning to be your own boss one day, an internship might seem like a complete waste of time. If you’re never going to be a “corporate drone,” why should you waste a semester or a summer in the corporate environment?
Twenty years ago, I interned at a daily newspaper even though I suspected that wasn’t the career path I wanted to pursue. Was the experience a waste of time? Absolutely not – it set me up for an immensely rewarding freelance career.
Even if you’re certain that you want to be your own boss, there are at least five good reasons why an internship could still make sense for you:
1. Build Your Skill Set
Think a resume doesn’t matter when you’re self-employed? Think again – it’s actually more important.
In corporate America, you might dust off that resume every 5 years or so when it’s time to look for a new job. But as a free agent, your resume comes into play almost every day, because you’re always looking for a “new job.” Free agency means a constant struggle to deliver for existing clients while working to attract new ones.
Getting started is always the hardest part. You’ll be competing against experienced pros with impressive portfolios and successful track records. Your college grades won’t be enough to get a foot in the door, because potential clients want to see that you have experience in the real world. For most young professionals, an internship is the quickest way to get that kind of experience.
2. Learn to Sell Yourself
Even before you get on-the-job training in a specific set of skills, you’ll benefit just from the process of applying for that internship. You’ll learn how to stand out from the crowd and answer tough questions – and the confidence you get will be a big boost when it’s time to compete for your first freelance gig.
3. Make Contacts
Free agency is a very human business. Nobody is going to Google “website designer” or “copywriter” and then pick a professional based solely on their online presentation.
Instead, it’s all about word-of-mouth. People ask around when they need work done; they trust the recommendations of their friends. Internships are a great way to build your network and leverage your connections. You put yourself into a corporate environment, prove that you can deliver, and gain the confidence of pros who are already established in your field.
Social media is a great way to expand your network, but real-world contacts are the foundation for any successful freelance business.
4. Make a More Informed Decision
Let’s face it, it’s cool to say that you are your own boss, that you call the shots and make your own way.
There are some self-styled “experts” out there who sound downright disdainful of anyone who would takes a corporate job, and that only adds to the pressure. Everyone wants to be cool … but that can be a dangerous thing when it comes to choosing a career path.
The fact is, free agency only works because it’s not for everyone. The corporate infrastructure is crucial to the success of the freelance industry, and many people thrive in a corporate environment.
Maybe the freedom of freelancing is just what you need. Or maybe you’ll do better with structure, incentives, security and camaraderie. How will you know until you’ve tried both options? You owe it to your future to give the corporate world a shot before you settle on the alternative.
5. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
Many people choose free agency for negative reasons – they don’t like supervision, they can’t stand office politics, and so forth.
We all want to work in the style that makes us the most comfortable, but there’s no such thing as a successful career that’s comfortable all the time. Introverted free agents still have to network and sell. Creative free agents still have to crunch the numbers.
You might be your own boss, but you can’t do what you like to do 100% of the time. The most successful free agents are the ones who learn early on how to push their own boundaries – and internships can be a great way to learn that lesson.
About the Author: Robert Jones is principal at the PenPoint Group, a boutique communications firm that helps entrepreneurs tell their stories more effectively. His small-business articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, AllBusiness.com and SmartBrief, and he blogs about the entrepreneurial lifestyle at PenPointGroup.com.