What i learned from the amish about how to succeed in business – daniel j. mclaughlin gas house edwards


I live in an area with a sizable Amish community. The various sects of Amish, though following different rules, make conscious decisions to live apart from modern society, dressing differently, using horse and buggy for general transportation, using horse-driven implements for farming, forsaking electricity, and so on. Their community is their insurance policy, helping each other when their barn is destroyed or they fall on other hard times, meaning they don’t need commercial insurance. Their traditions are based on particular interpretations of the Bible, and limit the benefits they get from modern society.

They generally live very simply and don’t require large incomes to support the lifestyle, though they typically have many children. Many families grow much of their own food and have significant interactions within their own communities. They don’t, however, forsake all interaction with the non-Amish community. Over the years, I have taken various opportunities to deal with them, and it is interesting to observe how they work and live. They engage in a variety of occupations other than farming, including carpentry, cabinet-making, baking, shop-keeping, and other such activities.

Recently my sisters were visiting and heard about an Amish dry goods and cheese store, so we set out to find it. It was a simple addition to a home without any signage, so only those who knew about it would know it was there. It was not a place you could fulfill your entire grocery list, but was rather a specialty shop that didn’t try to satisfy everyone. While we were there, an Amish girl came in and bought a number of items and then walked home with two bags in her hands.

The woman who ran that shop was a business owner, as was the man who installed roofing, or the old fellow who makes custom cabinetry. They became business people by doing something and selling the product of their efforts. Doing and selling creates business. Though their businesses are typically not complex, at least for the sect in this particular geographic region, they still have to produce something at a cost that is less than the selling price. Whether or not they have any employees, they would not have a business if they didn’t make a profit.

The Amish have several advantages, but the biggest one is that their simple life means that they can live well with less income. They don’t incur the expenses of modern living, including electricity, televisions, video games, designer clothing, and so on.

The lesson for any business is that the lower your costs, the easier it is to make a profit. The less expensive your lifestyle, the less profit you need to live well. It reminds me of a classic book from two decades ago, “The Millionaire Next Door.” There are many millionaires around who don’t appear wealthy, because they don’t live extravagantly. They spend less than they earn and build up significant assets over a long period of time. On the other hand, there are others who live like millionaires, but would be devastated if they lost their high paying job. They live hand-to-mouth with expensive, gold-plated spoons.

A large, complex, high-tech business is subject to the same concept. Though some incur losses to get started and establish a customer base, they must ultimately be profitable or they will not survive. The higher the lifestyle of the owners at the growing stage, the more stress they put on the nascent company. A person hoping to become wealthy in business or investing cannot live wealthy before establishing the foundation. They are bound by the same principle as the Amish are. If you incur more cost than the income you earn, you will fail.