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006 - Every successful vegan business needs to build a tribe

To build a successful business, you need a group of followers who absolutely cannot live without your product or who believe in your vegan mission.

These people will help you spread your message and attract more people who also love what you are doing. They will become your brand ambassadors. They will become your ‘tribe’.

In this episode we look at why when you create a vegan company, you shouldn’t just launch a business, you should start a movement.  Because having 10 customers who are absolute champions for you business and believe 100% in your company’s mission is better than 100 customers who just buy from you once and you never see again. And once you’ve found and built your tribe, David explains how to keep them and use your tribe to help you grow a more successful business.

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Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode six of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.
 
And if you want to go beyond the podcast then head over to Vegan Business Tribe .com where you can get lots more free content just like this, or you can also sign-up to get support from Lisa and I through our forums, get access to our online events, ask us questions or just enjoy connecting with others JUST LIKE YOU who are running and growing vegan businesses.  If you have a vegan business, then you have most definitely found your tribe.
 
And in today’s episode, that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about: how your vegan business NEEDS to build a tribe to be successful.  Now, if you go back far enough, then most of our ancestors lived in tribal groups.  Here in the UK, we’re mainly descended from those tribal groups – indeed where Lisa and I live in the north of the UK we would have all been part of the Brigantes who controlled a major part of Northern England until the Romans turned up, and if you go into Scotland then the concept of what tribe or clan you come from still has some impact on modern culture.  Around the world, people have banded together in groups for safety, for a share of prosperity, or around a common belief and way of life.
 
And when you apply the term ‘Tribe’ to business, the definition doesn’t really change.  We want to belong.  It’s in our DNA to band together with people who love what we love, who want to achieve the same goals, and we want to buy from those businesses who support and work towards furthering our world view.  But, for someone to be in your ‘tribe’, they no longer have to live in the next hut to you or on the same Scottish hillside – that person could be ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, but believe in the same things that you do.  And successful companies, and especially organisations that are based on ethics or are mission-lead, can create champions for their business by building their own tribe of people who believe, to their core, in what you do.
 
For some companies that can be difficult.  If you sell stationery for example, it’s not easy to build a tribe around you of people who love pens and staplers and be your company’s champions.  That’s quite hard to do.  But these people are not in YOUR tribe, they are in Harry Potter’s!  If you have a VEGAN business however, you are ALREADY part of a global group of people who are brought together by a single cause.
 
That doesn’t mean they will automatically LOVE what you are doing in your business – just because someone sets up a vegan business it does not mean that all the vegans in the world will flock to you – and sometimes this is a real let-down for people launching their first vegan business.  But it does mean that you are starting out with a significant point of commonality to build a relationship on.  And tribes start-out small. Many strong movements throughout the centuries have started with a small band of people joined together by a clear, core idea.  A small tribe of motivated people, even just a handful, can achieve a lot more than a large directionless crowd – and you and your business or organisation can become the focus of that tribe.
 
Because, to become successful, you NEED to find the people who REALLY care about what you are doing and who LOVE what you sell.  Not just ‘LIKE’ your product, but simply couldn’t live without it.  Or you need to find people who back your company’s mission to their core.  They will support you because your company is bringing about the change in the world they want to see and will do everything they can to help you succeed in whatever way they can.  And that might be just sharing every social media post you make, or it might be buying every new product you bring out, or they might become a champion for a business, but these are your core followers who will rally around you – and it is so important that you nurture them, especially in the early years of your business.  At Vegan Business Tribe we’ve got some amazing champions that we couldn’t have built our community without – and these people are STILL customers, they actually pay to be part of our community, but they act as if we’re paying them because they believe in our mission of helping to support other vegan businesses.  Some don’t actually need our help any more, but their monthly subscription means we can continue to help the people who do, and that’s why they don’t cancel it.  Now THAT’s a Tribe.
 
But to get to this point, either your product has to be AMAZING – and like I said, amazing meaning the customer really can’t live without it any more – or your MISSION has to be something that your customers truly believe in.  And if your company’s cause is worthy enough, it can give people a huge reason to spend money with you instead of a competitor, even if they find someone else who’s cheaper than you.  Take who you buy your electricity from, have you ever given it much thought?  Have you actually evaluated the companies you can buy your electricity from or did you just go with whoever the price comparison site said was the cheapest or who was already supplying your place when you moved in?  Because, well, it’s hard to get excited about buying electricity.  It’s just a commodity, so you buy on price and convenience.
 
That is, unless, you happen to buy your electricity from Ecotricity – who is the world’s first vegan energy supplier.  You might have seen the Ecotricity green Union Jack flag on car-charging stations, but the company was founded by life-long environmentalist and green industrialist Dale Vince.  This is an electricity company that promotes a sustainable and vegan world, makes sure that none of its energy is generated using animal derivatives (and you may be surprised that some is) and it is the only electricity company I know of that carries the logos of vegan charities Sea Shepherd, Viva! and The Vegan Society on their website footer.  Ecotricity has taken an everyday commodity that most of us don’t think about and have created a movement around it.  And the best thing is, as a consumer you don’t even need to change how or what you are consuming.  You just choose to give your money to support a company who aligns with your core beliefs and, before you know it, you find yourself recommending the company to others who also share your life-view.  You have joined them on their mission and become part of their tribe.
 
This is really important – because if what you sell is just a commodity to your customers, then they will always buy on price.  If the only reason you give someone to buy from you is the product itself, then they will compare that to every other product they could buy instead.  And if you’re getting feedback saying that you’re too expensive, then – to be honest – you’re probably not, it more likely means that you’ve failed to connect with your customer.  And before I’ve used the example of Tupperware – they sell plastic storage boxes to keep your food leftovers in, but they sell them for up to ten times as much as other plastic storage boxes.  And yes, they will say that their seal is more air-tight than other boxes, and that they stack better than other boxes, but I doubt it’s TEN times better.  But people buy them almost religiously and might even spend a thousand pounds on Tupperware products over a year because they are part of the Tupperware Tribe. They are past the point of evaluating how much each one costs against the five-pack they can pick up at the home bargains store for a quarter of the price of one Tupperware box.
 
And it’s worth repeating that point – just as a bit of business advice in general: if people are evaluating you on price, then that’s because, to them, your product is seen as just a commodity.  They are viewing what you sell like a bag of screws or a pack of tissues – they are just buying the cheapest and most convenient.  Most companies can put their prices up by 10 or 20% without making any changes to the product and not see a drop in new customers, so if you have feedback that the reason people are not buying is because you’re too expensive, then you just haven’t convinced them of the actual value of the product, or the value of your mission.  And, as always if you need more help on this go look at the vegan marketing course on the Vegan Business Tribe website – because we’ve got a whole section on creating ‘value propositions’ as we call them.
 
Getting back to building your tribe specifically though, as I said earlier, because you already have a vegan business that means that you are likely already on a mission.  The reason you launched a vegan business might have been to help others go vegan or to give people a cruelty-free alternative product for them to buy.  And finding just 10 people who 100% identify with this mission, your product, your brand – or even you – is worth more than finding 100 people who just make a one-off purchase.  That’s because those 10 people who really identify and connect with you will remain your customers and brand champions for years.  They will become your free marketing team.  They are the people who will give you testimonials and share your company in response to Facebook posts asking for recommendations.  These are the people who will rally around you – these people are your company’s ‘tribe’.
 
But you need to give these people something to rally around. Again, if you’re selling vegan gluten-free cakes – yes, they might be great but my local supermarket now stocks vegan gluten-free cakes.  My drive-through coffee house vegan gluten-free cakes.  And, no matter how great YOUR cakes are, the thing you sell is not going to enough on its own to build up your Tribe UNLESS it’s completely life-changing or your customers genuinely haven’t got any other alternatives for solving their problem.  If you want me in your tribe, you need to give me a reason to come to YOU, and keep coming to you to buy my gluten-free vegan cakes, when I could easily go elsewhere.  You need to give me a reason why, even if I find something that is half the price of what you sell, I keep using you because I’m part of your tribe and I believe in YOUR mission.
 
When you start-up a company, don’t just launch a business, start a mission.  Start a movement. 
 
Now, I can hear what you’re thinking right now – that’s my vegan superpowers picking up your brainwaves – but you might say that’s great if you’ve got a company that is educational or is directly saving the animals, but what if you have a really everyday product, or what if what you do is accidentally vegan or what if you run a service that hasn’t got a real mission behind it?  If you’re a vegan accountant, then how can you start a movement?  If you sell vegan soap, how can you start a mission that will build a tribe?
 
Well, I’m here to tell you there’s no excuse.  Take vegan aftershave.  There is a HUGE selection of vegan aftershaves I can buy right now.  There are thousands of vegan perfumes, aftershaves, body-sprays.  Also, because most people get aftershaves and perfumes as gifts, then most vegans are going to end up with whatever vegan options there is in high street stores or the local supermarket.  But, as vegans, we KNOW that we can change the world through our consumer choices and are very happy to do this, it’s what we’re doing by being vegan.  And we just need a company to give us those opportunities.  Because, the aftershave I actually have on my bathroom shelf is from Kings Grooming.  And it’s not the cheapest aftershave,  I could buy cheaper vegan aftershave from Boots or The Body Shop.  And although it’s good, their gorilla-emblazoned ‘Evolution’ aftershave has a real distinct smell to it, there are other aftershaves that I like the smell of too.
 
But when Kings launched, they didn’t just create a vegan, cruelty-free business, they started a movement and it’s one I believe in.  Blué O’Connor who founded Kings is very open about his own struggles with mental health and the problems that men, especially, have in reaching out, asking for help and talking about their mental wellbeing.  So Kings also co-launched a social enterprise called Talk Club alongside the main business.  Talk Club supports independently-run local groups for men to meet, talk and listen to each other.  Each meetup starts with a simple question: “How are you… out of 10?” and anyone can set up their own Talk Club in their own area.  This moves Kings beyond being a company that just sells aftershave; it means if you buy Kings, then you are funding a wider mission.  And this completely changes the relationship that you have as a customer with Kings.  The product that Kings sell almost becomes secondary to what you get out of it as a consumer.  You are not only supporting a really good vegan product, you are helping to fund a mission.  Even if you find an aftershave that you like better or that is cheaper – as an ethical vegan customer, where are you going to want to keep putting your money?  Are you going to spend it with a big brand when you have no idea what their profit is going to fund, or are you going to spend it with a company where you know you are positively changing people’s lives?
 
And this is why a lot of vegan companies use their profits to fund their local animal sanctuary, or they make sure that they also do educational work or get involved in activism to help create more vegans.  You are just as likely to encounter the team from Viva La Vegan clothing at an activism event as you are on their stand at a vegan fair.  You are just as likely to find the pension-age founder of Mummy Meagz snacks on an animal right march than in her kitchen coming up with new products.  Because they are not just running successful vegan businesses, they are ON A MISSION.
 
And you can do this too.  The reason most of us launch a vegan business is because we want to make a change in the world.  To make that change you need to attract followers.  To attract followers you need to have an idea at your core that will band people together.  That might be a big thing (such as moving the world to green and cruelty-free energy like Ecotricity) or a small thing (giving people the most ethical sugar fix possible like Mummy Meagz snacks) but when you connect that idea with the right people, you build your tribe.  They will spread the word on your behalf, they will be your brand ambassadors, and they will attract more people who believe in what you do towards your company.
 
And you have to remember that every tribe needs a leader.  And that leader might be your business, or it might be YOU. You might be the figure-head for the movement, people might buy into your mission and your personality as much as what you sell.  We’ve had so many 1-2-1 Zoom chats with members where they have talked about this – they tell us that the enthusiasm that Lisa and I have for vegan business is infectious, hopefully you can hear it in my voice, how driven we are to help people.  And members have emailed us after those Zoom sessions saying that we’ve made them even more enthusiastic about their own businesses and that’s what they have been missing.  So, what’s going to make people want to be part of YOUR tribe?  What’s going to give them that same great feeling about themselves or their business by being your customer?  Is it going to be because they connect with the mission you are on and know the money they spend with you is also helping a cause they deeply care about, or is it because you solve a problem in their lives that has changed their lives and they want to introduce other people to you so you can change theirs too? These are the people who are evangelical about what you do, and as I said before, I would rather have just 10 customers who were 100% part of my company’s tribe and helping me grow, than 100 customers who just bought once and I never saw them again.  It’s how we started Vegan Business Tribe, with a small hardcore group of members who really believed in what we were doing supporting vegan businesses and helped us grow and spread the message.
 
So the simple answer to how you create a tribe, is that you need to give people something worthy to form a tribe around.  A powerful, central idea or mission that people want to support and be part of.  These people will be your biggest champions and go far beyond just being customers. But once you have started building your tribe, how do you use that?  How do you use these people who really love you and your company to help you build your business?  Once you’ve found these people who cannot live without your product, how do you then make them into ambassadors for your brand and use them to help grow your vegan company or organisation?
 
The first thing to remember is that your tribe is not motivated by money, they are motivated because they believe in you, your product or your mission.  This is why things like giving them finders fees for new customers or offering affiliate links where they can earn money for new sign-ups is unlikely to work.  You’re looking to develop champions rather than salespeople.  Champions fight for a cause they believe in, salespeople are just in it for the pay day – and unless you are offering a huge fee for someone finding you a new customer, the trickle-income they might earn from sending people your way is not going to be much of a motivator.  We want people to share our mission from their heart, because that’s a much more powerful motivator, not because they might earn a couple of quid.
 
So the first thing you should do is talk to them.  And I don’t just mean send them an email – ask if you can give them a call.  Find out who they are, how old are they, where do they live, what are their hobbies and what do they care passionately about in life.  And if you jump back to episode 3 of the podcast then that’s all about getting to know and learning from your customers to understand what makes them buy.  Doing this will help you build up a profile of who your ideal customer is so that you can find more people like them.  It will also give you some amazing insight into why your best and most passionate customers buy your product.  For instance, you might find out they often buy your product as a gift and would love it if you made a gift-pack version of your product; or they might say your product is great but wish you also did it in a travel size so that they could take it in their bag with them.  They might never feed this back to you as a standard customer, but if you get them involved as an ambassador you open up a more genuine two way conversation about how to improve your business.
 
And then, make them feel special.  These are the people who LOVE your business, so LOVE them back.  Ask them to get involved.  Ask if you can feature them on your website as a happy customer, or even better will they record a video review of your product (just on their phone will do fine) so that you can use it your social media or in your reviews section.  I’ve seen companies who invite their core fans onto Facebook live feeds with them or who join companies as part of online demonstrations and webinars just because they love the product so much – it’s almost like they forget that they have paid for it.  And this is so powerful because someone else telling people how great you are, has far more impact than you saying your product is great yourself, and is one of the best ways your tribe can help you grow.
 
Ask them to take a photo of your product, or to take a photo while they are in a meeting with you, and to tag you on social media so that it shows up both to their connections and yours.  Ask them if they would like to join your testing panel so that you can send them samples and new ideas before they are released to the public to get their reaction and feedback.  All this will get them talking about your product and also make them feel really special which will make them want to help you more.  And then finally, every now and again you can ask them outright for help:  If you see a post where a dream customer is asking for recommendations, you can message your tribe and ask them if they will all pile onto the comments section and recommend you.  If you’re up for an award, you can email your Tribe and ask for their help to get you more votes.  And if by helping you, they know they are also, tangibly, helping a mission that is close to their hearts – such as bringing around a vegan world – then these people will become your most valuable champions.  EVEN if they never buy from you again, and this might be the case if you are selling a service that they can only buy once, the exposure and support they give your company can be phenomenal.
 
And we have to support our tribe in return.  This is why YouTubers lose millions of followers when they do something that runs counter to their fans’ core beliefs, or is the opposite of the reason that people were following them in the first place.  It’s why companies face such a harsh backlash from their tribe when they do something that seems to be against the ethics of the people who buy from them.   Your tribe wants to know that you’re just as ready to rally around them as their leader, and stand up for what you all believe in, as they are to rally around you.
 
OK, so a quick re-cap just to break all that we’ve spoken about today into to some handy bullet points:
 
  1. Successful companies, and especially organisations that are based on ethics or are mission-lead, create champions for their business by building their own tribe of people who believe, to their core, in what you do.
  2. Just being vegan doesn’t mean people will automatically become part of your tribe, but it does give you a starting point of commonality with your customers if you are selling to other vegans.
  3. For people to join your company’s tribe, your product either has to be amazing – and that’s LIFE CHANGING amazing – or you need to have a REAL mission that your customers want to support you on.
  4. That mission doesn’t have to be directly related to what you sell, but it DOES need to be something you AND your customers really care about.  Take Kings Grooming and Talk Club, or vegan companies that support activism and sanctuaries.
  5. Once you start to build a tribe, get to know them, make them your best friends, and get them involved in your business far beyond just being a customer.  Make them your champions so that they will help you find more people just like them.  10 customers who are absolute champions for you business are better than 100 customers who just buy from you once.
  6. Make sure you support your tribe in return.  Always be respectful of the reason they joined your mission and what made them love you in the first place, and love them back.
 
And let me tell you, follow this and not only will it help you build a successful business, but you will also pick up a shed-load of friends on the way.  Starting Vegan Business Tribe has attracted so many people to Lisa and I that share our mission to level-up vegan businesses and also share our personal ethics.  Some of the online events we do we feel we’re in a room of old friends, and these are all people who are helping us spread our message whilst also keeping us updated on the changes we’re making in their lives.  And those success stories we’ve had back and the testimonials and feedback we get just spurs Lisa and I to put more energy into what we’re doing.
 
So, that’s it for this episode. I would like to thank you so much for your time, especially because you’ve stuck with me right to the end.  I keep thinking I’ll set-up an ‘enders club’ for the people who always get to the end of the podcasts and videos – so if this is you, then send me an email at hello@veganbusinesstribe.com to let me know you always listen right to the end.  And I’d also really appreciate if you could tap the subscribe button wherever you listen to this podcast, or give us a thumbs up or a 5-star review if the platform supports it, because that’s how – as part of our tribe – you can also help us find more people to join our mission.
 
And finally, if you want more great information just like this for free, or if you want to support what we’re doing with a paid membership which also gives you access to our online events, our course and direct access to Lisa and I in our forums, then head over to the website at veganbusinesstribe.com – because we’d love you to, truly and officially, become a part of our Vegan Business Tribe.

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