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The #1 Hiring Mistake Small Business Owners Make

There are 29.5 million businesses in the United States, but more than 80% are considered non-employers[i] and most will never hire an employee. They’re owned and operated by a single person who will always be an army of one, either because of their personal preferences or the type of business they run.

The remaining 20% of businesses grow and need to hire more employees. These might be salespeople to introduce the company to new customers or those responsible for delivering products and services.

Hiring the right employees and retaining them is crucial to the operation of a small business. Research shows that 81% of business owners say “turnover is a costly problem.” The #1 impact of losing employees is the impact and delays to customer’s product or service delivery.[ii] If this sounds like a challenge you have, it’s time to look at who you are hiring and their role within the company.

Think Back to Your First Hire

Here’s a scenario. You started a business, probably in an industry you had already had deep expertise in. You landed your first few clients who were happy with your service. They recommended you to other businesses, which was very exciting. Your business grew, and word of mouth on your fantastic customer service grew with it.

Now, maybe six months or a year later, things were going great. Almost too great. You were so busy you could barely keep up. Your phone was always ringing as customers called asking for your product or service, and new customers called based on referrals. Customer satisfaction is one of the Eight Key Drivers of Company Value, which is why it was/is important to keep your customers happy, but it was hard to keep up by yourself.

The solution was to hire someone to help manage the load, right?

This seemed like a logical conclusion. Short of inventing more hours in the day, the next best option is to take the available hours and add more people to it, right?

But prematurely hiring is where many business owners make a critical mistake.

Before you posted that job ad, did you take a minute to look closely at your business? When you hired someone, what did you train them to do? If you offered various products or services, did you teach this new person to do some or all of them? Did you want them to do all of them?

Fast forward to the present. If you compare the business you started and the one you’re running now, odds are good you’re going to notice some differences. You probably set out with an idea for one service or product, but as time went on, customers started to ask for variations or related offerings, and either out of natural enthusiasm or a fear of saying no, you took those on too.

Now, you’re offering multiple products and services that you didn’t initially plan to make part of your business. Some of them might feel like a good fit. Others are things you’re less comfortable with but keeping the clients happy is your number one priority, so you’re making it work and training your staff to do the same.

The lack of direction can be challenging and uncomfortable for most employees. Your leadership starts to feel stretched and unfocused as you’re all pulled in too many directions at once. They become stressed, dissatisfied, and eventually leave.

Meet Mitch

Mitch Durfee is a US Army Combat Veteran. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he left the service, he moved back to Vermont and started a business, Grunts Move Junk. The idea was to be a moving and junk removal company staffed entirely by veterans. From the outset, things looked great. The company was popular, and Mitch’s customer service and work ethic meant that customers asked for more.

Suddenly Grunts Move Junk was offering a whole bunch of different services. Along with junk and moving, they were painting, landscaping, offering snow removal, and carpentry. Soon they were doing full-blown renovation and contracting work. The business hit $1.4 million and had 20 employees.

It sounds like Mitch was a self-made success story.

In fact, during his interview on Built to Sell Radio, Mitch describes how, beneath the handsome top-line revenue number, things were not great. With customers waiting until Mitch hit specific construction milestones before they paid, he was $100,000 in debt. His services were so in demand that he was sometimes working through the night just to clear snow from people’s driveways, but he had no more money to pay new staff.

Finally, Mitch tried to sell his company only to discover it was virtually worthless. The business was spread too thin and wasn’t a logical fit for any potential buyers in town. They wanted a moving company but weren’t interested in paying for the construction side. Or they wanted the hard assets like his snowplows but weren’t planning to keep his staff.

Before Your Next Hire, Do This One Thing

If you feel your business has become a mile wide in service or product offerings but only an inch deep in customers, the odds are good you’re selling too many things.

Whether you’re a service-based company like Grunts Move Junk, getting pulled in too many directions, or you’re a widget manufacturer who is now spending too much time making custom gizmos to keep one customer happy, hiring more staff will only perpetuate the problem.

Before you start looking for more staff, take the time to evaluate your offerings in terms of their Teachability, Repeatability, and Value to your company. This criteria of “TRV” is part of assessing Growth Potential in The Value Builder System™ and helps business owners understand what might be holding them back.

The TRV criteria can identify which extended offerings to eliminate without hurting your business in the long-term and bring the most value when you teach it to new employees.

Of course, the other side to choosing products or services that will bring the most value to your company means saying no to customers when they ask for those custom gizmos, or for you to paint their office when you want to be a moving company.

But just because the prospect of lost revenue and saying no is scary doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. While there may be some short-term pain, your goal for business growth should be to sell a few things to many customers. This approach will streamline your operations and insulate you if a key employee leaves or if a critical customer goes out of business.

Look at Mitch’s example. When he realized he couldn’t sell his company, he did a lot of soul searching and decided to get back to basics. He stopped the contracting, the landscaping, and snow removal. He said no to anyone who wanted him to do anything but moving and junk removal. And his numbers dropped, losing $600,00 in revenue and going down to eight employees from twenty.

But within a year, Grunts Move Junk had recouped all those losses by focusing exclusively on what they did best. They crossed back into a million dollars in revenue, and Mitch was even able to take a vacation without worrying the place would fall apart without him. Shortly after, he was able to sell the company.

Customers and potential acquirers value businesses that specialize in providing fewer products or services to more of the same segment of customers[iii]. As Mitch proved, they’re also less stressful to run because products and services are easily repeatable, meaning they can be delivered by any employee and not just the owner who carries all the knowledge and contacts with them.

Grow Your Staff in a Strategic Way

If you’re an overwhelmed business owner thinking it’s time to hire again, use the TRV exercise to make sure you aren’t running your team and yourself ragged with business offerings you don’t need to be doing.

If you’ve already done that and you’re still too busy offering a shortlist of teachable, repeatable, and valuable products or services to a large variety of clients, then you’re in good shape to expand your workforce.

The TRV assessment is just the first step, however. Understanding what is teachable is only helpful if you have a way to teach your staff. Building proper training protocols and standard operating procedures will keep your business running, even when you’re off on that much-needed vacation.

Building a business that can run without you is the key goal of Built to Sell and The Value Builder System™. Whether you plan to sell your business this year, ten years from now, or just want something that doesn’t need your attention all day every day, the methodology can offer far more valuable results than hiring someone to help keep your house of cards from falling.

If you’re unsure what your next step should be, a Certified Value Builder™ can help you make a plan. To start, fill out the Value Builder questionnaire. From there, we can connect you with a qualified advisor who can help you better understand what’s holding your business back from the growth you dream of.

If you’re ready to undertake this valuable step in planning your business’s future, start the Value Builder questionnaire now.


[i] Value Builder Whitepaper: Hiding in Plain Sight (


[iii] Lobster On A Cheese Plate, Mark Harari, 2020


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