How to Build a Team of Virtual Apprentices

Vicky Etherington

In this article, Vicky Etherington, Founder of The Website Mentor, a service that coaches others on how to create successful WordPress websites, discusses how marketing businesses can successfully build a team of apprentices virtually.

Something a lot of entrepreneurs and SME’s suffer from is stagnated growth. We become stagnant at certain income points and business junctures, and we find it hard to move forward. It happened to me in 2019. I was stuck, tired, overstretched. Something had to change because I had kept my business small because I did not take the time to build my team.

It all changed when I hired my first apprentice and started to build a team of virtual apprentices. I hired worldwide because I love diversity, and I wanted people that can do the job.

Here are my tips on how you can do the same:

How do apprenticeships work?

The apprenticeship platform which I used has a pool of apprentices who have access to a training portal and who are all keen to move into the digital marketing space.

Some have prior experience, and some are still completing their studies. The employer sets up an account, is able to search for people with relevant skills and if they decide to go ahead, they can pay a fee, and hire an apprentice from the platform.

Once hired, the apprentice will work for that organisation for 3 months, committing to work 5-10 hours per week. In return, they expect mentorship and experience. The platform that I used doesn’t make any payment to the apprentice. And it’s an important detail to note. Because without payment, in order to get the best from them, you need to motivate them through learning/experience.

Some apprentices will have another full or part-time job, and so you need to factor that in when thinking about what time you will ‘meet’ with them. You also need to keep in mind time zones when hiring Internationally.

Allocate generous onboarding time within the first 2 weeks. These initial stages are critical to bring them up to speed and lay the foundations for their work with you. Skip this stage and you’re unlikely to gain the best results from them, as they can quickly disconnect.

Set up regular ‘check in’ times. I meet up with apprentices twice a week at first and once a week going forward. Eventually, as your team grows, you’ll be able to have other people on your team do these weekly check-ins, so you only need to do them once a month.

Many people bring apprentices on board as ‘cheap labour’. Framing the role in this way, even without articulating it, is likely to result in reduced motivation for the apprentice, and a skewed sense of commitment from the employer.

Set out your expectations for them and find out their future intentions. If there is a long-term opportunity within the organisation, advise the apprentice early on that if they perform well, and are a good fit within the company culture, there’s a possible role for them at the end of the 3 months. It’s great motivation.

Rather than assigning random and scattered tasks, identify clear and specific roles/projects for them to work on. The more ownership of a task they have, the more they step up. It also gives them an opportunity to record results for their resume or as case studies if and when they move on from your organisation.

Expect mistakes. They won’t always get things right the first time round. We all screw up, and these are young people who may not have carried out the kind of tasks that you’re asking of them before.

Use a project management tool to keep on track with the tasks that you have assigned them, and so you can refer back to previous notes each time you check in with them. We use Trello, but your regular platform will work.

Embrace their enthusiasm, energy and out-of-the-box thinking.

Working with apprentices has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my business in the past couple of years and has significantly contributed to my growth. If you haven’t yet worked with apprentices, I would encourage you to give it a go to see how it fits for your organisation. And as well as helping your business grow, you’re giving a young person an opportunity to learn and experience a work environment, and you’re helping facilitate a generation of global mobilisation.