Not long ago I was speaking at an event put on by a local Web development firm. This firm serves small and midsize businesses, helping them get on the Web and improve their Web presence. One of the principals mentioned that they had another presentation to go to that evening -- they were meeting with a group of Amish church elders to discuss some Web work for Amish businesses.
Websites for Amish businesses? At first blush, this sounds unbelievable.
But it's not. I didn't even blink -- because I've heard similar anecdotes about the Amish and how they are embracing technology in their businesses.
I happen to live and work near the world's largest Amish settlement, which is located in Holmes County, Ohio. You soon learn that the Amish are for the most part:
1. Good businesspeople, and as such recognize the value that technology brings;
2. Not necessarily averse to using technology in business if there's a compelling business purpose (as contrasted with using technology in the home, which is generally forbidden).
The need to be on the Web is especially important for the many Amish businesses that cater to non-Amish, in the form of craft businesses, hospitality businesses and other tourism-related businesses.
That's because the Amish are increasingly leaving their farming enterprises and becoming small business owners. Along with that comes the need to use technology to properly run their businesses and compete effectively. The New York Times has written about this phenomenon,noting that:
Professor Kraybill, who co-wrote “Amish Enterprise: From Plow to Profits,” estimates that more than half of Amish households now earn their primary income from small business rather than farming and in some Amish settlements (there are more than 400 different settlements in North America), the percentage of households earning their income from nonfarming commerce is over 90 percent.
“It is a dramatic change,” Professor Kraybill said. “It impacts the family and exposes them to the concept of competition and the need to use technology to be able to compete effectively.”
My point in bringing up the Amish is to highlight their "relative" openness to technology in their businesses -- as a lesson for all of us.
They have to learn technology in business even when they don't use it in the home. Technology for them is more foreign than it is to most of the rest of us -- their entire culture is about keeping out external influences, including many technologies. They not only have to learn what technology is out there, and how to use it themselves, but also how to leverage it for business value -- a triple whammy.
Yet if the Amish can overcome their cultural tendencies and their lack of knowledge and recognize the value of a strong Web presence for their small businesses, what's holding you back?