It's been an exciting few weeks! As you can see, our new client is a plain (Amish) business. They are super excited to have an office/business manager, and built a brand new office at their facility to house us.
A fascinating combination of genius and humility, this business invited us in to provide a combination of coaching and business management. After an eye-opening conversation with our local area small business development center, (who were completely shocked when I explained what we were going to be doing, sharing with me that they have tried to break into the Amish community for years but can't make any inroads) I realized how unprecedented it is for an 'English' business to be invited into the Amish business community - not as a customer, but as a mentor, coach, and manager.
Each time we arrive, the owner's young son meets us with a smile and an enthusiastic 'Hi!'. He doesn't speak much English yet, (he'll learn when he begins school next year) so Trey is finding it challenging to communicate with him, but they do find ways to play together, and enjoy drawing on the lap white-boards we put in the toy basket in the office.
Many folks who aren't familiar with the Amish community would wonder how they can compete or at least keep up, in our fast paced, powered, digital world. Part of my role is to encourage this business to stay true to their community ideals and be mindful of the effect that skating too close to the line may have on their standing within the community. There are some businesses that regularly cross the lines set out by their community, encouraged by well-meaning, but ignorant English. From an anthropological view, major changes endanger an entire community's way of life for generations to come. From a community standpoint, families who regularly break the rules and cross the line can lose their connection in the community, and risk being disciplined or shunned. Mercy and forgiveness is a basic foundation in the Amish tradition, but repeated transgressions are met with increasingly strong reactions from leadership.
I was able to take this client is because he is an honest man looking for ways to grow and compete but not be dishonest to his family or his community. My standing in the community is affected by the clients I accept - so I have to be very mindful of PEMG's reputation as well.
What does all this mean on a practical level? Well, he doesn't use electricity. He does use batteries. The batteries are powered via solar or by an equine treadmill (that he designs, has built and sells!). The batteries are (as far as I am aware) only used for business, his wife would not use them for anything in the house. Even in business, the lines are firm - he can run the printer with the battery pack, and some equipment. He can power his mobile phone, but when I am not in the office, the phone stays in the phone shanty on the edge of the property. The electric tea kettle stays on my desk, and is used only by me, when I'm in the office.
We will be setting up cellular internet, but again, it's only for my use and will be put away when I am not in the office. Having an 'english office lady' as he calls me, has created some breathing room for this business. On a practical level, things get done faster, and he doesn't have to spend as much time returning phone calls!
Of course, when I answer the phone, many times people hang up! They aren't used to 1. a woman (gasp!) answering the phone, or 2. an 'english' voice. It was pretty funny yesterday when another Amish client of mine called in to the office. He was so confused! Once I explained to him what was going on, I could hear the wheels turning in his mind. This 'english office lady' idea is very new - and I anticipate a growing demand within the Amish community.
This places a huge burden on me to create a business model that provides excellent service minus any opinion or judgments of the Amish way of life. An opportunity like this is amazing - I feel as though every step of the PEMG journey has been preparing us for this next venture.
I am envisioning a new division at PEMG, utilizing virtual assistants, remote contractors, and office staff to provide the Amish community with access to information and services in a way that doesn't threaten their beliefs, ideals, or community structure.
What do you think? Questions? Thoughts?
"We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well."
(1 Corinthians 10:24b MSG)