8 Warning Signs You're a Hub-and-Spoke Owner

If you were to draw a picture that visually represents your role in your business, what would it look like? Are you at the top of a traditional Christmas-tree-like organizational chart, or are you stuck in the middle of your business, like a hub in a bicycle wheel? 

As anyone who has tried to fly United when O’Hare has been hit by a snowstorm knows, a hub-and-spoke model is only as strong as the hub. The moment the hub is overwhelmed, the entire system fails. Acquirers generally avoid hub-and-spoke managed businesses because they understand the dangers of buying a company too dependent on the owner. Here’s a list of eight warning signs you’re a hub-and-spoke owner and some suggestions for pulling yourself out of the middle of your business: 

1. You sign all of the checks 

Most business owners sign the checks, but what happens if you’re away for a couple of days and an important supplier needs to be paid? Consider giving an employee signing authority for checks up to an amount you’recomfortable with. Then put in place some financial controls to assure the privilege is not being abused. You can change the mailing address on your bank statements so they are mailed to your home (not the office).

2. You are the company’s firefighter

If you are constantly putting out all the fires, then you should hire other competent fire fighters. Ask yourself if you’re hiring people who are not qualified, if you are not training enough, or if you need some coaching on delegation and leadership.

3. Your revenue is flat when compared to last year’s 

Flat revenue from one year to the next can be a sign you are a hub in a hub-and-spoke model. Like forcing water through a hose, you have only so much capacity. No matter how efficient you are, every business dependent on its owner reaches capacity at some point. Consider narrowing your product and service line by eliminating technically complex offers that require your personal involvement, and instead focus on selling fewer things to more people. 

4. Your vacations are not vacations

If you spend your vacations handling orders from your cell phone, it’s time to cut the tether. Start by taking one day off and seeing how your company does without you. Build systems for failure points. Work up to a point where you can take a few weeks off without affecting your business. 

5. You spend more time negotiating than a union boss 

If you find yourself constantly having to get involved in approving discount requests from your customers, you are a hub. Consider giving front-line, customer-facing employees a band within which they have your approval to negotiate. You may also want to tie salespeople’s bonuses to gross margin for sales they generate so you’re rewarding their contribution to profit, not just chasing skinny margin deals. 

6. You close up every night 

If you’re the only one who knows the close-up routine in your business (count the cash, lock the doors, set the alarm), then you are very much a hub. Write an employee manual of basic procedures (close-up routine, e-mail footer to use, voice mail protocol) for your business and give it to new employees on their first day on the job. 

7. You know all of your customers by first name 

It’s good to have the pulse of your market, but knowing every single customer by first name can be a sign that you’re relying too heavily on your personal relationships being the glue that holds your business together. Consider replacing yourself as a rain maker by hiring a sales team, and as inefficient as it seems, have a trusted employee shadow you when you meet customers so over time your customers get used to dealing with someone else. 

8. You get the tickets 

Suppliers’ wooing you by sending you free tickets to sports events can be a sign that they see you as the key decision maker in your business for their offering. If you are the key contact for any of your suppliers, you will find yourself in the hub of your business when it comes time to negotiate terms. Consider appointing one of your trusted employees as the key contact for a major supplier and give that employee spending authority up to a limit you’re comfortable with.