When Thieves Break In(to Your Business)

When my mother planted a garden last October, I could see two looming issues: lack of fence, and lack of planning.

The garden didn’t really have an underlying plan. My mom loves to garden, so….plants are better than bare dirt. Our household has certainly benefited by regularly feasting on kale, chard, green onions, and herbs at little more than the cost of one Home Depot trip and regular watering. Mum already had the seeds, and she’s retired, so there wasn’t a lack of time for digging, mulching, and weeding. (The business world terms this level of effort a Hobby Business structure, which can be subject to Hobby Loss rules per the I.R.S.) However, without a plan to repel invaders, we’ve had to deal with the sad sight of a chomped-up, trampled garden instead of a blooming paradise.

[Side Note: This illustration is not directed as a parental criticism. My mother manages to bring hope and growth out of a flat, boring patch of badly mineralized dirt, and that should be celebrated! Sometimes, you do have to experiment to know how to counteract the inevitable problems that arise once you’re trying to build something meaningful.]

Nature vs Nurture

However, the wildlife have posed some serious issues. Every time that a person creates and nurtures something beautiful and attractive, an element of nature will want to take over. Southern Americans know that the kudzu vine, naturally found in Asia, can be counted on to overtake and attempt to destroy entire houses and cars left untended. Since I live in Arizona, our garden has suffered attacks from smaller marauders: aphids and squirrels.


Aphids, or ‘plant lice’, are little green bugs that slurp the photosynthesis-forming juice out of plants. If plants don’t have enough juice, they die. The calling card of the aphid, who really likes roses and tomato leaves, is a lacy or pockmarked leaf on your favorite vegetable, fruit, or flower. Oddly enough, these freeloaders are greatly helped by hard-working ants, who carry them on their backs.

Squirrels come in all shapes and sizes, but these rock squirrels are a tough and hardy breed. They are not cute or fluffy, although they look it when not trying to destroy your property. They dislike garlic and onions, but they will happily eat your squash blossoms and leaves, chomp on kale and chard, and taste your tomatoes. (I am biased but experienced – for more info, see http://www.in-the-desert.com/rodent.html.)

The Little Red Hen & the Protestant Work Ethic

For those who have forgotten both their childhood storytelling time AND the Bible, here are two business principles gleaned from both elements:

“I did all the work while all you did was play!” – Little Red Hen

Little Red Hen

“If any will not work, neither should he eat.” II Thessalonians 3:10

Sure, squirrels are all-natural desert creatures. They’re supposed to live off of the excess of the land (nuts, seeds, leaves), and I don’t begrudge them the ability to provide for themselves. When they do that at my expense, I have every right to make the freeloading process as difficult and painful as possible. What I really loathe about squirrels is that they tend to chomp on as much as they can, damaging leaves and fruits beyond repair, and then leave the chewed-up remains all over my lawn. Not unlike finding broken beer bottles on the church lawn.

How to Disincentivize Freeloaders

Perhaps you’ve already caught on to my One Idea relating to business: if you build it, freeloaders will come.

They come in all shapes and sizes, from the homeless person who decides to make your parking lot his toilet (true story), to the employee who gossips away hours but can’t find the time to get work done. Small businesses have the difficult task of making something that’s valuable to be accessible, without also being open to thieves.

These 5 Steps can make freeloaders feel the weight of their choice to be lazy and greedy:

  1. Set traps for the unwary: Hidden cameras and motion-sensing lights are a good start, or maybe chocolate ex-lax lying temptingly on the breakroom counter. Your establishment, your rules – just don’t set up cameras in the bathroom unless you want to be in a world of legal trouble.
  2. Set expectations up front: Let new employees know that stealing time and money from the company will not be tolerated, i.e. that you network with lawyers and private investigators. This won’t bother those who aren’t planning skulduggery.
  3. Fence your place: If you don’t clearly mark out your territory and enforce it with wire, stakes, or other clear boundary markers, the freeloaders will point to your lack of clarity as a clear invitation to help themselves.
  4. Offer incentives to move on: Sometimes, all you can do is encourage the freeloader to a new location, so you don’t waste your life laying traps and plotting revenge. My mum flooded a new gopher hole and stuffed it at both ends with onions, which they hate, and so far they haven’t come back. If you make your own place enough of a chore, the lazy ones will find an easier target elsewhere.
  5. Hammer and tongs: If gentle methods of alternate persuasion don’t work, throw the book at them: police report, small claims court, civil court, criminal court, or news report. Invest some time in laying a paper trail by obtaining statements from people who have seen or experienced a particular instance of unethical behavior, screenshots of their social media pages relating to the issue (people incriminate themselves often), etc. You should have already done a background check before they got hired, of course.

These principles have nothing to do with shoring up the cracks in the person’s psyche or helping them overcome their bad childhood, because that’s not the problem. People like to take treasure they haven’t worked for – wherever moth and rust corrupt, that’s where thieves like to break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). And even though it’s not the true riches of the Ultimate Kingdom, you shouldn’t give a responsible position to someone who hasn’t done well at the small things in life.

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