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The Big Lessons I Learned From My First Entrepreneurial Job

EFE Technology, Vietnam IT Outsourcing, Vietnam Offshore Dedicated Team, Vietnam Offshore Development Center (ODC), Vietnam Full Digital Marketing Agency - www.efe.com.vn

I don’t remember how I got the interview. But looking back on it, it was probably just because I said yes. I met with a recruiter in my college’s library.

Instead of interviewing me, he pitched me on the opportunity: Running a College Pro franchise was a great way for college kids to learn to run their own business over the summer — painting houses and earning tons of money. 

I remember my College Pro training fondly. There were PowerPoint presentations about the positive and negative qualities of oil versus latex paints and role-playing exercises about pitching house-painting services and answering homeowner objections.

The training culminated in having to paint an actual house. It rained, however, and all I remember doing was eating pizza with the sales manager while he talked about paint-sprayer pricing.

Summer began. I started my own little mini-business under the umbrella brand of College Pro. I put an ad in the paper declaring “Hiring Painters Now” and I was in business. The folks at College Pro weren’t kidding when they said a person would learn a lot about business. It was a trial by fire with pretty high stakes for a college kid. 

Here are some of the lessons I learned that might be useful to anyone running a business or looking to start one:

Related: 10 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Must Learn

1. Marketing works.

One of the first things I did was buy a ton of lawn signs with my local number. I enlisted my sister to help me blanket the town. It turns out that half the places I put them were illegal, and I received a notice from the city to cease and desist my guerrilla-marketing tactics. What did I know?

But in any case, the calls started coming in. Marketing is powerful.

2. Well-developed brands deliver.

After pitching my company’s services to homeowners, I was surprised that my success rate was pretty high. I didn’t know anything about painting, our prices weren’t the lowest and I’m sure I was up against very experienced local pros.

But I wore a nice clean shirt with a logo, gave prospects nice marketing materials, a well-documented quote and had the right insurance. Having all the branding done correctly counts a lot.

Related: 4 Secrets to Firing Your First Employee

3. Fire fast.

I hired people from newspaper ads after meeting them in the local strip mall. I was hiring people who had never picked up a paint brush, basically people who were motivated to take a new job.

There were some people that just weren’t going to work out. One man spent the entire day smoking. Another employee painted around a bicycle that was leaning against the house, instead of moving it.

I learned that it’s better to let people go quickly and not let them drag down the whole team.

4. Don’t overextend.

About halfway through the summer, the business ran away from me. I had multiple teams working on multiple houses at the same time. I started losing money that I didn’t have to lose.

happy wheels demo #000000;">So I downsized, keeping my best employees and only did one project at a time from then on. It was a better fit for my level of experience and helped me avoid any major disasters.

Make sure the size of your company fits the opportunities and challenges that you’re taking on.

Related: The 6 Scary Truths About Becoming an Entrepreneur

5. Fight back.

On one project, one of my crew members dripped paint all over someone’s roof, in addition to some other problems. The homeowners were furious: They sent a letter threatening legal action for damages. They still owed the last deposit, which was for thousands of dollars.

Instead of immediately caving in and offering to pay for the damages, I sent them a bill. They were incensed, but it changed the conversation. They started arguing “we don’t owe you any money” instead of “you owe us a fortune.” We ended up canceling their last deposit; the homeowners got their house painted for cheap, and I didn’t end up in court, a happy ending.

It goes to show that you shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate and play a little hardball. It can go a long way.

6. Finish the job.

When you finish painting a house, it’s easy to call it a day after the last brushstroke. But you’re not really done until you’ve touched up every little corner, cleaned up your mess, vacuumed up the paint chips and received a final sign-off and a completed customer service questionnaire.

You’re really only done when you’re driving away with the final deposit in your hand, paid by a happy customer who will give you referrals. Finishing the job is something much more than covering a house with paint.  

What was great for me about running a painting business is that it was like an antidote to my philosophy major. In the end, to be successful, you don’t need to think much. You need to pick up the brush and climb ladders. You need to paint a lot of houses. You need to get the job done. 

You need to make more bucks than you lose. You need to not get sued. I ended up coming out a bit ahead that summer, probably with about as much in my pocket as I would have had with a large paper route. But as I remember, at the time, that was more than alright with me.

What I learned that was so crucial was that victories and setbacks are both an equally important part of your journey in business. Looking back on it, the things I thought were the most challenging were really the most valuable. If you recognize this and make the most of each day, you’ll come out ahead every time and have some fun along the way. 

EFE TechnologyVietnam IT Outsourcing, Vietnam Offshore Dedicated TeamVietnam Offshore Development Center (ODC), Vietnam Full Digital Marketing Agency – www.efe.com.vn