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060 - Time to reflect on your business

The importance of taking time to reflect on your business. The break for the holidays has given many of us time and space to reflect on our vegan businesses.  But the reason most of us don’t reflect on what we’re doing more often is because with that reflection comes the big questions that we’d rather not ask ourselves: Can you call it a business if it doesn’t pay you a wage yet or is it just an expensive hobby? Do you need to make some big changes to move the business forwards but making those changes scares you?  Are you not following opportunities for growth because you are being too strict with what your business is and isn’t?

In this episode, David explains the importance of regularly taking a step back and reviewing where your business is – but also once you’ve identified what needs to change, why you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do it.

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Episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode sixty of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  And 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 also welcome to our first podcast of 2022!  We took a couple of weeks off for Christmas and New Year but are back, raring to go – as are our members: we actually started back-up our networking meet-ups and business clinics the first week of January, thinking that it would be a nice easy start back and we might get a few of our members booking on – but they were absolutely booked-out with nearly 40 members on our first online networking of the year.  And it seems like everyone logged back-on to our Community Hub at the same time because on the third of January, my phone started pinging with all the new conversations that were being posted!  So it just goes to show how much everyone is wanting to make a real go of this year.
 
And just as we did last January, we’re also running a special promo for a free month trial of our paid membership of Vegan Business Tribe – so if you have been thinking about trying out our full membership tier and you want a free pass to all our content, courses and events – then just drop us an email on hello@veganbusinesstribe.com during January and we’ll send you a trial month promo code.  And remember, it’s the support of our members that means we can keep putting out this podcast every week, to keep producing all our content but it also funds all the work we do to promote and champion the vegan business scene.  So if you would like to support us too then just head over to the website at veganbusinesstribe.com and click on the big join button on the homepage to find out how you can do that.
 
But hopefully, over this last couple of weeks, most of us have been able to take some kind of break.  It’s been a chance to spend some time with the family or go out for some long walks, but it’s also been a time to get a bit of perspective.  Because in business, we spend a lot of our day-to-day time on the actual doing.  We find ourselves working to everyone else’s agenda, our to-do list is dictated by what drops into our inbox and by the time you actually get to the things that you needed to do that day it’s already the end of the day!
 
If you’ve ever worked with a business coach, then you might have heard the phrase that if you really want to grow a business, you need to spend more time working ON the business and less time working IN it.  Because when you are building a business, it’s easy to get a few steps in and then stop there.  And there are two early stages in a business that people can get stuck at: 
 
Because if you have a business but it’s not able to pay you a wage yet then it’s just a hobby.  And sometimes a very expensive one, especially if it’s costing you money to run it. Now, this can sound quite harsh and I’m not putting anyone down when I say that – because it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to become a business.  But if you’re not getting paid by what you are doing then right now it’s a hobby or a past-time and will remain so for as long as your income is coming from somewhere else. And you need to be honest with yourself about this.
 
And second, you might be able to pay yourself a wage from your business, but if the company cannot keep running when you decide to take some time off then you haven’t built a business yet, you’ve just built a full-time job for yourself. But unlike working for someone else, you don’t get the benefit of 28 days holiday allowance and sick pay!  
 
And both these stages will be familiar to most business owners, and in fact, most businesses go through them in some way or another. Vegan Business Tribe very much started off as an expensive hobby, because Lisa and I funded the first year of VBT ourselves from the consultancy work we were doing while we built up the membership.  I remember the first business I ever set up twenty years ago had two staff who got paid, but me as the business owner who often didn’t.  And let me tell you, that becomes a really expensive hobby if you get stuck there!
 
And sometimes you don’t realise that that you HAVE got stuck there which is why reflecting on where you are is so important.  And if you actually want to build a BUSINESS, then you need to get past these stages as quickly as you can – not have them as a target, not be content that it’s ‘good enough’. But if you ARE you’re stuck at either of these stages, just working more hours will not get you past them.  It requires more than just effort, it requires a step-change, a fundamental or creative change in what you are doing.  It requires you to be able to step out of the day-to-day doing and plan what actions you need to do to take the business you have built to the next stage.
 
So, if your business at the moment IS just a hobby because you are not getting paid – then what do you need to do to move that business to a place where it can pay you a wage?  What are you going to have to do very very differently to break out of your current thinking?  If you HAVE just built yourself a  full-time job where the business has to shut down or come with you on holiday, then what needs to happen for the company to become independent of you?  What needs to happen so that the income it generates isn’t directly tied to the hours you work?  Can you imagine what it would be like if all companies had to shut down production and stop making sales just because the CEO needed to take the day off – and I’m not just talking about sole traders.  I’ve known businesses with ten plus staff that were completely incapable of operating if the managing director wasn’t there in the building because it was built around a single person.
 
But it doesn’t just stop there – maybe your business does run quite well day-to-day independently of you.  Maybe it’s generating good revenue and has found a deal of success.  And if this IS your company right now, then how are you going to move it to the stage where it’s actually making an impact with that profit, that it’s making the world a better place?  How can you create a company that actually has a purpose that is bigger than yourself?
 
And the truth is, moving past any of these stages doesn’t just happen organically.  For every business you see that is successful, at some point the owners of that business have sat down and set a course.  They have defined the goals that were going to make a significant difference to that business and then made sure that work was diligently carried out and completed to bring those goals into reality. And where we all are right now, right at the start of the year, is a brilliant place to start thinking about what you want to achieve this year.  Lisa runs her Make it Happen goalsetting and accountability workshop all year round, but it’s always the January one that has the most members there!
 
Because to build any successful business, you really need to work in that time to step-out and reflect on what you are doing – to keep putting your head above water to see which way you’re actually heading.  Do you have a business, or is it still just a hobby? Have you built a business, or have you just built yourself a full-time job without the employee benefits?  Is your company just making money, or is it actually having a positive impact and moving us closer to the vegan world that we all so dearly want?
 
And sometimes, asking those questions is hard.  Sometimes they are questions that you have been purposely avoiding.  Because to truthfully answer those questions might mean evaluating the core thing you are doing.  For example, do you remember the company Kodak?  If you’re a similar age to myself, then Kodak was one of the biggest companies in the world when we were kids. For a century they were the market leaders in photography.  If you took a photo you probably took it using a Kodak camera using Kodak film which was printed on Kodak photographic paper.  And you think you probably already know how that story ended: Kodak lost out to the digital photography revolution which resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy in 2012.  But it’s not quite that simple, because what you probably didn’t know was that Kodak actually pretty much INVENTED digital photography.  The very first digital camera was developed by a Kodak engineer in 1975, and Kodak actually ended up bringing one of the earliest consumer digital cameras to market in 1991. So what went wrong?
 
The reason why Kodak failed was that they didn’t realise that they were in the taking photos business.  And that sounds ridiculous, but to them, they were in the photographic film business.  Then when film declined in use they were in the camera business.  Then when everyone had a camera built into their phones they decided they were in the printer business.  And as we know, people then stopped printing photos they started sharing them online – and while tech founders were building the first online photo sites that would eventually become behemoths like Instagram, Kodak acquired early photo-sharing platform Ofoto and rebranded it to ‘Kodak Gallery’.  A smart move, but the reason we now all use Flickr and Instagram and not Kodak Gallery is because even at that point, Kodak still thought they were in the paper and ink business, not the taking photos business.  The Kodak Gallery photo-sharing site was completely free to use, you could upload your photos and share them with all your friends and family.  But if you didn’t order a physical print of your photo within 90 days of uploading, the site deleted that file.  Gone.  Kodak didn’t die because it didn’t innovate, it innovated constantly and with industry-leading talent.  It died because it was inflexible in its view of what the company was.  It didn’t follow the customer, it kept trying to get the customer to follow it.
 
And it’s easy to laugh at Kodak, but how often do we do that with our own businesses?  How many times have we turned down an opportunity, or have we not followed a trend because we’ve simply said: “that’s not what our company does, that’s not the business we’re in”?  And that’s why you need to make regular time to reflect on your business and what you are doing because that’s when you can ask those questions.  That’s when you can say: “well, what business am I actually in?” Blockbuster video thought it was a video and DVD hire company, whereas Netflix knew it was a content company where the format was irrelevant.  Imagine if Amazon had refused to budge from its initial concept of just being an online book-seller.  In your business, you need to constantly ask where the value for the customer lies.  Is it in the product you sell or is it in your knowledge? What is your customer’s end goal and how are you helping them achieve it, not just trying to sell the product or service that you make to them? And without taking the time to reflect, you will never ask the kinds of questions that might be a pivotal turning point in your business.  Because, as I said, they can be scary questions to ask – they are questions we avoid because the answers might mean making big changes.  One of the reasons why many businesses never reach the level they should is because of fear, our own self-limiting beliefs.  We often approach building a business as just making a job for ourselves and once we’ve achieved that don’t push to move it forward.
 
If you are actually wanting to build a business, so something that is a vehicle to enable you to have a real impact and bring about real change in the world, then letting go of that ‘job’ mentality can be a scary thing to do, especially if this is your first business.  It’s a change Lisa had to make after spending 13-years in the same company’s marketing department when she took a chance on coming and working with me instead.  It took her a long time to get away from the idea of being tied to daily to-do lists and filling her hours with tasks that had to be completed to other people’s deadlines. It took her time to start to understand she was building a business where she was in charge of what happened and when, not just building a new job for herself.
 
Even thinking about taking your business further than you know how to can trigger a fight-or-flight response.  And for many of us, burying ourselves in the day-to-day ‘work’ of our businesses is us choosing ‘flight’.  We’re avoiding doing those big scary things that will rock the boat of the business we’ve built by keeping busy doing the day to day work so we never have to address them.  But sometimes, rocking the boat is exactly what’s needed.
 
So how do you do this?  How do you take a step back from your business and reflect on what you are doing?  Well, a lot of entrepreneurs work reflection into their calendars.  In one of my early businesses, every Friday afternoon myself and my then business partner used to go for a walk in the Pennine foothills together to talk about the week, what we’d achieved, our ideas that we’d been storing up, were we moving forwards or were we treading water?  It was blocked-booked in the calendar.  Myself and Lisa still regularly book time in the diary to go to our local vegan cafe on a Friday afternoon to talk about what we’re doing and have some time away from our desks. I suspect that even just listening to this podcast has got you thinking about your business and what stage it’s at and where it’s heading.  And creating space is a wonderful thing to do.  How many times have you gone away on a holiday, or even just gone for a long walk and then come back with an idea that will move your business forward?  Even if that’s just taking a Friday afternoon off once a month and going and sitting in your local coffee shop with your notebook.  But you need to keep your eyes on the horizon, you should never stop thinking about what needs to be done next to move your business forward.
 
So start by looking back at what you’ve done so far.  What has been successful this last year, what have you learned?  What have customers kept telling you over and again?  Have they been telling you your prices are too low?  Have they all been asking if you deliver a certain kind of service or make a certain product, and you’ve kept telling them no?  Why have you kept telling them no?  Because it’s impractical to give them what they want (in which case, can you make it practical?!) or because, just like Kodak, you’ve set yourself too stringent rules to what your company is? Consider what you’ve really enjoyed this last year, what’s got you jumping out of bed in the morning – because if I can give one bit of advice about being successful without knowing anything about your business, it is if you’ve found something in your business that genuinely makes you jump out of bed in the morning – then build your business around that!  Because building a business can be really hard, there’s always grind, but you are far more likely to succeed when you bring together your passion with how you make a living.  And in the same way, look at the things that you absolutely dread doing in your business, the things that keep pulling you down, and ask can you do less of them or just stop doing them all together?  Maybe it’s time to stop doing your own book-keeping and accounts if that’s taking away your joy from your business?  Maybe it’s time to let someone else do your social media if you hate doing it?  Or maybe it’s even time to stop making your product yourself.  Find someone else who will make it for you, or who already make something just as good, and are happy for you to put your label on it instead.  Or if you are a service business but what you actually really love is building customer relationships and finding sales, then is it time to find someone else to actually deliver your service?  Why does it need to be you if your skills and energy are better used elsewhere to build the business you want to build, and is that the first step to actually building a company that is independent from you?
 
Next, spend time looking forward.  You’re an expert in your marketplace, so how do you feel it’s going to change this next year?  What’s your gut reaction to what the future is going to bring in your sector and are you avoiding getting involved with that change because you just don’t understand it, you’re scared by it or because you’re too strongly conditioned to what you think your business is?  Is there the opportunity to start exploring it?  Again, using myself and Lisa as an example, we entered the vegan market doing something completely different to what we do now, and if we’d stuck to that then we’d never have found all you amazing people.
 
Also ask yourself what it would be really cool to achieve this next year?  And we’re starting to get beyond reflecting and into goalsetting now, but what would you have loved to really have achieved by this time next year?  What changes need to happen in your business to make that a reality?  Are you going to get there just continuing to find customers at the rate you are at the moment or are you going to have to really do something different – and this is where it gets scary.  We hate change, and at worst we can see changing what we’re doing as defeat – but it rarely is.  It is learning.  Remember, Amazon started out as a book shop and nothing more.
 
Take inspiration from the people around you; a couple of episodes ago I mentioned Vegan Business Tribe member Mitali who set herself the goal to get on 100 podcasts in a year to promote her ethical-entrepreneur book-writing programme and so many people have seen how much success she had from setting that target, how much visibility she’s managed to get for Let’s Tell Your Story Publishing, and have set off with similar challenges this year.
 
And then finally, ask yourself what you’re avoiding. I’ve known so many people who resisted doing the thing they knew they needed to do for so long or wish they had started on something earlier.  As I said, doing something that will actually move your business forward usually requires a big change or letting go of something you don’t know if you’re ready to let go of yet.  But instead of concentrating on the thing itself, that thing you’re avoiding, think about the difference it would actually make to your business. Finding someone else to make your product so you can concentrate on the sales and marketing. Farming out your social media. Setting up that automation to get rid of all those admin tasks that take up all your time. And maybe one of the reasons you are avoiding something you really need to do is again fear, fear that you don’t know how to do it. But that’s something you need to get past.
 
I’ll give you two really good bits of advice on this: the first is you should never be worried about tackling a problem that you don’t yet know how to solve yes.  Instead, have belief in your ability to learn.  Look at the skills you have now, how many of those did you start out with?  Look at how far you have already come since you started your business.  What didn’t you know how to do on day one that you take for granted now?  Not knowing how to do something should never be a barrier to moving your business along, we’re all natural learners.
 
Which leads me to my second bit of advice:  there is absolutely no need for you to try and reinvent the wheel.  If you hit a problem in your business that is stopping you, I guarantee that other people will have hit the same problem and already solved it.  We live in the information age where for every problem there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of YouTube videos, podcasts, online courses and step-by-step instructionals on how to solve it. Or if it’s a big enough issue that lots of people have, then people will likely offer services to solve it for you.  When we first started Vegan Business Tribe, every time we had a new member sign-up we did a little dance (which we still do) and then our shoulders would slump because there were so many manual processes we then had to do: add that person to our CRM system; add them onto our member’s only mailing list; make sure their payment was set up; send them a welcome email; book them in for a 1-2-1; add them to our member directory; give them access to our Community Hub… it took so much time to process a new member that it got to the point where, subconsciously, we were holding back on chances to promote Vegan Business Tribe because of the amount of work it took to set up a new member!   When we realised this, it became a number one priority to automate the whole process and Lisa spent days researching how people had automated membership services like ours, what clever bits of software like Zapier and Calendly other people were using to set up various automated systems, and now when you sign-up on the website as a new member the only thing we have to do is our little dance – which we still do for every new sign-up!  Everything else just happens automatically.
 
And if Lisa hadn’t had the time or confidence in learning how to set all that up, then there are plenty of people who could have done it for us.  Another Vegan Business Tribe member, Mark Bowden from The Vegan IT Company helps companies do just that – to automate away all those manual tasks that are bogging your business down.
 
But if we didn’t spend time reflecting on the business, asking what was giving us joy, asking what was stopping us from promoting the business to its full, asking where were our customers coming from and how could we free up time from other tasks to concentrate on that, then we’d still be commiserating instead of celebrating every time someone new joins us and it should be something to celebrate, because we get to help another vegan business just like you.
 
OK, so we’re coming up to time so let’s wrap up as we always do with a bullet-point recap of the importance of reflecting on your business:
 
  1. It’s easy to get stuck at the early stages in your business:  Remember, if you are not able to pay yourself a wage then you don’t have a business yet, it’s a hobby. If the business cannot keep running when you decide to take some time off, then you haven’t built a business yet, you’ve just built a full-time job for yourself without employee benefits.
  2. Remember, Kodak didn’t fail because it didn’t keep up with the market, it failed because it didn’t realise what business it was in. That’s why Flickr and Instagram are the new giants of the photography industry.  How many opportunities are you not following because you have too narrow a scope of what your business is?  Imagine if Amazon had refused to be anything other than an online bookseller.
  3. It’s important to make that time to reflect.  Book in an afternoon stroll in the countryside with your team to talk about the business, go to your local vegan cafe with your notebook.
  4. Reflection leads to some big questions, and sometimes big questions can be scary. One of the reasons why many businesses never reach the level they could is because of fear. Sometimes there’s a lot you need to let go of to move your business forward.
  5. Start your reflection by looking at what you’ve achieved so far – but also what have your customers been asking you for the most this last year?  What have you enjoyed doing and can you do more of that?  As we know, when you combine your business with your passion, that’s when the magic happens!
  6. Then take a look at what you’ve enjoyed doing the least.  Is it time to let other people do those things for you or just stop doing them all together?
  7. Then look forward.  Remember you are the expert in your marketplace, so what’s your gut feeling of where you need to be heading.  Identify what’s holding you back from doing that and making those changes.
  8. Remember, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  We live in the information age and it’s called that for a reason – so if something IS holding your business back, that might be a lack of knowledge or experience, then find out how others are solving that same problem and learn from them.
 
And that’s it.  I’ve really enjoyed this one, partially as Lisa and I did a lot of reflecting ourselves over the holidays and it was good to have that as a background when thinking about what I wanted to talk about in this session.  As I mentioned though, regular reflection is a really important part of the process of building a successful business, but it’s only PART of that process. You can go on all the long walks and have all the afternoons in coffee shops you like, but at some point, you need to take action.  You need to come up with an action list of how you are going to make those things happen.  And how to do that is a whole other episode which we might do soon, but if you want help with setting your goals and identifying the steps to hit them – then on the first Monday of every month, Lisa runs her goalsetting and accountability workshop called Make It Happen.  In that session, you will be in a group of members and Lisa will guide you to take an hour out to work out what your goals are.  At the end of the session, you will come away with a list of actions that you need to do to achieve them – and even better, you’ll have a group of vegans who are going to hold you accountable to make sure you’ve achieved them when you come to the next session a month later!  If that sounds like what you need then head over to the website now at veganbusinesstribe.com to book on our next one.
 
And at the same time, remember we’ve got a free month trial offer on at the moment which will give you full access to everything, including a free pass to all our other online events too for a month, like our networking and business clinics as well as all our member-only content and online courses.  Just email us on hello@veganbusinesstribe.com for a coupon – and if you sign-up for your free month during January we’ll even through in a free 1-2-1 session with myself and Lisa so that we can learn more about whatever your vegan venture is at the moment and how we can support you.
 
OK, so now that really is it!  Don’t forget to give us a share or a subscribe, and if you are listening on iTunes please do leave us a 5-star review – and if you actually leave us a written review I’ll do what I can to give you a shout out too!
 
Thank you for your time, let’s make this the year you really get serious about growing your vegan business and I hope that Vegan Business Tribe can be part of that story. And I will see you on the next one!

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