The E Myth Revisited by Micheal Gerber – systems, systems

In my change of direction post, I said I had been reading a few books.  I thought it might be nice to tell you about some of them.  This is good for me too as it gets me to look through them again.

I read somewhere, a long time ago, that when you first read a book you learn a bit from it.  If you then read it again, you absorb a bit more.  Most people take their examinations at this stage (it was a book about studying you understand).  But, the writer went on, if you read the book a third and a fourth time, you take in much more from it.

That struck a chord with me, which is the reason why I changed my revision strategy from trying to condense the whole of the law of England and Wales onto one A4 sheet of paper so I could learn it off by heart, to reading around the subject a lot more.  I think it worked.  I passed the exams anyway.  But I am rambling.  Today I am going to tell you about The E-myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber.

The E Myth book is a good book.  A very good book.  Which is why, of course, it has sold over 1 million copies (as we are helpfully told on the cover).  It goes on a bit in places, and I did get rather tired of Sarah and her pies (read it and you will understand), but I feel he gets to the heart of things.

The book starts out by saying that most businesses fail within a few years (cue glow of smugness on my  part as I have been self employed now for over 14 years).  The reason they fail is that they don’t think about their business in the right way.  Everyone, says Gerber, who runs a business has three elements, three types of business person, warring within him:

  • the entrepreneur
  • the manager and
  • the technician

The entrepreneur is the visionary.  He lives as it were, in the future working out what could be.  The manager sorts things out and organises them.  The technician does the work.

I have to say that I identified very strongly with the entrepreneur – who says Gerber, has a strong need for control, who creates a deal of havoc around him, and who often regards people as ‘problems who get in the way of the dream’.  I did actually laugh out loud when I read that (not a thing I do very often) as that is very me. As my husband would no doubt agree.

However I can see the other elements in me also.  I like systems.  I am a sole practitioner working without support staff – if I did not have systems and precedents I would never get anything done.  You need the systems in place, then you do not have to re-invent the wheel, and can find space and time for the dreaming and the thinking. Which for me is the most exciting and fulfilling part.

But, Gerber says, most business owners just carry on being technicians. Doing the work.  Because they are good cooks, or mechanics, or accountants, or whatever.  That is why they fail.  What you need to do, he said, is look at the business from the outside and set it up, with systems in place, so it can work without you if necessary.

The heart of the book is about franchising.  Looking at your business as a product in itself, something that is so well organised that it will work perfectly, like a well oiled machine, so that you can then eventually sell it for lots of money.

That sounds rather cold and clinical, which is not what Gerber (who is a bit of an old 1960s hippie at heart) means.  Far from it.  The system should be set up to be as caring as possible, so people enjoy working  in it and the customers enjoy using it.  He describes a hotel where customers are asked their preferences, which are then noted on the system and never forgotten.  The service is then tailored to the customer, so he feels cared for and looked after.

He also says that consistency is important.  Having systems in place to produce the perfect whatever (burger, hotel experience etc) so that this is reproduced *every time* without fail.  Customers will then appreciate the reliability and come back, again and again.

He is right of course.  That is a good way to set up a business, and will make it far less likely to fail.  Reading the book again for this review, I have rediscovered the setting up of systems part, the planning to provide the perfect experience for the customer.  Which is very timely as I am now planning a major change for my online legal service, so, hmmm.

So yes, highly recommended for all business owners and aspiring business owners.

And I think I had better read it again …