As many of you know, my grandparents on both sides were Amish. So I have deep family roots in that culture. Every time we visit family and friends in Holmes County Ohio, I find myself fascinated by the quantity of businesses operating in that strong Amish area. We watch 18-wheelers turn down tiny gravel roads to get to the various businesses tucked among the back roads. The diminishing number of people directly involved in agriculture has affected even this agrarian group. Reports indicate that in this community, more than half the Amish have left the farms to work in small businesses. According to commerce information, there are about 1,000 Amish microenterprises in this area. Many of these boast annual sales of more than $500,000. Yes, employees are making buggies, harnesses and lumber, but also furniture, modern cabinets, garage doors and cheese. Restaurants, hotels, fitness centers and tourists sites are flourishing.
This is significant because of the trend toward small businesses and home-based businesses in the general population. Yet, while the national failure rate for small businesses is listed as about 85% in the first 5 years, for these Amish businesses, the failure rate is less than 5%.
How is it possible that these Amish entrepreneurs, despite having only eighth-grade education, many with no technological advancements such as computers or even electricity, have such an astounding rate of success? Many have beautiful homes and gardens – and no mortgage.
The researchers who have studied this phenomenon have identified 5 basic characteristics of these simple yet successful businesses:
1. An ethic of hard work.
Proverbs 10: 4-5 tell us, “Laziness leads to poverty; hard work makes you rich. At harvest season it’s smart to work hard, but stupid to sleep.” Forget the 4-Hour work week. It’s not even a desirable goal for most of us.
2. Use of apprenticeships to train young entrepreneurs.
We have lost the art of mentoring; Jewish fathers always taught their children a trade or skill. Today we are raising sons and daughters with no identifiable areas of vocational focus and no marketable work skills. Let’s teach them how to mow yards, bake cookies and sell books.
3. Small scale operations.
We are so quick to believe that bigger is better. Often it is just bigger. Small and profitable is better than big and sucking wind.
4. Frugality and austerity, resulting in low overhead.
In these Amish businesses, the owner is usually doing the hands-on work. No fancy offices or board rooms, just the basic needs. Operating from a home farm, many have no rent or lease expense.
5. Product quality, uniqueness, and value.
The United States is known for shoddy workmanship and poor quality. A return to quality is a key to success. People expect Amish workmanship to be quality and they get what they expect.
And then I’m reminded why I choose to work out of this converted barn on our rural property. It embraces everything mentioned above.
Okay so I’m not quite ready to give up my Corvette. But at least I don’t have to worry about a monthly payment dragging me down.
Which of these are you using to ensure your business success?
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