Book Review: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

The E-Myth Revisited is a call to rethink your business, a treasure trove of insights that can help you move from just working in your business to truly developing it. But there are also criticisms of the book that microbusiness owners should be aware of.

A photo of an iPad mini atop an orange notebook, with reading glasses off to the left, all on a wood tabletop.

The Intro

We’re going to be digging into The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, a renowned book in the entrepreneur space that delves into the myths surrounding starting and running a small business.

I like to break book reviews like this down into four sections — a summary of key points discussed, any criticisms I might have about the book, any concepts I’m applying (or plan to apply), and a conclusion. Let’s get started!

The Download

You can think of The E-Myth Revisited as a guide that helps you understand the journey of running a business. Let's break down the key points tackled in the book.

1. The Entrepreneurial Myth (The E-Myth): Gerber starts by tackling the biggest misconception: that knowing how to do the work of a business means you know how to run a business that does that work. It's an eye-opener because it makes you realize that being good at a task doesn't automatically make you good at running a business that does that task.

2. The Three Roles: According to Gerber, in every business owner, there are three key personas:

  • The Entrepreneur: the visionary who dreams big and thinks of the future.
  • The Manager: the planner who brings order and tackles the details.
  • The Technician: the doer who just wants to get the work done.

The challenge is balancing these roles, especially when, as solopreneurs, we're all three at once.

3. Working ON Your Business, Not IN It: This is a biggie. Gerber emphasizes the need to step back from daily tasks and think strategically about your business. It's about making sure you're heading in the right direction and not just getting lost in the day-to-day.

4. The Turn-Key Revolution: Here, Gerber introduces the concept of building your business as if it was a franchise. This doesn't mean you have to franchise your business, but rather, you should create systems and processes so that your business can operate efficiently, even if you're not there.

5. The Business Development Process: This part is about understanding that your business needs to go through several phases of growth. Just like people, businesses mature and evolve, and knowing what to expect at each stage can really help you manage your business better.

6. Systems: Systems are the secret sauce in Gerber's recipe. They're the routines and processes that allow your business to run smoothly and predictably. It's about working smarter, not harder.

7. The Franchise Prototype: Gerber argues that the best kind of business is one that is replicable, meaning anyone could run it based on the systems you've created. This ensures consistency and quality, and it's the heart of what makes franchises successful.

Above all else, Gerber believes that the key to building a successful business has less to do with knowing how to do the work, and more to do with understanding what your customers value, and relentlessly refining your offering —and the means by which it's offered— to maximize the value delivered to your customers.

Innovation continually poses the question: What is standing in the way of my customer getting what he wants from my business?

Hashtag: #CustomerObsession.

He also tries to disabuse readers of the notion that going into business for yourself will make your professional life easier. I really liked this quote, in particular:

[If] all you want from a business of your own is the opportunity to do what you did before you started your business, get paid more for it, and have more freedom to come and go, your greed—I know that sounds harsh, but that’s what it is—your self-indulgence will eventually consume both you and your business.

I think many of us that start little side businesses or strike out entirely on our own can be a little consumed by exactly what he describes above — no boss to answer to, working whenever and however you want, and making bank.

The Skepticism

While the book is packed with great insights, it's not without its areas where some folks might find it lacking or not quite hitting the mark for their specific situations.

For one, Gerber's book sometimes comes across as if it has all the answers for every business. However, as a solopreneur or someone running a side business, you might find that the strategies don't always perfectly fit your unique business model or industry. Every business is different, and a cookie-cutter approach might not work for everyone.

There's also a bit of an overemphasis on Systems and Processes. They're great for streamlining and efficiency, but if you're in a creative field or your business thrives on being flexible and adaptive —which is often the case for a solopreneur, where high-touch engagement and flexibility can be critical— too much focus on rigid systems and processes might stifle your style or keep you from making quick decisions. If you're constantly trying to fit your business into the output of these systems, you might miss out on unique opportunities or innovative ideas.

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The Application

One concept shared in the book that I love is Quantification — measuring and documenting every aspect of your business. This means tracking not just obvious metrics like sales and profits, but also more nuanced aspects like customer satisfaction, the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, the time taken to complete certain tasks, and so on.

Quantification is an input that you can leverage for another concept in the book, which Gerber calls Orchestration. Orchestration is about creating repeatable systems and processes in your business, ensuring that every aspect of your business operation is systematized, leading to consistency in your product or service delivery.

The idea here is to gather data to see how changes affect the business, and then finding ways to make the improvement a repeatable process that requires minimal human oversight. In quality-management circles, this is a key part of the continuous improvement process, which lets you deliver higher quality products faster, and at lower costs — always to deliver better value to your customers.

Quality is just a word, and an empty word at that, if it doesn’t include harmony, balance, passion, intention, attention. Continuous improvement for its own sake is a waste of time.

In my own business, I see this unfolding in a few ways. I'm breaking ground on a new app for small business owners, and I'm thinking of including things like telemetry to understand how customers use the app and which features might need more development to better suit customer use-cases, as well as built-in surveys to gather feedback. I similarly use analytics on this site to see what content is more interesting for you, and am building out a marketing calendar to better help me stay on top of things like social sharing.

Both Quantification and Orchestration are about moving from a business that depends on individual talent or effort (which can be inconsistent and difficult to scale) to one that relies on systems and processes. This shift is essential for any business looking to grow and sustain itself in the long term, and these concepts are as applicable to a one-person operation as they are to larger enterprises. By focusing on these areas, solopreneurs can create a more efficient, manageable, and ultimately successful business.

The Takeaway

Frankly, I didn’t love all the writing style; the language felt a bit dated, and a (clearly made-up) “conversation with a client” bit weaved its way throughout the book that I just didn’t care for. That said, the structure was well thought-out, and the ideas shared were often really thought-provoking.

In essence, The E-Myth Revisited is a call to rethink how you view your business. It's not just about the work you do; it's about how you build and grow your business in a sustainable, manageable way. For solopreneurs and microbusiness owners, this book is a treasure trove of insights that can help you move from just working in your business to truly developing it.

But there are also some strong criticisms of the book that microbusiness owners need to consider. While The E-Myth Revisited offers valuable and time-tested advice, it's important to take it with a grain of salt. Adapt its lessons to suit your unique business situation, and remember that the path to success isn't always a straight line or a one-size-fits-all journey. Your business is as unique as you are, and sometimes, you have to write your own rules.

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Jamie Larson