3 business lessons from a movie accountant


In “The Shawshank Redemption,” Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker found guilty of a terrible crime. He described himself as an honest man who was straight as an arrow, and it was implied early on that life behind bars would be hard for him. But over the course of the film, the character experiences personal and professional rebirths, leading to his ultimate salvation. 

More interestingly, the 1994 sleeper hit reinforces some important lessons in starting, running, and ensuring success in business that any entrepreneur can relate to and learn from. Read on, but be warned, spoilers ahead. 


1. Listen first, then add value

Andy’s listening skills were apparent from the start. He didn’t make a single peep the first night he was in jail, throwing off the odds for avid bettors. But he wasn’t being quiet for the sake of. When he overheard a prison guard complaining about an inheritance he’d just received and the possible tax as a result, Andy saw an opportunity and offered his financial insight. The reward? Drinking icy-cold Bohemia-style beer at 10 o’clock in the morning like free men. 

Andy built on his skills to provide his “clients” with customized solutions. In doing so, he made himself an indispensable asset. 


2. Find your allies for growth

Accounting professionals are sometimes viewed as a business resource when, in actuality, they’re partners, equally invested and reliant on the success of the business. The first person Andy speaks to in prison is Red, an inmate skilled in acquiring things from the outside world—“your regular Sears and Roebucks,” as Red puts it. Red’s connections and Andy’s skills helped them create a cottage industry and get access to off-limits freedoms others could only dream of. 

The entrepreneurial logic here is straightforward. A partnership brings in more expertise and leverage. It achieves what one party can’t always attain independently. Partnerships are growth strategies businesses cannot be without, whether through people or tools. 


3. Word-of-mouth is (still) key

A ringing endorsement from a familiar and trustworthy source will always outweigh any celebrity spokesperson or expensive ad. It’s been found that a word-of-mouth marketing impression results in five times more sales than a paid media impression. 

In Andy’s case, referrals were key. By offering his service to one person, another came his way. Soon, he was doing tax returns for the warden and all the prison guards. The guards even rescheduled the start of the intramural season to coincide with tax season the following year, so all the guards on the opposing team could bring their W-2s.


Find your tribe to find success

Everyone wants to belong, yet the road of entrepreneurship is often paved with loneliness. Creating or joining the right community of like-minded folks is therefore key and easier than you may think. The TSheetsPRO Program connects accountants, bookkeepers, CPAs, and business and technology consultants, so members can lean on one another to learn about new technology, avoid common pitfalls, discover new opportunities, or even join forces to grow together. 

In Shawshank, Andy gained a following because of his skills. He turned his following into an enterprise by forming partnerships. His legacy, however, was the library that helped others improve, long after he left. It wasn’t an overnight success by any means, but it was one worth waiting for. 


Become a TSheetsPRO today and find your tribe.