April 5, 2010 | last updated May 29, 2012 6:29 pm

Amish Can Teach Business Lessons

"Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive" by Erik Wesner, Jossey-Bass, $24.95.

If you have an eighth-grade education, limited use of technology and restrictions on how and where to advertise, what would be your chances for success as an entrepreneur? Conventional wisdom says slim and none. Yet, the over 9,000 Amish-owned businesses boast a 95 percent success rate. How do Amish business owners defy the odds?

Let's start with Jonas Lapp, a builder. Lapp's "why" he's in business: "To be a person who adds value to others' experiences, be it by mentoring, listening or collaborating as a contributing, productive member of his community." Lapp's "how" to do business: Mentor employees — make them more important than you, listen to your customers — think relationships, not individual transactions and work with business partners that share your "why." The message: A value-driven "why" drives a vocation, not just a business, for its owner.

Elam Peachey, another builder, says success and continuous learning are partners dovetailing from "why." "And if you think you're done," Peachey says, "you probably are." The result: At best, your business stays where it is. At worst, it declines rapidly.

Peachey firmly believes that learning is closely tied to finding truthful sounding boards: "It's easy to convince yourself of an idea while overlooking its flaws. Outsiders don't have that prejudice. They're more objective."

Manufacturing veteran Abram Gingerich recommends learning-through-reading: "It gives you a sense of what works and what doesn't… and gives you a broader perspective on a lot of issues."

When it comes to marketing, Eli King, a barn builder, believes in "20 questions." He asks prospective customers that many questions to ensure he can separate their needs from their wants. Asking lots of questions also shows a prospect a concern for their solution (and their budget) and that you have the experience to deliver on your promises.

Fence dealer Omar Zook believes in finding your market niche and mining it narrow and deep. Zook targets horse ranches because he can use the same tools and material suppliers on every job.

You'll meet over 50 Amish business owners in the book's 206 pages. There's something you can learn from every one of them.

"WOW: A Handbook for Living" by Zen Ohashi and Zono Kurazono, One Peace Books, $14.95.

Use the book's 31 exercises to find out where you're at, where you're going and what you must do to get there. When you complete an exercise, you'll be saying: "WOW, look what I've done. I can do more." Some exercises seem repetitive — they are by intent. Repetition creates habits.

The authors' guidelines for use:

1. Do the exercises exactly as they are written and in 1-31 order. Why? The exercises are building blocks with reinforcement woven in. After completing the initial 1-31, you can go back to individual exercises that made things happen — but, you may be better served by working through those where things didn't happen.

2. Once you've done the exercises, encourage others to try them. The authors aren't trying to sell more books, they're pointing out that "what works for you" can work for others. By helping others achieve, you become a go-to-person and learn from their perspectives, too.

3. When things aren't going well, stop looking for the reason why because that keeps you mired in the past. Instead, employ future-focus. Ask: "How can I make things go better?" Then implement your answer.

4. Don't be in a hurry to complete the exercises. It takes time to make real progress and create make-it-happen habits.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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