Lessons From Pulp Fiction That Can Help Improve Your Small Business

Ever watch Pulp Fiction?

Did you think Samuel L. Jackson played the good cop and John Travolta the bad cop?

I did!

What can the bad cop / good cop approach to running a small business teach us?

Well…let me ask you this question:

What sort of small business owner are you?

Do you comply with everything which your customers ask of you, or are you more of the Rottweiler type, who is bluntly honest about what you will deliver, and never over deliver?

Both of these tactics have strengths and weaknesses, but most people could do with tempering their personal style a little to get the best possible results from their business, and develop superb relationships with their customers.

I’m not sure what type of business owner I would fall under – sometimes I think I am the good cop, bending over backwards to give my customers exactly what they want…and much more.

On the other hand, I sometimes go through the opposite type of interaction – the bad cop style of customer service, where I am very honest about what I think needs to be done, manage expectations perfectly upfront, and then give myself enough time to do a great job without slaving overnight to deliver to a tight deadline.

As a small business owner, I am always aware of the way I may come across to my customers.

My natural instinct is to be as helpful as possible at all times, even if that means I lose a little of my personal life on the way towards delivering exactly what my customers need, earlier than expected.

I am always struggling with the financial aspect of the business, wanting to quote less for people who are starting up for the first time, and yet I know that if I conducted my business like that every day, I’d be going bankrupt even as I helped to launch a hundred small businesses for the lowest possible price.

Charging for work is a hotbed of discomfort for most people that I know. I have a colleague that puts off invoicing until the very last moment, as she feels so uncomfortable requesting payment for the work that she has done.

This means she is constantly behind in her revenue generation, allowing the natural hesitance to discuss finances to spill over in to her business and prevent her from staying on top of the most important part of working for her customers.

While her customers probably think she is a ‘Good Cop’, she will be the first to acknowledge that she need to sharpen up considerably if her business is going to be a success.

There are a number of signs that you are falling too far on the good cop or bad cop continuum. See if you can spot yourself in either of these categories:

Good Cop attributes…

  • You would rather do work for free than tackle the issue of invoicing and chasing payment
  • You end up offering your services for nothing or at a massive discount because you feel sorry for your clients
  • You work all hours to deliver a project just because your customer has placed an unreasonable deadline on you, canceling social events or neglecting your friends and family.

Bad Cop attributes

  • If you don’t like someone, you whack on an extra load of expenses on to the quote you give, so you don’t have to work with them
  • You put too much focus on ‘sticking to your guns’ with customers, ending up being inflexible even when they really need your help
  • You’re not happy to drop everything at the last minute if you’re not in the mood to do your outstanding work for customers.

If you find yourself nodding at either one of these strategies, it may be worth tempering your approach to your customers to make sure you don’t end up with no life at all, or let your customers down.

We all work at different speeds and prices, but being true to yourself, while providing great customer service, is the only way to get your business to thrive.

Are you Samuel L. Jackson (good cop) or John Travolta (bad cop)?

Please share your views in the comments below.

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24 Responses to Lessons From Pulp Fiction That Can Help Improve Your Small Business

  1. Joel June 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    I would say somewhere it the middle! I definitely don’t overcharge, but I try (and often fail) to keep family life separate. I try to be honest about what I can and can’t deliver but I do try to over-deliver, particularly in timing and time = money as I charge an hourly rate.
    I don’t think anyone is really that black or white, but somewhere off of the center.

    • Andrew June 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

      Somewhere in the middle sounds good, Joel.

      I think being up-front with your expectations is a great approach.


  2. David June 28, 2011 at 5:43 am #

    i agree with Joel that we have be in the middle. I came across many business owners over-promised and can’t deliver at the end. I end up never go to him for his service and never bought anything from him

    • Andrew June 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm #


      Unfortunately, there seems to be many service providers who promise to over deliver…then don’t.


  3. Robert Doebler June 28, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    I think it’s wiser to be somewhere in the middle 🙂 since its a business we’re running however. I believe if we charge high the quality should also be that good, however by high I also do not mean exorbitant rate. It’d be risky to do something which would chase away my customers.

    • Andrew June 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm #


      Getting the price right is pretty hard…I agree.

      We should all aim for high quality.


  4. Jason Mitchev June 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Then….that leads to the question, “What is the right price?” Of course, that answer is subjective and dependant on several factors. Perhaps working with a partner can balance out the good/bad cop attributes.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm #


      As I said to Robert, getting the price right is hard.

      But whatever price you state, some will love…some will hate.


  5. kristine June 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    well your right jasson as a business we need to ride on what on the market so u wont get behind and get you business close.and we need to make sure what the needs of the customer and then get the high quality…thanks for sharing guys.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm #


      Providing high quality service/product is a must…agree.


  6. David Purse June 29, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I find that I fall a little into both. I will try to help people as much as I can, but if they keep on with the “…and could you just do…” too often, I will throw expenses in. I do try to be nice, but if I feel that a client is taking advantage, I don’t feel bad switching to being a little more blunt and nasty!

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm #


      I understand exactly what you mean.

      You almost need to write down exactly what the customer will get for their money and anything else is charged at $x per hour…unless the ‘extras’ don;t take too long.


  7. Teresa Williams June 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    I must admit I tend to operate as both good cop/bad cop depending on the client. If I form a good relationship with a client I will often do odds and ends for little or no fee because I know this will bring about more business in the future. If a client is difficult, e.g. they change their mind often, then I will bill for every minute worked.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm #


      I think you are right when you talk about client relationships. I have many clients who I have worked with for many years. Of course, I do extras for them.


  8. Carissa Dunphy June 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    Awesome comparison – loved this movie! Somewhere in between is probably the best road to take. You need to show you mean business, but also provide kind service, but not be a pushover. I suppose it depends on the client also, some need only a good cop or only a bad cop.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm #


      I think it is a matter of being up front with the customer. Like I said to David above…have a contract.


  9. Felicia June 30, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    Hi Andrew,
    When it comes down to business, I guess I would fall on the bad cop side. However, it does not mean that I don’t have a little sprinkle of good cop in me here and there.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm #


      I think I’m the other way around…good cop to start…with a little ‘bad’ in me!


  10. Debbie June 30, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    I guess I am still a cop in training. With this post at least I can learn to do it both ways. Haven’t formed any bad habits yet. LOL

    As for the movie, yeh I didn’t like the movie, but I can sure see your reason with with post.
    I think it is good to be the good cop, put at times you have to put a little bad in there. Makes for a little fun. LOL
    Thank you Andrew for bring this point to my attention.


    • Andrew July 5, 2011 at 11:37 am #


      I don’t think I can see you as a bad cop. You are far too nice and helpful.


  11. Nancy Shields July 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Andrew – you are the BEST in what you do and I will share this post on my facebook and if anyone needs a “BLOG” man you are the one to go to….hands down!

    In gratitude to you for being a great cop and not a good cop!

    • Andrew July 5, 2011 at 11:37 am #


      Nice words…they make me blush!

      But…thank YOU!


  12. Greg July 3, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    My level of “cop” is in direct proportion to the amount of my time the “perp” takes. If the client is difficult he will see steady price increases.

    It wouldn’t suprise me if your friend who has poor accounts receivable management also gets unneecesary grief from her slow payers. It’s funny how there was no problem with our work until the bill is now past-due.

    Eventually I will just decide that the time I have to spend landing a new account is less and will just go get a new one.

    • Andrew July 5, 2011 at 11:39 am #


      I’ve been pretty lucky so far…only one bad payer. When dealing with customers you expect to come across such poor payers at some time.


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