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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small Business as a (tightly-scripted) spiritual journey, 11 Jan 2009
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This review is from: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It (Paperback)
Michael Gerber, a saxophone playing, poetry and pulp-fiction writing, dope smoking, mystic drifter and successful encyclopaedia salesman (according to the apparently autobiographical section), wrote the original "E-Myth" in 1986, and revisited the ideas in this book in 1995, having by that stage established E-Myth Worldwide (see []) as a major force in what has come to be known as life and business coaching. He has a rather better claim, I suspect, to having originated "business coaching" than Brad Sugars (see "The Business Coach") although he does not use that term and is quite free in acknowledging his antecedents via a quotation at the start of each chapter.

Gerber's aim was (and presumably still is) to "bring the dream back to American small business" and the book is written in a very American, perhaps even specifically Californian, style, which may grate slightly on British readers, especially where his "spiritual" side shines through. The central theme of the book is an extended conversation between the author and "Sarah", proprietor of a struggling one-woman business in the form of a pie shop (apple rather than steak and kidney, although that doesn't really matter).

There can be no doubt that Gerber's own success suggests that his methods have worked for many small businesses. He suggests that there is an "Entrepreneurial-Myth" that all small businesses are created by Entrepreneurs, while the reality is that that are created by frustrated Technicians after a moment of "entrepreneurial seizure". Technicians enjoy doing the work but are neither interested in nor equipped to develop businesses and find that they don't so much own a company as a job - and that the demands are punishing. The solution, he suggests, is to think like an entrepreneur and to work ON the business rather than IN it, setting up systems that would allow the business model to be franchised (as a business system franchise like McDonalds), even if that is not the owner's intention. The aim is to create a "turn-key" business that someone else could operate in exactly the same way as the owner with staff with "the lowest possible level of skill" consistent with their roles.

The level of documentation that Gerber suggests is necessary is formidable. I have to admit that I have never worked in a commercial organisation which had anything like his suggested level of documented procedures. (I have perhaps worked in a non-commercial one that did - that was the Army!) It is certainly a challenging set of ideas.

Most of the book is devoted to general principles, but in one or two sections he proposes quite specific techniques. When discussing sales, for example, he detailed the Gerber "Power Point Selling System" (a phrase borrowed by other West-Coast Americans, perhaps?) he describes a quite prescriptive sales technique, and suggests that it will work invariably. While it is certainly in the category of "sensible stuff", I recoiled slightly from the one-size fits all mentality as portrayed here. I suspect that Gerber in the flesh would customise this sort of thing. Another example, apparently trivial but a theme to which Gerber returns on several occasions, is that blue is a superior colour, for logos, suits, book covers, marker pens, etc. He also advocates physical contact with customers - elbow, arm, shoulder - as a sure-fire way of boosting sales. Really?

Perhaps my biggest reservation about the his methodology is that he suggests that despite everything being scripted and prescribed to achieve "the elimination of discretion, or choice, at the operating level of your business", he still thinks that this need not be dehumanising and can be consistent with empowerment and job satisfaction. Perhaps it can, but this was not, in my opinion, very well explained here. I suspect that his ideas are quite close to the "system thinking "of John Seddon (see, e.g. "Freedom from Command and Control").

I have no doubt that a small business that set up all of the systems that Gerber advocates would be extremely well run. It is hard to imagine that many business owners would go to all that trouble if they did not actually want to franchise their operations - ceasing to be, in the process, small businesses. Thus, while I found this a fascinating and, in its way, inspirational book, I was left wondering whether many small business owners would not seek to find a middle way between the drive for growth that Michael Gerber recommends and merely "owning a job", and I suspect that many small business owners have in fact found it (or one of them, as there are probably many such ways).

Nevertheless, if you are running a small business or if you are interested in how SMEs can be run well, this updated version of what is a seminal work is essential - and rewarding - reading.
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Location: Kent, UK

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