What the Amish Can Teach You About Building a Successful Business
Nothing grows a business like remembering good, old fashioned principles.
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During the 90's, just shortly after I had my second son, I was bit with the "wholesome momma" bug and had a strong desire to do things the old fashioned way when it came to living my life at home.
Growing up in a home where my Momma spent half my childhood in and out of psychiatric wards, I quickly had a desire to give my kids more and to create a peaceful environment for our growing family. This eventually led to a strong desire to learn how to cook, bake, and do things from scratch.
When I got my first computer, which was a Pentium 1, I knew nothing about business, marketing, customer relations, publicity or CRM's. But I did know this: I loved to buy and I always bought more from people who were hard-working and genuine. My first goals for interacting with people were not even business related. Rather, they were a means of connecting with other Moms across the world with encouragement, wisdom and old fashioned "Momma wisdom."
So I did what anyone would have done (or so I thought at the time!) and I began to write a newsletter. In its initial stages, I marketed my newsletter by writing articles for homeschooling, womanly art and homesteading magazines. It caught on like wildfire and in less than five months I had more than 300 women subscribed to our free newsletter.
I would write each article on my word-processing typewriter and then make copies. It felt so gratifying knowing that this written word would be a source of encouragement and happiness for a woman who needed a friend. Equally, the response that I received from my growing readership became a huge encouragement to me.
When my first interaction with the Internet began, it didn't take long for me to realize that we could connect more economically and quickly by sending out our newsletter through email and a website rather than by a postage stamp and self publishing. So, without much trouble, because our readers loved what we were publishing, we moved the entire newsletter online in under 60 days.
This is when I first discovered we had Amish and Mennonite readers who were glad to go online. But here's the clincher, they asked that I didn't tell their Bishops. They would write me and say they'd be happy to interact with me from their local libraries but please keep it a tiny little secret. With their handwritten notes were recipes for bread and baked goods that were family secrets. Sounded good to me, so I kept my mouth quiet and learned a few things from these women who knew how to make bread better than anyone I knew.
Quickly I discovered there were thousands of people online who loved to make bread, talk about it, write about it and even more, buy everything under the sun related to bread making. This was the birth of my first online business, a kitchenware store that eventually sold $4.5 million in one year of high-end kitchenware, baking products, blenders, coffee makers and anything else that a wise homemaker would crave for her kitchen.
A few years ago, we lived in Indiana. We were near some of the largest communities of Amish in the USA. Many times I'd get my meat from the local farmers and take a one-hour ride for some great Amish butter and raw milk. It is during these interactions that I realized once again that good, old fashioned business principles are what has kept me profitable all these years, in all of the many companies I've run.
Here are a few tips from the Amish I've met through the years that can impact your online business profits and presence in a very unique way:
1. Don't market or sell anything you don't believe in
Your name is valuable and what you do in business is going to be directly attached to your name. Because of this high standard of integrity, don't market or sell anything you don't believe in. Regardless of the money, the demand in the marketplace or the opinions of others, if you can't sleep at night after running your company, don't sell it.
2. Care about people deeply
The Amish don't just serve their customers. They love them. The local coffee shop in a small town I go to serves some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life. But truth be told, it's not the coffee beans that make it taste so amazing, it's the environment. An Amish family gutted out and re-did an old building in a small, quaint town. They are now the most profitable and successful business there. Caring for people with good old fashioned genuine hospitality is a big key to Amish business success.
3. Do things differently than everyone else
People will honor you for it. The Amish do their entire life differently than anyone else. They live everything they do by their faith. Because of this, when they serve you, care for you, price their products, market themselves, etc., they do it differently as well. During a recession I saw this Amish man expand his coffee shop and purchase a local warehouse in the same town. He now has a drive-through-only coffee shop that serves passersby on their way to work or just for the day. Think that one through: the people who rarely own cars serving clients and customers who drive. Different, isn't it? Drive-through coffee isn't that unique, but this particular portion of his company is only drive through. You can't get a cup of coffee and sit at this location. It's thriving and surviving while many other businesses are tanking in the same town.
4. Remain in touch with your clients
This is an old fashioned business principle that so many companies neglect. Even with the ease of email, the simplicity of social media and blogging, far too many businesses simply do not "touch" their clients enough in any given month. It's no small wonder their promotions and sales don't work. The Amish don't view you as a customer or a client; they see you as someone to serve. It is their honor and privilege to serve you. Therefore, just as they treat family, they will treat you. Staying in touch with you isn't a burden, being mindful of your needs isn't a hassle and they don't neglect the attention and care having a relationship with you deserves.
5. Work hard when everyone else is sleeping
When most people are sleeping in on a Saturday, many Amish families have already been awake for hours. Milking cows, rolling bread dough, getting the oven hot for today's baking -- it all happens way before the sun rises. They rise while it is still night and work diligently with their hands. They serve others at the first part of the day and are many times given brand loyalty because of this one thing. Does this mean that you have to work 90 hours per week to be successful? Not at all, but if you take this tip from the Amish, and you work hard when most people are sleeping on their dreams, their destiny and are giving in to drama and emotions, you too will prosper when others struggle.
Good, old fashioned business principles have always profited me far more than JV deals, networking, having someone else promote me or other online marketing tactics. While these are not wrong in and of themselves, sadly, many beginning business owners seem to think that they can't be successful without doing a bunch of JV deals, having numerous connections and networks they are a part of, and having others promote them. All of these things will be hugely advantageous to your business. But the fact remains that through any recession, down time, economic challenge or other host of business changes, it is good old fashioned business that will stand the test of time, every time.
Build your business to last. Build it strong and you'll sleep better at night as well.