Choose your country

Or view all businesses for sale



6 lessons small business owners can learn from the movies

6 lessons aspiring small business owners can learn from the movies

Casablanca (1942)

The lesson: Always use trusted advisers and staff. 

Rick Blaine’s upscale Café Américain serves refugees desperate to reach the neutral United States during WW2. Rick is also (seemingly) neutral, so petty criminal Ugarte gives Rick lucrative 'letters of transit' and then refuses to give Rick up, when local police chief Renault asks of their whereabouts, even upon death. Renault refuses to suspect Rick and trusts him to discover who has the letters.

Rick gives former lover Ilsa and husband Victor the letters to escape to America, but not before Rick’s waiter Carl hides Ilsa as she contemplates leaving Victor. These relationships allow Rick to do what is right without sacrificing the integrity of his bar.

How to use the lesson: Put simply, using trusted advisers when both buying and running a small business will help owners get the best deal on price, product supply deals and not be conned. Trusted advisers and staff protect the owner’s livelihood.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

The lesson: Don’t compromise your principles to ensure a better bottom line.

Atticus Finch runs a small legal practice during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama. He never speaks badly of others, including local recluse Boo Radley, who others assume is dangerous.

Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, to the disapproval of the town. Atticus and his children prevent a mob from lynching Tom, by pointing out their misguided view of justice. 

Atticus proves Tom’s innocence, but he is still found guilty. The town realise that Atticus is right, and accuser Bob Ewell reputation is ruined. He attacks Atticus’s children but they are saved by Boo Radley. 

How to use the lesson: when running a business there may be moments where owners are asked to behave contrary to their principles. Owners that go with their gut and stick with what is right for their business are likely to be more successful than those who buckle when times are hard.

Chocolat (2000)

The lesson: You can make money from your hobby, if you do it right.

Vianne Rocher loves chocolate, so she becomes an expert chocolatier and settles in an antiquated French village. The townsfolk are skeptical about her business, but she remains optimistic, selling top notch products with a friendly manner.

Vianne’s unique shop is used as a meeting place, and Vianne boosts battered wife Josephine’s confidence by teaching her how to make chocolate. Vianne can’t win over everybody and considers giving up, but the townspeople ask her to stay as her shop mean so much to them.

How to use the lesson:  It is possible to turn something that you love outside of work into a small business proposition, but you need to research the business to ensure you know how to sell it to others. Those who enjoy and understand the industry can provide an edge over businesses that do not appreciate customer needs.

It's Complicated (2009)

The lesson: It’s never too late. 

Jane is in her Fifties, running a successful bakery in Santa Barbara, California, which she started as a consequence of divorcing her husband for infidelity. Jane begins an affair with her ex-husband Jake, but is wracked by guilt. She finally decides to remodel the home she owned with Jake, so hires architect Adam– putting numerous features that she has always wanted and can now afford.

Jane and Jake end their affair amicably and she starts to live her life how she wants to.

How to use the lesson:  It is never too late to run a small business, in fact being older, more experienced and financially secure provides the wisdom and means to be successful in some sectors. 

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

The lesson: Create the right atmosphere and a business will attract loyal customers.  

Shaun hates his job so spends most nights at his favourite pub - the Winchester - with girlfriend Liz and best mate Ed. After another miserable work day he realises that he has forgotten to book a restaurant for his anniversary, so heads to the Winchester for solace. The next day zombies take over the town, and attack Shaun’s house. 

Shaun and Ed drive and are then forced to run with their loved ones to take refuge in the Winchester, as it is the safest place they know. When zombies converge on the pub Shaun finds the eponymous Winchester rifle actually works and uses it to fend zombies off.

The group make a Molotov cocktail from bar spirits and set fire to the bar before escaping into the cellar. Once there, seemingly trapped, they find a service hatch to ground level, and the Army rescues them. 

How to use the lesson:  Preventing zombie attack may not be high on proprietor’s list of priorities, but by creating the right environment – a home away from home – customers will remain loyal and keep coming back to a business.

You've Got Mail (1998)

The lesson: Without a niche, a small business will struggle to compete with large chains. 

Kathleen Kelly Ryan owns a small children’s book shop in upstate New York. A large chain called Fox Books moves opposite her shop and begins to out-price and out-supply her store.

Kathleen initially tries to fight back, but she gives up when falls in love with the millionaire owner of Fox Books instead. Her bookshop eventually closes.

How to use the lesson: In the 90s huge retail brands could dominate many product markets. Today’s big business tax avoiders inadvertently encourage customers to divert their loyalty to small businesses. Those businesses that provide a niche product and personal customer service can flourish if they work hard. 

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for a *free* account to receive the latest small business advice, features, videos and listings directly to your inbox!

Sarah Louise Dean

About the author

Sarah Louise produces content across all titles in the Dynamis stable.


Subscribe to our email updates

Sign up to receive the latest advice, most popular businesses, special offers and much more.

I'm interested in is committed to protecting your privacy. We will use the information you provide on this form to send you marketing emails . Find out more about what we do with your information in our Privacy Policy.
Marketing Emails: You will receive newsletters, advice and offers about buying and selling businesses and franchises. We will also send you information about events relating to buying, selling or running a business.

Are you a Business Owner?

Set up your Private Seller Account and create your listing today

Get Started Here

Are you a Business Broker?

Set up your BrokerWeb Account and list multiple businesses

Get Started Here