Most Amish live without electricity or phones, and get around with a horse and buggy. Hardly a recipe for business success in today’s fast-paced, internet-connected world, you might think at first glance. Yet the U.S. Small Business Administration has found Amish businesses have a 5-year success rate of 95%, while only 50% of non-amish businesses survive the first five years. Why such a huge difference?
Erik Wesner, whose book “Success Made Simple” is based on his three years of living and working with the Amish, may have found the answer. Wesner interviewed over 60 Amish business owners to find out what sets them apart, and discovered several universal lessons which can be applied to any small business, Amish or non-Amish. Many of these lessons are learned from a life close to the land, growing crops for market or caring for farm animals.
Because the family comes first for the Amish, many start a business so they can spend more time with their family, as family is the heart of the Amish culture. Owning a business allows them to maximize family time, which often means involving their children in the business.
A strong work ethic is also a core Amish value, so the focus of their business is doing a good job and taking pride in what they do, rather than how many hours a week they work, or how much money they make.
Wesner says the four most powerful lessons other small business owners can learn from the Amish are:
1. Bigger is not better. Amish churches and schools are small, their farms are small and they keep their businesses small as well. They believe a smaller, more manageable business leaves more time for family and friends.
2. Humble leadership. You’ll never see an Amish corporate jet! Most Amish never expect an employee to do anything the business owner would not do themselves. It’s not unusual to find the owner sweeping the shop floor at the end of the day.
3. Recycle resources. An Amish business wastes almost nothing. From composting on the farm to using wood scraps in a cabinet shop to build bird houses, everything is used, not discarded.
4. Network. The Amish believe strong interpersonal ties are essential to success. In the Amish community, it starts with relatives, such as cousins, uncles and grandparents. An Amish business owner does the same with customers, employees and suppliers.
The importance of building strong relationships, along with core Amish principles of hard work, honesty and quality, is responsible for the long-term success and prosperity of an Amish business. The next time you’re making a small business decision, ask yourself: What would the Amish do?