College Works Painting was the best job ever. And also some of the most crazy stressful and rewarding and humbling work I’ve ever done.
College Works runs a student summer “internship” program at colleges around country. They teach students the basics of running a residential exterior house painting company, where the kids are in charge of the operation of their entire “branch”, including marketing, sales, hiring, firing, production, management, scheduling, and customer service.
It’s a true entrepreneurial experience offered with the backing of a company with nearly 30 years in the business. Like training wheels for business students. Where else are 19 year-olds going to get the opportunity to play with “live ammo” in the real world? There’s no safety net, and no one to blame for your failures but yourself.
College Works Scam?
Some people call College Works a scam or a pyramid scheme. It’s not a scam; you just have to work your ass off. If you’re looking for an easy pay day, this is not it. And it’s no more a pyramid scheme than any other company — the people at the top make more than the people at the bottom.
I learned more about sales and management in one summer than I did in 4-years of B-School. (And had such a glutton for punishment I came back for a second summer.) College Works gave me a real-world application for everything we talked about in class, stuff that was just theory at that time for most of my peers.
A Note to Students
The College Works hiring process isn’t as selective as they’d have you believe. It’s a volume-based business that relies on boots on the ground. If you have the sales skills and the work ethic, and are trainable, it’s in their best interest to bring you on.
The drop-out rate is really high. Lots of people want the entrepreneurial experience but have a hard time dealing with the sales pressure and stresses that come with it. But if you’re stubborn enough to stick with it, you’ll be OK. And it’s a great way to make money as a college student, too.
There are few activities I hate more than cold-calling, but this was my reality in the spring of my first year with College Works. You have no marketing budget, and no way to get referral business. You’re starting completely from scratch — and at this point, you probably don’t even know how to paint!
So you hit the pavement and knock on doors. For my introverted self, it was pretty intimidating but I wanted to succeed and I knew this was my only choice.
I would jog between houses so I could cover more ground faster and I figured it would look more energetic than someone slowly slumping up the driveway with a clipboard.
You’ll develop a thick skin in a hurry, and a new-found appreciation for the people who have to do it every day.
Check out this direct mail letter I put together for my second summer. Anything to avoid cold calling, I thought. Unfortunately it didn’t generate much response.
Remember what you’re really selling (a beautiful home you can be proud of for years to come). I got caught up on the product and was worried about competing on price, which ended up hurting a lot.
Even though you’re in charge of everything, sales is the most important part of the internship. If you can’t sell paint jobs, you won’t have to worry about scheduling, painting, hiring/firing, or customer service.
For me, I got a really rewarding feeling every time I closed a sale. Someone was trusting me with their biggest investment.
Painting isn’t rocket science, which is why it makes a good business for college kids to run. But there are still lots of things that will go wrong. Over-spray, ladder accidents (and a scar to prove it), spills, coverage issues, and on and on. It’s not fun, but ultimately it’s your fault and you have to fix it.
Thankfully I had some excellent help, particularly Paul and Marcos, to help me get through it.
The basic process worked like this:
- Pressure wash the house (paint sticks best to a clean surface)
- Scrape and sand areas of peeling paint
- Mask windows and other areas you don’t want to paint
- Spray and back-brush or back-roll
- Remove masking
- Paint the trim
A Note to Homeowners
You can get a good paint job from College Works at a fair price. You can also get a bad one at a not-so-fair price. It all comes down the manager you hire and his/her crew.
Ask for letters of recommendation. If possible, schedule your house for later in the summer. That way only the strong/stubborn crews are left and they’ll have more experience under their belts.
At the end of the summer, College Works posts an essay on their intranet about how they ruined your life. The article talks about how if you made it this far and you’re still standing, you won’t be content to work a regular “job” ever again.
And they’re pretty much right. Once you’ve had a taste of entrepreneurship’s crazy cocktail of freedom and responsibility, of satisfaction and stress, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
I met people far more effective than myself. College Works attracts some really talented “interns”, who’ve gone on to do some amazing things both within the company and beyond.
I’m thankful for the invaluable business education I got and the lasting friendships I made.
And if I messed up your house 10 years ago, I’m incredibly sorry and forever in your debt for a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.