Small Business Lessons From ‘The Walking Dead’

— October 28, 2016


It’s Halloween time, and the programmers at AMC wisely brought back their hit zombie show The Walking Dead for a new season on Oct. 23. A whopping 17 million viewers tuned in to see the seventh-season premiere.

As it turns out, the show features themes that can apply to small business owners. The concept of working together to overcome challenges can be a lesson to entrepreneurs, though hopefully their business efforts won’t include the undead.

In the spirit of the season, here’s a look at some of those Walking Dead insights.


The Walking Dead features a small group of good guys, led by ex-cop Rick Grimes. Though only a few remain from the show’s original season, the group has picked up strong allies along the way. And their loyalty to each other is a primary reason for their survival.

Small business lesson: Earning a customer’s loyalty should be a major priority for a small business owner. As Karen E. Klein writes in a story for Bloomberg, “Loyalty really comes down to this: giving people a reason to shop at your business, rather than going across town or hopping online and spending their money at a larger, better-known company. Most often, people go out of their way to patronize small companies because they know and like the people there and enjoy the shopping experience. Of course, you have to offer excellent products or services at reasonable prices, but you probably can’t compete for customers who are looking only at cost. What you’ve got that the bigger guys don’t, however, is a reputation in your community.”


It’s a given that anyone living in The Walking Dead’s reality must be tenacious, what with zombies (known as “walkers”) stumbling all over the landscape and rebel groups of survivors looking to battle each other. There have been few moments on the show where the characters haven’t been in some form of danger.

Small business lesson: Challenges will be everywhere for a small business owner. As Joe Robinson writes for Entrepreneur, “Starting a business is an ultramarathon.”

“You have to be able to live with uncertainty and push through a crucible of obstacles for years on end,” he says. “Entrepreneurs who can avoid saying ‘uncle’ have a better chance of finding their market and outlasting their inevitable mistakes. This trait is known by many names — perseverance, persistence, determination, commitment, resilience — but it’s really just old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness.”


Despite the chaos all around them, the characters on the show have to be strategic. That includes protection from walkers and from enemy groups of survivors, maintaining food and medical supplies and traveling necessities (gas and working vehicles).

Small business lesson: A fundamental element of starting a small business is developing strategic plans. This includes understanding who the target audience is, as Marci Martin explains for Business News Daily.

“There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers,” she writes. “The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.”


The main characters, including Rick, Daryl, Carol, Maggie and Michonne, depend on each other on a constant basis. Rick is in charge, but if not for the efforts of those around him, that leadership position wouldn’t mean much.

Small business lesson: Having the support of an effective team will help small business owners stay on the right path. And it will go a long way toward keeping employees happy, as Lisa Magloff writes for StudioD.

“Teamwork allows employees to take greater responsibility for decision making and also allows team members to control more of the work process,” she says. ”This can lead to improved morale as employees gain more authority and ownership over the projects they are working on. The extra responsibility can lead to a more rewarding work environment and lower turnover. Working on a team also gives employees a greater sense of belonging and of recognition, which helps them take more pride in their work, and their company.”


As if a zombie-filled world wasn’t enough, the characters are constantly challenged by other human survivors. Some have become part of Rick’s small group along the way, but many have posed a threat to supplies and safety. The show has evolved to make humans out to be the enemy, with the walkers as sort of dangerous bystanders.

Small business lesson: Competition must be addressed from the beginning, in the first steps of starting a small business. Tim Berry writes of the importance of analyzing competition in a story for Entrepreneur.

“Your business plan’s competitive analysis should list your main competitors and their strengths and weaknesses,” he explains. “The more information you have about them, the better. Know where they’re located, what they sell, their prices, their marketing messages, their web addresses and their reputations. And don’t ever say you don’t have competition. Quick: Try to name a successful business that doesn’t have competition. I bet you can’t do it. But I’m amazed at the number of business plans that claim there’s no competition for their new business idea. That normally means you either don’t understand your business or have a business nobody else wants. Neither option is good.”

Constant awareness

There’s no rest for the weary on The Walking Dead. It seems that at every turn there is another potential human foe or a horde of trudging walkers. The characters have to remain vigilant to maintain their safety.

Small business lesson: An entrepreneur will need to be around the business and its staff to understand what is happening on a daily basis. That can also make the owner more approachable. Thomas O’Malley writes about this for, citing a Gallup poll that showed employees are more engaged when they believe their manager is approachable.

“If you aren’t regularly spending time among your staff and managers, you’re likely missing out on reams of important information about how your organization is run,” he explains. “When you’re regularly present among your employees, they’ll undoubtedly feel more comfortable approaching you if they have concerns. And this means you’re made aware of potential problems before they get out of hand.”


That’s really all there is in the bleak setting of The Walking Dead: staying alive. As new challenges and conflicts arise, and new foes threaten to derail whatever progress has been made, the characters are in a constant struggle to stay out of harm’s way.

Small business lesson: An important skill for any small business owner to develop is communication. It’s an area in which most professionals could improve. And as Matthew Toren writes for Business Insider, communication is essential to a business’ survival.

If you don’t have this skill, none of the other skills will be fully developed, no matter how hard you try,” Toren says. “You can’t be a great salesperson without great communication skills; your planning skills won’t matter if you aren’t able to effectively communicate your plans; you can hardly claim to have strong people skills without being a good communicator; and it won’t matter what decisions you make if they aren’t communicated properly to those who are in a position to execute them.”

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Author: David Kiger

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