Growing an Entrepreneur

Window cleaners on the roof of a house
Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced. – John Keats

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the College Pro Awards Gala at the Caffino Ristorante in Toronto’s Liberty Village.  The place was filled with 18-21 year-old entrepreneurs, their proud families and their significant others. The dining room was charged with infectious energy, and decorated with white fairy lights and a stage under a covered courtyard. The focus was on students who had run window-cleaning franchises over the previous season. They had spent the better part of the last year cold calling, walking door-to-door for miles, estimating jobs, wrestling with ladders, cleaning dirty rags, hiring, firing, juggling finances, managing peers, dealing with car problems and fixing broken screens. Through it all that they had fun and they learned even more.

Each student was paired with an area manager, a coach that would guide them through the season, setting goals, charting progress, helping them problem solve and cheering them on. Aside from the coaches, there was a room of other franchisees who supported each other, and College Pro management staff who were themselves former franchisees. Each of the area managers gave speeches celebrating the successes of the franchisees they coached, handed out bottles of wine and plaques while everyone whooped, joked and encouraged. It was an uplifting evening. I heard my son described as a gentleman who had increased his sales 150% from the previous year and had a net promoter score of 90%. In return my son thanked his coaches for “the best summer job I’ve ever had”. I am feeling proud!

Two years ago when my son mentioned he was considering a College Pro Window Cleaning franchise as his summer job, I didn’t know much about it.  Climbing ladders for months sounded a little scary to me, but I knew climbing has been second nature to my son since he began to walk. Also, a little selfishly, I liked the idea of having my windows cleaned for free! When I searched for information on College Pro, the review comments were mixed. Some said it was a great learning experience, others complained about low pay and a big company taking advantage of inexperienced students. Certainly my son would have to pay royalties, but that’s the case for any franchisee. In return, he would get training and priceless experience in running a business. He decided to go for it and I’m very thankful for the wonderful people he met and all that he learned. He will carry these lessons with him for life and have confidence that he can succeed at whatever he puts his mind to. Many of us take much longer to learn this much about business and entrepreneurship, if at all!

In my son’s words: “It’s an amazing experience. You’ll work harder that you ever did. You get ridiculous personal growth if you put the effort into it. If you put everything into it, there is no better opportunity to earn money. It is a great network and great experience. I learned a lot about business from College Pro.” Wow. How cool is that!

Here are some of the key lessons I took from watching my son’s growth as an entrepreneur with College Pro:

  1. Build your support team. Find an experienced coach. Network with like-minded individuals. Cheer each other on. A common theme among the award-winning young franchisees was their gratitude to those they enlisted to help.
  2. Be coachable. No one is able to get everything right the first time. You need to listen to those around you. The only way to learn is in the trenches. Take advantage of those who have been there to get past any obstacles that arise.
  3. Put in the work. As in most areas of life, you get out of it what you put in. Many online comments about College Pro blamed a variety of factors for their lack of success – a poor coach, a lazy team, a sub-standard area or bad luck. These may all contribute, however those who succeeded hadn’t simply been lucky. They worked hard to overcome any issues and pulled in a broader group of people to help them succeed.
  4. Give back. Successful entrepreneurs also support others. The franchisees were grateful to everyone who supported them throughout the learning process. In return, they helped the newer managers. There was a real spirit of cooperation amongst the College Pro team. They all succeeded with each other’s help.
  5. Have fun. The saying “work hard, play hard” was very strongly present in these young entrepreneurs. It’s something we all should take to heart.

Thinking back on your past work experience, what lessons have you learned? What did others teach you?  What do you still hope to learn from others going forward?

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