When it comes to business books, there’s no shortage of options available to entrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs, and small business owners hoping for success. But none of them have struck a chord with me quite like Stephen Gerber’s The E-Myth. Or more specifically, his 2001 update The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. In fact, it was voted the top business book by Inc. 500 CEOs.
The idea behind the E-Myth is that most business owners are not entrepreneurs—not even managers. Instead, they are individuals who are skilled in their technical work and because of that, they decided to start a business. You’d be forgiven if the distinction escapes you; it escapes many business owners, but it’s the cause of most of their problems. That’s where Gerber’s book really shines. It helps business owners realise why their business isn’t working, why they’re struggling, why they’ve stopped enjoying their work.
Gerber takes an unusual approach to nonfiction as he talks to the reader not directly, but through the narrative of Sarah and her pie business. The book is essentially a series of empowering conversations between Gerber and Sarah where he helps her discover the problems with her business and realise how to overcome them. He talks Sarah through the stages of her business, from infancy through adolescence and maturity. It’s an unorthodox writing method, but it works.
In the first half of the book—the why part—every page offers a lightbulb moment into what is going wrong for the business owner. The second half of the book—the how part—details the lessons that a business owner can take from franchising. The how part gets a little jargon-heavy, but the sentiments are easy enough to discern, and while your business may not be a franchise, the principles still largely apply.
Arguably, the book is best-suited to physical product-based businesses, as that’s what Sarah’s business is and that’s what the franchise model best applies to. However, in 2020, many small businesses operate virtually, across the globe, via services rather than products—and the book could do with a revisited-revisited. Sarah’s pies in the era of social media. Sarah’s pies when the high street is declining. Sarah’s pies when businesses have to be online. Or not Sarah’s pies at all, but a 2020 virtual service-based business trying to operate the E-Myth principles.
A lot has changed since 2001, and there are new tools and skill sets that a business owner must master, but there is also much to learn from this widely renowned almost 20-year-old business book. The E-Myth helps business owners understand the reasons for their lack of success. It shines a light on why they’ve fallen out of love with baking pies, building websites, or designing logos. The thing that made them want to start a business in the first place. And understanding the problem can make a world of difference when it comes to small business success.