Getting Resources with No Budget
When working with no budget or resources, look to local trade schools and universities to help complete projects that may be falling by the wayside.
Accept You Can't Do It All Yourself
When I was starting the UX program at my job in Atlanta, I was in a tough spot of having to perform all of the duties of a UX strategist, researcher, and designer. On top of this, I had to "sell" UX to my company to prove the value of it and how it could help all of our digital products. I was working 60 hours a week, plus my graduate school work in the evenings and weekend. With more and more success with my UX projects, the more I was being pulled in different directions. It was too difficult to say "no" when a major part of my job was to sell my service.
I heard about an internship program that the company was running and figured it was a cheap way to get some extra help. I needed it, I was past burnt out and was struggling to find more options.
Reach Out to Everyone You Would Want to Work With
As I was scouring the Southeast for design programs for interns, I came across Georgia Tech's HCI program, currently ranked no. 2 in the world. The year before when I was looking at graduate programs in UX I had seen Georgia Tech as somewhat of a dream school (somewhat because I went there for undergrad so the mystique wasn't there). They had a great program, with connections to all of the major companies I wanted to work for. Their students were extremely diverse with many professional and geographical backgrounds. I never bothered applying because of my inability to attend a full-time program, and honestly, I was pretty sure I would have been rejected.
I contacted the school to find out more about students open to internship not really expecting any reply or help. What I ended up getting was an email back from Dr. Richard Henneman, the program's director. The pay rate for the students was too far out of my company's budget, but Dr. Henneman was interested in having some of his student's do a group project in the private sector. We could be the first guinea pigs.
I was originally looking for one intern and I couldn't afford them. What I ended up getting was a team of three very bright students who were eager to get professional work into their portfolio for free. The project went so well just in the first month that I convinced management to make a $5,000 donation before the end of the fiscal year.
Manage the Team Like Incredible Part-Time Interns
The students were incredibly bright and all of them had attended prestigious undergraduate programs, but that didn't mean they understood the business or how things work in the private sector. Understand that you will have to play project manager, find the stakeholders, create the help desk tickets to get them whatever they need. It wasn't easy and it was not that fun. I had to step back a few times and remember that they were doing all of the fun stuff and I was there to manage it.
But guess what? That 5 hour investment managing them each week paid off huge dividends. We captured incredible research that would have cost us around $90,000 had we gone through a mediocre agency. The research was extremely valuable to our stakeholders as the students had focused their efforts on a demographic that our company couldn't not tap into.