What the Amish Can Teach You About Running a Successful Business

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Road sign in Amish country

Even though I live only a few hours from Amish Country in Lancaster, PA and regularly purchase baked goods from an Amish family that comes weekly to a farm I frequent, I never gave much thought to their successful business track record.

I first became aware of their enviable success record via the Time magazine article "Management, Plain and Simple." The article poses the question -- is it their lifestyle or the way they work that is responsible for their success? They are not just a little more successful than the average U.S. small business, they are exponentially more successful:

A new study in the Global Business and Economics Review says the failure rate of Amish businesses is less than 10% in the first five years, compared with 50% of small businesses in the U.S. over the same time period.

In the age of social media and technology at every turn, why is it that people who travel by horse and buggy, don't have phones in their home and shun electricity succeed in business at a rate that leaves the rest of us in the dust? So much for the social media pundits' advice that if you aren't online, your business doesn't exist.

This question intrigued Erik Wesner, a former sales manager, enough that he lived and worked among the Amish for three years and wrote the book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive. While I have not read the book personally, it certainly is getting widespread coverage and sounds like a solid read for any business person.

CNN Money talked about "Why Amish Businesses Don't Fail" and the secret is?

Wesner, who worked in business management and sales before immersing himself in all things Amish, thinks it lies in the culture, which emphasizes "qualities like hard work and cooperation." Networking through Facebook doesn't exactly have the same community-building pull as teaming up with neighbors to build a barn, and few Americans these days can point to a childhood where they awoke regularly at dawn to milk the cows.

To me, it sounds like true connection and serious discipline. These people stick to what they know (you don't see the Amish branching out into Web 2.0, right?), and they deliver consistent, quality products and services. I know I have never purchased baked goods from the Amish that weren't made with real ingredients (no high fructose corn syrup there). Everything I have ever purchased simply tasted heavenly.

The Amish build their businesses on a strong foundation of their personal values. They know what is most important to them and don't compromise it. In this book review of Why Amish Businesses Thrive, we see this example of how the Amish are not willing to compromise their integrity or their values:

Here is my favorite point from the “Doing Unto Others” chapter.

  • The customer is always right – even when he’s wrong.  But only to a point.  He stops being right when you have to compromise your integrity or sacrifice your resources beyond a predetermined acceptable level.

They have also mastered the art of single-tasking, which means they are focused and present while working in their business and living their lives. I have to believe this is part of their secret to being at peace with their work and their lives as well.

Within their many business success secrets lie their willingness to be uncomfortable, feel the fear and yet move forward in faith. So many of the rest of us don't seem to want to get even a little uncomfortable, yet alone do what it takes. This is summarized well in "Amish Small Business Secrets Revealed":

Fear and faith. Although Amish business owners feel the same responsibilities and fears as other business owners, their faith keeps them grounded.

This may also explain why their businesses are fairly recession-proof, and they aren't casualties with highly leveraged financial lives.

One thing that rings out strong and clear, no matter what venue I go to and encounter an Amish business, is that they are fundamentally pleasant and seem to be at peace with who they are and their choices. They don't try to be who they are not, and they don't apologize for being who they are.

While we're not likely to see an Amish CEO of a top company anytime soon (plus why would they want to?), there are a tremendous amount of lessons to be learned from the way they choose to live and work and their tremendous track record of small business success.

What do you think?


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and career coaching for women to help you boost your confidence and break through your limitations so you can re-ignite freedom and a sense of adventure in your life. Learn more about The Life Alchemy Success Formula™ and Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom & Experience Greater Confidence" at her website.

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