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No-Cost Staffing Options for Your Business

Filed under Hiring Workers. Fact checked on June 4, 2013.

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Options that are low or even no-cost are available as an alternative to hiring workers. These options include barter, internships and volunteers. However, these options may cost you in terms of time and effort as opposed to dollars.

What can a small business owner do when staffing needs surface, but budgetary concerns make it impossible to hire somebody, even temporarily? Believe it or not, there are places to get some help at no, or at very little, cost. These options may involve a little more work and creativity on your part than hiring a full-fledged employee would, but cost a fraction of the dollars. The most popular alternatives to hiring workers include bartering, internships and using volunteers. Each of alternatives presents challenges as a staffing solution, but they are certainly worth considering because of the savings they offer.

Bartering May Be an Option

Depending on the work that you need done, you may be able to join business roundtables or bartering organizations that will allow you to trade your goods and services for those of other businesses. Barter is the name of this process, and it can be an economical alternative if you're strapped for cash and need some work done.

Bartering won't work for everyone. Obviously if you need someone to be in your office eight hours a day to answer the telephone, it's going to be tough for someone to trade with you for that type of work. On the other hand, if you need some help marketing your new product or service, for example, you may be able to barter with a marketing consultant who would be willing help you write an advertisement or a press release in exchange for something from you. Be creative in your exchanges and don't discount personal expertise that you may have outside your business that could be valuable in an exchange.


Bartering has tax implications that you must be aware of. Generally, the IRS expects you to report services you receive as part of a bartering transaction as income. Be sure you are in compliance.

Internships Must Benefit the Intern

Internships can be a great way to get workers at little or no cost. However, in this case, you are expected to offer something appealing for the potential intern, like learning a new skill or getting exposure to a certain industry. Students are going to use your job as a stepping stone and they expect a lot, since you're getting their services for free, in most cases. If you want someone to do your filing or routine administrative work, an internship probably isn't the answer. But if you're looking for an assistant to help you do research for clients or help organize events, you may be able to interest a student in coming to work for you.


Internships in the private sector are generally considered employment covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act unless the internship meets a test of exclusion. Conversely, an intern is generally not classified as an employee if an internship benefits only the intern and not the person who is providing training. The article "When is an Intern an Employee?" explains the specific criteria that should be used to determine whether an intern is a trainee or employee who must be paid minimum wage and overtime if he or she provides services to a private-sector employer.

The best way to get started is to contact colleges and universities near you and ask how to set up an internship and what the requirements are. Remember — students are supposed to get credit for their experience, so the requirements of setting up an internship may be substantial.

Volunteers Can Be Invaluable

Volunteers are a great way to get work done for free, but they are hard to come by and sometimes hard to rely on. If you're not a not-for-profit organization or one that serves glamorous constituencies such as the arts, it will be hard to find anyone willing to work for free.


Occasionally, would-be entrepreneurs will volunteer to work in a business similar to one they're thinking of starting. If someone approaches you with such a plan, don't agree to it until you're sure that they're not planning to start up a competitive enterprise that will hurt you or drive you out of business, as soon as they learn all your best ideas!

You may be able to find free consultants to give you advice about marketing, finances, getting a loan, or organizing your operations by contacting your local branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Their SCORE program for retired executives matches up people willing to share their expertise with small businesses in need of assistance.

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