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017 - How to collaborate with other vegan businesses

The power of collaboration: How linking up with other vegan businesses will make you both more successful. ‘Vegan’ is not just an industry sector, it’s a movement and we know that we can achieve more together. Maybe you sell vegan handbags and you link-up with someone selling vegan shoes. Or you sell LinkedIn training and you collaborate with a vegan photographer who does professional headshots. Or you sell vegan doughnuts so you team-up with your local brewery to make the perfect match-up to their vegan beer.

There are lots of ways you can collaborate with other businesses to create a bigger story for both of you – and sometimes, to create a bigger mission.

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Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode seventeen 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 and connect with our community of like-minded vegan entrepreneurs then head over to Vegan Business Tribe .com where you can get new free content every week – or if you want more support, and at the same time to support us, then you can also join our paid membership to take part in all our online networking events, come to our business clinics, get support in our mentorship forums or even study our vegan marketing course.  And it’s all our paid members that enable us to keep recording this podcast every week and putting out all our free content and just generally doing everything WE can to support vegan businesses, so if you are on the same mission as us and want to support what we’re doing – then go check out our membership too.

And it’s this supporting each other that we’re talking about today. Because we’ve seen a number of vegan companies collaborating recently, and I’m talking about a vegan business or campaign teaming up with another to create a bigger offering, or to reach a wider audience.  Because, there are only two ways to build an audience: you either pay for one (and that payment isn’t always money, it can be your time) or you piggyback someone else’s.  And collaborating with another vegan business to create something together means you both get access to each other’s audiences in a really constructive way.

And this is the thing with vegan businesses, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yourself, but this is a sector unlike any other you might have operated in. Not only are we vegans a lovely bunch of people who want to create a fairer, cruelty-free world with our businesses, but we also want to raise each other up while we’re doing it.  This is why ‘vegan’ is not just an industry sector, it’s a movement – we know that we achieve more together.  And I genuinely haven’t seen this in other marketplaces; the concept of ‘competition’ between vegan businesses is completely different.  I have never heard a vegan travel advisor say: “I’ve just seen someone else start up as a vegan travel company in my town, so I’m not going to rest until I put them out of business!” – in fact I know a number of vegan travel companies and, trust me, they are all the best of friends. They all know each other and work together, because they are all on the same mission.  This is important because ‘success’ in business is usually tied to making a lot of money – and that IS crucial in the vegan market too because you can do far more good with a profit than you can a loss – but with vegan companies, success is also measured in how much change you can create in the world.  And if someone else is working to create that change too, then you view them less as the competition and more as a colleague.

When we run our Vegan Business Tribe networking meetings on Zoom EVERYONE is smiling at the end.  And it’s not just because they had a great time, but it’s because they have just spent an hour chatting with people who are JUST LIKE THEM.  People with the same ethics, the same goals, and it doesn’t matter if technically, from a business perspective, someone is in competition with someone else – they are on the same mission.  And the market is big enough.  A few episodes back I looked at the size of the vegan marketplace, and we took our best-educated guess that 2 or 3% of the population identify as vegan.  That sounds like a low percentage, but that’s over a million vegans in the UK alone – and just how many vegan customers does your business need?  We also established that over 90% of some vegan food products are being bought by non-vegans.  50% of all UK customers have admitted to some forms of vegan buying behaviour, such as meat-free Mondays or buying plant milk instead of dairy. And what all this means is that even if you are selling the exact same thing as another vegan company, you don’t need to consider them to be your enemy!  You will be amazed how much you can learn from each other, and if you find you are both fighting over the same customers with the same offer, then that just goes to show you that your offering is not unique and it will actually help you better define what you are selling, and finding a more remarkable angle.  Like the vegan travel companies, they all sell the same product (vegan holidays) but they all have a different angle. One focuses on adventure, another is food-based, they all run holidays to different locations… being close to ‘your competition’ helps you keep your offering unique.

But usually, when we’re talking about collaboration, we’re more talking about companies coming together who don’t sell the same thing, but who talk to a similar audience. So maybe you sell vegan handbags and you link up with someone selling vegan shoes.  Or you sell LinkedIn training to vegan and ethical companies and you team up with a vegan photographer who does professional headshots.  Or you sell vegan doughnuts so you team up with your local brewery to make the perfect match-up to their vegan beer. Already, just hearing these few examples, I bet you’re already thinking about what kind of link-ups you could do with other vegan businesses that would be win-win for both of you.

One of my favourite recent examples of collaboration is One Planet Pizza.  Now, if you don’t know One Planet Pizza, then they were the UK’s first vegan frozen pizza company and you can buy their pizzas from various stores throughout the UK. They are slowly making inroads into stores in Europe too.  They also have a direct-to-consumer option, and this means that if you don’t have a local store that stocks their pizza, then you can order from their website and have a pack of 4 pizzas delivered – still frozen – direct to your door to put straight in your freezer. And not only do One Planet make the best pizza you will ever have, but they are also the master of collaborations.

First, they recognised that they had these boxes being delivered direct to their customers, and these boxes have a bit of extra space – so why not include other people’s amazing products as surprise free samples with each order? All the other company has to do is provide the samples and they’ll include them in the box going out to plant-based customers. Not only is this a great way to get customers to try more vegan products – remembering that a lot of vegan food products are bought by non-vegans – but it also shares audiences. One Planet Pizza’s customers get a surprise they weren’t expecting in their order, making them more likely to buy again, but the company who’s samples are going out in the box also want to shout about it.  They will tell their audiences that they have teamed up with One Planet Pizza, they will share the link to order the pizzas with their own customer base – and it really is just a win-win for both companies.

But One Planet have gone further than this to actually team up with other companies on making pizza!  Two companies who really hit the big time with vegan products in the UK were Meatless Farm and Applewood’s Vegan Cheese.  There was a time when Applewood cheese was out of stock across the country due to demand for a vegan cheese that actually melts, and Meatless Farm hit the news with some amazing advertising campaigns and you can now buy their burgers in most supermarkets and high-street retailers. One Planet Pizza brought both these companies together to create their, frankly phenomenal, Meatless Farm Cheezeburger Pizza with Applwood vegan cheese.  And it proved an instant hit, because not only can you buy it from One Planet Pizza, Meatless Farm also sell the Pizzas through their own direct-to-consumer website reaching a far bigger market.  Now, Meatless Farm and One Planet Pizza could easily have seen each other as competition.  Both are selling vegan fast food that you cook at home, both are going after the same customer base, but instead of seeing each other as competition, they introduced each other’s audience to each other’s products and created a far bigger story.

So if you sell physical products, what other vegan company could you team up with to either create a new product together or to combine your products into a joint package?  Or maybe take a look at the ingredients or components that you are already using – can you make more of this relationship?  Instead of someone just being a supplier to you, can you start shouting about the fact you use their products and get them to shout about it too to their audience?  Can you be partners in developing a new product together rather than just having a customer relationship?

Or if you sell a service, can you include someone else’s product as part of your offering or even better, create a new offering together? If you are a vegan web designer and you know other vegans offering product photography and copywriting for vegan businesses – can you all come together as a collective and sell a joint website and content package from which you all benefit and promote?

Maybe you are in hospitality? If you run a vegan B&B could you become the vegan hub for your area?  What other business in your area can you team up with? Can you come together with your local restaurant to send your guests to them for their vegan evening meal?  Perhaps you could even include it in the price of a vegan weekend break package that the restaurant, in turn, can also promote on their website.  Who do you know that you can collaborate with?  Who COULD you know?  And again, because we’re all vegans together, you CAN reach out easier to other companies – because you’ve immediately got a point of commonality between you.  If you’re both vegans running vegan businesses, you are already aligned, you are already on the same mission.  And if coming together means you can build a BIGGER mission, then you will be surprised at what a warm welcome your link-up ideas might get.

This idea of being on a mission is also something that can lead to some really satisfying cause-led collaborations.  It doesn’t have to be all about selling more; a cause-led collaboration not only gives back to what we all care about, but it also means that you can raise the profile of both businesses without trying to sell to each other’s contacts. For example, you could collaborate with your local animal sanctuary by giving a percentage of your profits to help cover their running costs. Or if you don’t have the profits yet, then donate your time.  Take a look at Viva La Vegan clothing; they created a special range where a percentage of the sales goes to Beneath the Woods animal sanctuary resulting in great visibility for both organisations, and this kind of ethical collaboration can actually GIVE your company a mission if you’ve been struggling to find one.  Perhaps you’ve been struggling to find the ethical angle to your business, and if some of the sales of your notebooks, jewellery or vegan soap go to support a vegan charity or cause – then that gives you an ethical, vegan foundation that you can use to better connect with your customers (as well as shout about on social media!).

And this is where you can really find some satisfaction running a vegan business, when you can see that you are creating change and really making a difference instead of just earning a living in the vegan sector. You might have heard me talking about Blué O’Connor before.  His main business is Kings Grooming, a vegan company selling male grooming products but he is also the founder of ‘Talk Club’, a support network that brings men together to talk about their mental health with each other.  On the back of creating Talk Club, Blué also teamed up with Bristol Beer Factory to create an alcohol-free vegan beer called ‘Clear Head’.  If you buy a bottle of Clear Head from the Bristol Beer Factory website, the site tells you that “buying this beer means you are helping to start real conversations & saving lives” and it goes on to say that “5% of Clear Head profits go directly to Talk Club. Creating a sustainable, positive, mental health community. This is a beer for good.”  That is a really powerful way to promote a business. That gives you a real mission. That’s the kind of thing that makes you tingle. And trust me, there are lots of worthy vegan causes that you can link your business with.

Another way to collaborate could be signing-up someone who already has an audience as your brand ambassador. This can be a really beneficial and powerful two-way relationship, and also a way for people who are active in the vegan cause to give back whilst promoting your business.  An example of this is vegan dog treat company Herbipaws, who teamed up with vegan activist John Awen as their brand ambassador. John’s plant-based dog Pagan is as famous with his followers as John himself, and in return for a regular supply of treats posted out for Pagan, John mentions Herbipaws on his social media and when speaking at events.  And as a vegan business, if you can find someone who wholly believes in your mission then cash doesn’t necessarily have to change hands for them to represent you.

So this should have by now got you really thinking about how you can link up with others to create a bigger message, a bigger story, and a bigger audience for both companies. But how do you actually FIND these other companies to link up with?  And this CAN be a stumbling block because most of these kinds of collaborations come from previous relationships.  And that might be you are already a supplier to a company, or you have already been doing work together for a while with joint customers – because there has to be some degree of trust for companies to collaborate.  And this is why it’s really important to not be an island!  Your business should never work in isolation, you need to meet, support and get to know other vegan businesses to find collaboration opportunities.  Build your network, come out from behind your inbox, and start having conversations. Come to our Vegan Business Tribe Zoom networking events, we had nearly 50 businesses at our last one, all looking to link up with other vegan businesses.  Create your own support group of people you are already working alongside and invite them together on a Zoom call to talk about how you can support each other more.  If you see any gathering of vegan businesses, then go sign-up for it.  Look out for vegan events from people like VegfestUK and Beyond Animal, both their real-world and online events.  Go to them, meet other vegan businesses and follow-up with the people you meet.  Connect with them on LinkedIn, and don’t try to sell to them – try to collaborate with them!

And if you have a platform yourself, just like One Planet Pizza having room for other people’s samples in their delivery boxes, start offering it out to other businesses.  Even if you just have a large following on social, how can you use that to promote other vegan businesses, and in return get those businesses to promote you?  We’ve promoted lots of our members through our Vegan Business Tribe platforms, and sometimes even wider in the vegan business columns Lisa writes for national magazines.  And in return, each has shouted about us promoting them, leading to more exposure for us both.  More people know about Lisa and I, and the work we do with Vegan Business Tribe, by this kind of word-of-mouth promotion from other people with vegan businesses, than we’ll ever reach through advertising.

So start doing some research. Put time into thinking about different ways you could collaborate and work with another vegan business to not just promote what you sell, but to solve consumer’s problems that you can’t solve on your own.  What is your company missing in order to create a bigger package?  When you have a few ideas, find and reach out to other vegan companies that you have a synergy with.  Be excited about working together, come to them with a starting point for an idea for collaboration – and if they are interested and get caught up in your enthusiasm then test a few link-ups.  Instead of spending months coming up with a new product, or building new web pages and creating campaigns to advertise a new joint project, just try working on a couple of things together first and see what you learn and how you get on.  Start with something simple, and put the quick and obvious things into action.  Perhaps just do a joint online event or demo and invite each other’s customers to it – see what you learn from exposing each other’s audiences to each other’s company before setting anything in stone with a more formal partnership.

And even if you don’t end up going into a formal collaboration, sharing knowledge and experience helps us to lift each other up and be even more successful as vegan businesses.  The same tide raises all our boats.  The more successful vegan businesses there are the bigger the marketplace. And I’ll say this again: this isn’t like any other sector. We all want each other to succeed because another successful vegan business means more growth of the vegan economy and more products and services available for vegans – ensuring it’s easy to go and remain vegan and more animals are taken out of the supply chain. It means being another step closer to that vegan world we’re all aiming for.  In no other sector will you see two similar businesses working together so enthusiastically and helping each other with genuine smiles and congratulations.

However, there are also reasons NOT to collaborate as well. Sometimes, you might know another great vegan business but there’s just no synergy there.  Maybe their product is just ‘accidentally vegan’ and your message is very ethically vegan and the two audiences don’t really align. You shouldn’t have to REALLY force a link-up that leaves your customers scratching their head and not seeing the relevance – I mean, how many people buying vegan handbags would also like an SEO audit of their website?

And finally, don’t forget about collaborating with established vegan organisations and campaigns as a way of promoting your business too.  Every year, the Veganuary movement is growing and thousands of companies tie in with the Veganuary message and campaign to reach wider audiences. I’ve run Facebook adverts that have received 300% more interaction when the product has linked up with Veganuary and used their logo.  Episode 5 of this podcast covered all the ways your company can leverage and be part of Veganuary every year, and as a quick tip: it doesn’t matter if it’s not anywhere near January yet, start planning now!  Or The Vegan Society also have link-up opportunities: if you’re willing to give a discount to their card-carrying members they will promote you in their official member offers, so go talk to your favourite vegan cause or charity and see how you can help them help you.  Sometimes these collaborations can be huge, such as Forrest Green Rovers football club including the logo of vegan charity Sea Sheperd’s on the back of their shirts. Or sometimes they might be small, such as you giving all your customers a voucher for a free coffee at your local animal sanctuary’s coffee shop.

So let me set you a few thought experiments here to get you thinking about how you can find collaborations for your business:

If you have an online or offline shop, what mutual promotions could you do with another vegan business?  Could you bundle or even sell each other’s products?
If you have a service, what kind of business can you naturally find referrals for that has a synergy with what you offer?
If you make physical products, how can you come together with another vegan business to create a joint product together?
If you have a charity or not-for-profit, what can you give back to a business that is looking to donate to you – even if that’s only exposure of their brand?
If you have a hospitality and leisure business, how can you collaborate with another vegan business that can get both of you more bookings?
And whatever business you have, what link-up could you do that gives your business a mission? What link-up will really make a difference to furthering the vegan cause?  What business collaboration could you do that will CREATE more vegans?

Right, so let’s round up this episode with some reminder bullet points of why YOU should collaborate with other vegan businesses – to the benefit of you both:

  1. There are two ways to build an audience: you either pay for one or you piggyback someone else’s.  Linking up with another vegan business to promote something together means you both get to access each other’s audiences in a really constructive, supportive way.
  2. ‘Vegan’ is genuinely the nicest sector you will ever work in. The idea of ‘competition’ is completely different from other marketplaces because we’re all on the same mission.
  3. Find companies that are selling to a similar audience and who you have synergy with.  If you sell vegan handbags, it makes sense to link up with someone selling vegan shoes.
  4. What companies could you collaborate with to create something new?  One Planet Pizza and Meatless Farm coming together with Applewood Vegan Cheese for example.
  5. Can you create a cause-led collaboration that will give your business an ethical, vegan foundation – or create a new mission?
  6. Is there a natural brand-ambassador for your company or product?  Especially if you can find one where they will promote you in return for free products or services?
  7. Test link-ups first. Do something simple together, like an online event or special offer. See what your audience’s reaction is to each other’s companies before doing something that will take more time to set up.
  8. Make sure you GO OUT THERE looking to meet up with other vegan businesses, come to our Vegan Business Tribe member networking, or attend vegan business events and groups.
  9. Don’t forget about established organisations and campaigns like Veganuary and The Vegan Society, all have plenty of opportunities to get involved.

So again, all too quickly, we come to the end of another episode. And I really hope that this one has got you thinking because we can always achieve more together, especially when we’re all on the same mission – just as you and I are.

And if you enjoyed this podcast please tap the subscribe button, or leave us a 5-star review if your platform lets you do that, or even better, start that collaboration now and share this episode with some of the vegan businesses you want to collaborate with to show them why it’s such a good idea!

And if you want more, then head over to the website to find lots more free information, or as I said at the start, you can also be part of our paid monthly membership to get access to all our online events, our business clinics, our marketing course or just to chat with Lisa and myself in the forums. So, thank you so much for listening, I always appreciate you giving me this time in your ears and in your head, whether you’re listening at your desk, or out on your run, or feeding the pigeons, and I look forward to seeing you on the next one.

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