Nursing student Emilie Nadeau shares how she discovered her passion for leadership by owning a College Pro franchise
By Joelle Kidd
College Pro, the window-cleaning franchise system that seeks to develop young entrepreneurs, celebrated its 50th summer in 2021. The brand has been a go-to for business-minded post-secondary students looking to learn new skills and make an income over the summer months.
For Emilie Nadeau, a 21-year-old student in her final year of a nursing program, business ownership hadn’t been a conscious part of her life plan. Nadeau says she stumbled on the College Pro opportunity while looking for summer employment on a job site in the spring of 2021.
“My dad owns his own business, so I thought that maybe running my own business was something I would be good at,” she explains. “I found an ad for a student window cleaning business and … I just went through with it.” After going through the interview process, “it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
It’s a move she says she’s more than glad she made. By the end of the summer, Nadeau had learned valuable skills and realized her passions for leadership and building relationships—and she’s ready to do it all again in 2022.
Learning to shine
Before joining College Pro, Nadeau was working in long term care while studying nursing—a difficult place to be during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s very stressful. The people I’ve been working with had been there for many years, and were starting to get [drained by] the pandemic. It was causing a lot of stress for them. And even though I was new to long term care—I had only been there for two years—it was starting to get to me too.”
She decided to look for a different job, a way to learn new skills and broaden her abilities. College Pro offered a brand-new routine and a chance to learn how to lead a team and manage many aspects of a business.
Nadeau’s typical day running the franchise began with an extra dose of discipline. “Balance is important, and I’m a person who likes to work out. So, I would get up every day at 4 a.m. so that I could go and do my workout at my CrossFit gym before I would get on with my day—just so that if things ran longer, I knew that I at least got my workout in!”
After that, she says she would head to the first job site to meet her crew of two employees. Then they would go from job to job, cleaning windows in Ontario’s North Simcoe County and part of Muskoka. Depending on the size of the homes they were cleaning, “we could go from one really big cottage job to maybe four or five smaller jobs in a day.”
At each house, Nadeau would greet the customer. After cleaning the windows or gutters, she would reconnect with them, show them the job to make sure they were satisfied, and then move on to the next house.
Then, after completing the jobs for the day and sending her crew home, Nadeau would head home and do various administrative tasks to keep the business running smoothly, from filing invoices to promoting her business on social media. “There’s a lot more work to do once the actual workday is done, that you don’t really see when you’re just an employee of a company,” she notes. On some busy days, she worked until 9 or 10 p.m., but near the end of the summer was able to finish her days around 6 p.m.
College Pro supplied a previous customer (PC) base for Nadeau’s area when she started out. While this provided a good starting point, Nadeau was able to grow her customer list significantly with a little gumption. “Before the actual window cleaning season started, I would knock on doors everyday—I walked outside around different neighbourhoods, just knocking on everybody’s door. I also posted on Facebook a lot.”
The pandemic has put strains on every small business, and brought some challenges for Nadeau. Some adaptations, like wearing masks indoors and wiping down surfaces and tools with disinfectant wipes, were fairly easy adjustments, but its effect on staffing was a challenge.
“For a lot of the summer I didn’t really have employees—people kept quitting on me,” she says. In all, Nadeau hired three rounds of two employees, and had all of them leave the position before the end of the summer, a challenge Nadeau attributes to the availability of CERB at the time and a general shortage of applicants willing to work hard at a job like window cleaning.
Still, she was happy to have had the experience. “I did a lot of the summer by myself, but it taught me to have good work ethic and grit—you just have to keep your head down and keep going.”
The benefit of joining a proven system like College Pro was the training and community it provided. “Before the summer, we had weekly training sessions so that you could learn the foundations of running a business,” Nadeau says. Throughout the summer, College Pro offered monthly training sessions. Depending on COVID restrictions at the time, these were held virtually and in person.
But the best part, Nadeau says, is the company culture. “They’ve created a culture which I tried to replicate in my own business. It’s a culture of very like-minded young people who are interested in developing themselves.” Before even meeting the College Pro team in person, Nadeau says she felt they had all become close friends.
Skills for success
Nadeau says that being a franchisee gives her invaluable tools to take into her daily life and her future career in healthcare.
“Before I found College Pro and this franchise opportunity, I thought that I would be a nurse. But then during the pandemic, I started to see a different side of the healthcare system that I hadn’t really seen before—so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Nadeau explains. “This franchise opportunity really made me realize that I’d be good at running a business, or being more on the leadership side of things, as opposed to being a floor nurse.” Inspired by the corporate culture at College Pro, Nadeau says she can see herself in a future leadership role, creating an environment where’s it’s fun to come to work and people are free to voice their ideas to make the team stronger and more inclusive. “I think that’s really important, especially right now, given the pandemic. A lot of [healthcare professionals] are feeling burnt out.”
Owning the franchise helped Nadeau come out of her shell, she says. “Before I ran this franchise, I was super shy!” Running her College Pro location meant getting herself out there, meeting new people, and sharing genuine connection. “I feel like owning this franchise just shaped my life in a totally different way—if I look at myself from one year ago, I’m completely different now. It’s helped me in so many ways—I can’t even begin to explain it.”
For those interested in running a College Pro franchise, Nadeau says it’s important to be personable and able to create relationships with customers, and to be willing to work hard and push the limit.
When asked her number one piece of advice for a new or prospective franchisee, Nadeau says, “Your intuition will often know what to do, even if you feel uncertain about it. Just [believe] that everything that you do is working out in your favour, even if it doesn’t seem like it is right now.”
“Just trust yourself.”