Book Review: Success Made Simple

Success Made Simple, An inside look at why Amish businesses thrive

By Erik Wesner

Erik Wesner author of Success Made Simple is an accomplished sales manager who examines why Amish businesses have an astounding 95% success rate. US Department of Labor statistics claim that the overall success rate is for US businesses at only 44%. Even though the fuzzy math used to calculate business failures is a flawed, inexact science, it’s tough to argue with the ability of Amish businesses to thrive and sustain themselves. The question of Success Made Simple is simply why?

Wesner’s research destroys some of the myths of Amish life many of us have formed by media archetypes tossed at us through the years (the movie Witness stands out). Living here in Northern Michigan, we occasionally catch glimpses of Amish life when traveling south through Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola, and Clare Counties. That limited exposure to a contrasting culture naturally makes us a bit more curious to learn more.

Given the premise of Success Made Simple, it is easy for one to try and predict before reading what Wesner would find as the main reasons for the high success rate of Amish owned businesses: cheap labor, lower overhead costs, and a general cooperative atmosphere within the Amish community. Only a few of these preconceived notions ring true in the book’s findings

From the book’s beginning it is made clear that the priorities of most Amish business owners are fundamentally different from typical American businesses. The Amish culture sees small business as a way of maintaining a long-term vision that incorporates family and religious values. The strong family and community relationship fosters a mentoring support system that is lacking in most U.S. business models. A major difference is the Amish education system that replaces traditional academic learning (past 8th grade) with the opportunity to perfect a trade through an apprenticeship, leading to a lifetime of useful job skills.   

Success Made Simple shines when it summarizes how Amish craftsman combine high quality standards with trust and longevity. The following paragraph will give you some insight with an example of a common-sense customer service philosophy:

“Communications, quality products, reliable service, and maintaining positive perceptions all strengthen the customer bond.  Managing these often means managing for the next job. Word of mouth and repeat business spring from the trust and satisfaction created from getting these things right.  “

To some, portions of Success Made Simple may sound more like an instructional sale primer from the 1960’s than a modern day business best seller.  However, those traditional principles are still pertinent if your product and service have high quality standards and the consumers you are marketing to value those high standards as well.

In the discount/low price market environment that has been so pervasive in the past 20 years, the Amish have mostly remained true to their high standards, focusing simply on treating people right, while producing the highest quality products possible.

Like the Amish business model, Success made Simple may not be at times overly exciting to read, but if you make the effort, the rewards are business principles that can serve as a strong foundation for any small business model (A note:  If you employed are in the building trades, this book should be required reading). Along with understanding more accurately Amish culture and business practices, Wesner’s ability to boil it all down into best-practice summaries (marketing, sales, customer service, personnel, strategic and succession planning) is the perhaps book’s best takeaway.  

Success Made Simple’s narrative presents plenty of solid entrepreneurial insight, in a writing style that at times is tough to grind through. In a way, Wesner’s narrative reflects the Amish people that he has studied: tedious, methodical, but a finished product full of valuable detail that is worth the time and resources invested.

Success Made Simple

An inside look at why Amish businesses thrive

  • Three and one half stars
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass (March 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470442379

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in Traverse City. The SBTDC assists businesses with one-on-one business consulting, market research information, and entrepreneurial training.

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