Ever come across a website selling Amish products (like furniture) and wonder how much the Amish are involved?
Are they running these websites somehow, or is someone helping make it happen?
Ryan Kralik helps Amish get their goods online. In today’s guest post he explains how that works.
Today I am the President of an internet marketing company called WebsiteNEO, Inc. We specialize in web design, search engine optimization and a variety of other digital marketing services with clients across the United States. Now, if you know even a little about the internet and the world of digital marketing you might say, “Yeah? Big Deal. There’s lots of companies like yours. What makes you so special?”. Well the simple answer is this: About 90% of our clients are Amish businesses.
If you had ever told me that I would make my living building websites for the Amish, I’d have laughed at the idea. After all, Amish people don’t use the internet in any way shape or form, right? Or cars. Or electricity…except they do. They use all of those things. They just use them a little differently than the rest of us. They use cars; they just don’t drive them. They use electricity; they just generate it themselves. And they use the internet to market their businesses; they just rely on us to handle that marketing for them.
For me, this all began by accident. I was Vice President at a large direct mail company and, being based in Cleveland, Ohio, I was very near to the Middlefield, Ohio Amish settlement. I developed a professional relationship with several Amish building and home improvement companies and one day, out of nowhere, one of them asked me if I knew anything about websites, which I did. So he asked me to build him one. Then his uncle hired me. Then his cousins hired me. Next thing I know I’m spending every evening and all weekend long building websites for the Amish.
Today about 60% of our business is within the Amish furniture industry. We build and manage websites, as well as a variety of other marketing services for furniture builders and furniture retail stores as well as cabinet makers, roofing and siding contractors, barn and shed builders, dog groomers, hardware and garden equipment stores, machine shops and factories, home builders and still many others.
The thing about my business that was an unintended consequence of earning a living is that I am able to have a huge, positive impact on the businesses of my clients. You see, nobody really ever rolled out of bed and said, “Today I’m going to build a business selling websites to the Amish”. So, in most cases, I’m the first person these folks have ever worked with and in many instances nobody has ever tried to educate them about using the internet to market their goods and services.
In today’s world, like it or not, if a business is not using the internet for marketing they are at a severe disadvantage. When I want something, whether it’s a new car, furniture or hornet nest removal, I pull my phone out of my pocket and use Google to search for what I need. Now if you’re, say, over 55, I understand that this may not be the case for you; but there are over 100 million people in the United States just like me. That’s over half of the adult population.
And if you’re not on the internet, you won’t show up for those Google searches. If you don’t show up for those searches, you don’t have a shot at much of the business from those 100+ million American consumers. So, in many cases, my involvement with an Amish business has helped to turn a struggling business around. I’ve been able to really help some people I’ve come to know as both clients and friends.
This endeavor has not been sought without challenges however. There are still many Amish folks who reside in church districts where the internet is seen as nothing but a superhighway of filth and debauchery. And while there is filth and debauchery to be found online, it can be found too at any local library. The Amish community rejected the internet from early on so totally that it has become ingrained, for many, as what the internet was like in the 90’s and not what it resembles today.
So, about 25% of the time that I’m talking with a new business, they need to check with their church leaders. And, about half the time they do, they’re told “better not fool around with the internet”. While I respect their beliefs and certainly their devotion, it does still smack of failure when, in many cases, we are literally talking about the future of their livelihood. And there have been more than a few business that have been forced to close or morph into something else as a result of opting not to use marketing services like ours.
To give you an idea about the types of challenges a guy like me faces, and this happens with nearly every Amish furniture builder I work with who builds occasional furniture, I will be flipping through their catalog and come to the section for TV stands. I will notice that, ALWAYS, the page is titled “Plasma Stands” as are all the pieces. I will say, “Did you know that they haven’t made plasma TV’s in nearly 10 years?”. And they will look at me like I’ve just told them the sky is purple.
You see, in most cases, I’m the first one to tell them that this technology has changed to the point that their nomenclature is no longer appropriate. Imagine if an Amish builder made seats for cars and their catalog said “Saddles” instead of “Car Seats”. Once I explain it they are thankful that I brought it up, but this is just one example of what can be a fairly wide disconnect between Amish businesses and the technology of the day.
So while it hasn’t been strictly milk and honey in the Amish website world, it has certainly been a fun and rewarding experience becoming “The Amish Website Guy”. Today we have a team of web designers and search marketing professionals helping to ensure the future of our client’s success and, with scores of Amish settlements there seems no end in sight. And as the next generation of Amish business owners come into their own, I suspect even more will look for ways to expand their marketing reach and this “Amish Website Guy” will be here to help them in any ways that I can.
Do you work with the Amish, have you visited an interesting community, or otherwise have an “Amish experience” to share? If so, get in touch at ewesner(at)gmail.com and we may share your story here on the site.