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081 - Is it time to quit?

How do you know if it’s time to give up on your business and move on to something new? Failing is an important part of succeeding. Listen to any successful entrepreneur’s story and it will be a list of the missteps, failures and lessons that eventually led to that success. 

But at some point, you need to decide whether the thing you’re doing now is going to ever be successful or if it’s time to give up and go do something else instead. In this episode, David shares how to judge if your business is actually progressing and how to decide if it’s time to wrap it up and move on.

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Episode transcript:

Hello and welcome to episode eighty-one 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.
 
Today we’re talking about a really important topic, and that is: when is it time to give up? How do you know if you just need to keep going or if you’re at the point where it’s time to quit your business and go do something else instead? And you might not be used to me talking about something that seems like a negative topic but we know that failing is actually a really important part of succeeding – and if you listen to any successful founder they will likely tell you about all the failures that led to their eventual success. But at some point, you need to decide whether you just haven’t been doing what you’re doing long enough or if it’s time to give up and move on.
 
But before we get started: if you want to get serious about your vegan business then come and join us over at veganbusinesstribe.com – because that’s where Lisa and I help our Vegan Business Tribe members grow their businesses, with advice, with member-only content and courses in our Vegan Business Academy, with our online workshops and events, and you can even connect with the hundreds of other Vegan Business Tribe members from around the world in our community hub or on our online networking meet-ups. And being a member of Vegan Business Tribe is not just amazing value for money for everything you get, but it’s also what funds us too – so if you want more support for your vegan business or you want to surround yourself with other people who share your ethics and are on the same mission that you are – while at the same time helping funding everything we do to champion the vegan business scene around the world – then head over to veganbusinesstribe.com, click on the join button on the homepage and you’ll see everything you get as a member. And membership, it costs a month about the same as buying a cup of coffee a week from your local coffee shop.
 
OK, so I want to start today’s session by saying: business is hard. And a lot harder than you think. Speak to anyone who has built a successful business and they will tell you about the stress, the long hours and the sheer effort and tenacity it takes. And they may even say that if they knew back then what they know now, they might have just gone and got a job and not built their own business in the first place. I was at an event last year where vegan entrepreneur and investor Heather Mills was asked what advice she would give to someone thinking about starting their own business and she simply replied: “Don’t”. And she wasn’t joking. She said that owning your own business is simply not worth the negative impact it will have on your life, your health and your quality of life and you will be far better just going and developing a career with an established organisation instead.
 
As someone who has pretty much always owned and run my own businesses since I was in my early twenties, I have to agree with Heather’s advice. And that might sound quite an odd thing to hear me say. I’ve done quite well in my career, I’ve earned quite well in my career, but looking back now at the last twenty years – would I have had a less stressful life if I’d had been an employee instead? Definitely. Would I have had the chance to enjoy a better work/life balance? Undoubtedly I would. Would I have potentially earned even more at the same time? Probably so. So would I go back and tell my younger self that it’s not worth it, would I tell twenty-three year-old David fresh from university to stick with the large city marketing and design agency he’d just won his first job at instead of starting up his own ten months later?
 
Well… it’s a hard question. There is something inside people who have their own business. There is this want for freedom and control that you can’t get by being employed by someone else. And it’s a fallacy, of course, because when you are employed you have one boss. When you then start-up your own company, you have loads of bosses that you have to please: if you’re a service business then each one of your clients or customers becomes your boss. When you have your own business you can set your own working hours, but the reality is those working hours will be far longer than if you worked for someone else. Yes, I’ve always had my own company so I can choose what time I get out of bed in the morning, it’s just that often means choosing to get up at 5.00am (or earlier) to get ahead of my day.
 
But it’s a pain and reward cycle. The joy you feel when you get your first order for your own business makes you forget all the pain of getting to that first sale. When you see your profits increase from one year to the next, that feeling of progress makes you forget all the long hours and stress it took to make it happen. When you watch an employee go from their first day on the job knowing nothing to now being a key member of your team, you forget all the other people you hired that were not a good fit for your company. When a new idea you had works out and starts to become successful, you forget all the other ideas you had that were dead ends. And that’s what keeps us going in business, that continued development and progress that keeps us coming back for more.
 
So when you don’t have that, that’s when building a business gets really hard. If you can’t see progress, if you don’t feel any success, then that pain and reward cycle just gives you the pain. And I’ve been there. I’ve kept businesses going for years that were never going to be sustainable, just from sheer stubbornness. And it’s in this time, when you find yourself working weekends while your friends and family go off on picnics; when you set your alarm realising that you’re only going to get five hours sleep because you’ve been working late and you need to start early again tomorrow; it’s during this time when you start asking yourself – is it time to quit? Is it time to just give it all up and go get a job with all the uncountable benefits that working for someone else brings?
 
Well, the answer might well be yes. And I know, way to go on that motivational talk David! But the reality is a lot of ideas just don’t work out. A lot of businesses are built on bad foundations. Some people don’t actually, really, want to build a business, they just wanted to build a better job for themselves than the one they had. And if that’s the case, then just go find a better company to work for, and there are plenty of great, ethical companies out there that look after their employees.
 
However, if you have a vegan business, then it’s not quite that straight forwards. At Vegan Business Tribe we always say you should never start a business, you should launch a mission. And if your business is your mission, if your business is your way to move the vegan cause forwards, then it’s not just a company. It’s not just a workplace. It’s something else. And it may be that at this point in time, the only way that you can use your skill set to help introduce more people to veganism (whilst at the same time aligning your personal ethics with how you make a living) is to build your own business that does just that. I mean, if you get the opportunity to go work for one of the big established vegan organisations then definitely go do that. If you can still work towards your vegan goal but with all the weight and resources of Beyond Meat of The Vegan Society behind you then you’re going to make a far bigger impact. But for many of us, the only way we’re going to be able to work for an ethical vegan organisation that is looking to end animal suffering is to create our own.
 
So, there’s more weight to this than just quitting your own business and going and working for someone else. When you have a vegan business, it’s about whether or not you give up on your mission too which makes the decision even harder. So let’s look at this in more detail before we decide if it’s time to give up on what we’ve built.
 
We’ve established that building a business is about effort and reward – when you get success then the time and effort you are putting into your business become worth it. So if you are not seeing success then you are not getting that dopamine hit, you are not getting that feeling of progression, and the human brain hates giving effort and getting no reward. It’s hard-wired into us, it’s part of our evolution. Energy is a limited resource, and it was even more so to our ancestors, so if you keep doing something that takes energy but you get no benefit for it in return then your brain will very quickly dissuade you from doing it. It will start telling you to quit, it’s just not worth the effort.
 
But the reality is very few people come up with an idea for a business, then goes out and builds that company just to find success where they thought they were going to find it.
 
Building a business is like tackling an obstacle course. You climb over one wall just to run straight into another. It’s what you learn and how you adapt your plan in response to those walls that leads to success. You may have heard the phrase ‘fail fast’ in business, in fact I did a whole podcast about how to fail fast and fail cheap back in episode 69. And the summary of that is that you need to either prove or disprove your business idea as quickly as possible, because why give the next three to five years of your life to something that was always going to be a dead-end? But the important takeaway from that you need to prove or disprove an IDEA, not your entire business. The two are separate. You might start a business doing one thing, but the thing that brings you success is an opportunity you have yet to discover. And finding out what this thing is might take time and it might take exploration.
 
So if you hear stories of people just quitting their day job and their business being successful straight away, then one of two things are true: either they are lying or they started building the business (or building up their contacts in a specific sector) long before they officially launched it. Remember what I said about pain and reward, the reward makes us forget the pain and that is true of successful entrepreneurs telling their stories. On the Vegan Business Tribe website, we have our Vegan Business Academy with all our member-only content. Within that, we have a ‘scale-up’ section where I interviewed successful vegan companies about how they scaled up their business. When I interviewed Tom from Miami Burger about how they got their product into the supermarkets, he just casually mention that he emailed one of the big supermarket chains who invited them down for a chat and loved their product and decided to take it on. And of course, it just doesn’t happen like that – so when I pulled him up and asked him for more detail he then recalled the hundreds (if not thousands) of unanswered emails they wrote before that one, all the pitches that went nowhere, the relationship-building and contact-making that actually got him and his team into that meeting – and it was in fact closer to a two-year process to get taken on by their first supermarket. But he wasn’t trying to mislead me when he said he just dropped an email to the supermarket and got a meeting, it’s all about pain and reward again. The reward of getting that first deal made him forget all the pain. But that also means when you hear all these success stories and your experience isn’t matching them, then you think that what you’re doing isn’t working. When the reality is you’re likely following the very same path that they did, just they missed all the pain and negatives out of their success story.
 
So if you get the chance, talk to the successful people in your industry and get the real story of how long it took them to find that success. I guarantee it will be longer than you think. Go listen to Podcasts like NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz, which really quizzes the entrepreneurs of some of the world’s biggest brands about how they built their companies. Each interview is a long list of missteps, failed ideas and learnings that led the entrepreneur to the thing that we now know today.
 
So as long as you are seeing progression, then it’s probably not time to give up on your idea yet. But you need to be prepared for the long game. It’s probably going to take you longer than you think to find success so you need to make plans and preparation to accommodate that. You might need additional sources of income, so don’t just quit your job with a few month’s worth of savings in the bank and expect to have replaced your income with your new business before that money runs out!
 
And knowing if your business IS progressing or not is key here, so you need to set up ways to monitor your progress. You need to have key performance indicators, or KPIs, that can be tracked and monitored to see if you are moving forwards. You need to keep clear records of your progress. Track your sales month to month, quarter to quarter and year to year – paying real attention to the longer trends rather than the shorter ones. Compare your sales quarter to quarter or year on year, not week to week. Growth has a lot of inertia – it often starts small and slow and is easy to miss in the early days if you are not paying close attention.
 
And those key performance indicators don’t have to be just your sales, there are many indications of growth and progress within a business. Monitor your cost of sale (ie how much it costs you to make your product or deliver your service) and if that’s going down then your business might be growing without you actually seeing an increase in the number of sales. Track the number of visitors to your website, the number of social media followers you have, the number of enquiries you are receiving or the number of mentions your company gets in the media. Record the number of podcasts you’ve been interviewed on and your average product review scores… if all of these less-tangibles are going up then the sales will follow.
 
But success isn’t just about money. Don’t get me wrong, success NEEDS money, we all need money, and let me tell you – you can do a lot more good in the world with a profit than you can ever do with a loss. But also monitor the positive impact in the world that your business is making too. And this is really important. At Vegan Business Tribe, Lisa keeps a document of all the things we have helped our members to do, from getting funded to launching collaborations together. And if we ever wonder if what we’re doing is worth it, we go and read back over that document. We call it our wins list, and after a couple of years of running Vegan Business Tribe, it’s already a long list!
 
So there are lots of ways to monitor the progress of your business – and you need to make sure you are doing this so that you are not giving up on something that is actually starting to work without you realising it. And understand that this will take time, but as long as you can SEE that progress then that will give you the reward your brain needs to forget about the pain. That’s why we always ask our Vegan Busines Tribe members to share their wins in our community hub, and then Lisa shouts about those wins in our member emails and on social media – they need to be celebrated as tangible growth landmarks in your business to keep the momentum going.
 
So if you are looking at your key performance indicators, and not just your sales but everything else you are monitoring too, and they are showing growth then just keep doing what you’re doing but find ways to expedite that progress. And don’t just look at week to week or month to month figures, look at quarter to quarter and year on year. Compare where you are now to where you were twelve months ago, not just sales and money in the bank but in terms of learning and experience.
 
If however, you are tracking all these things in your business and at the end of the year you are in no better place than at the start, then… do something about it.
 
That doesn’t necessarily mean quit, but it does mean don’t just keep doing what you’re doing hoping it will improve.
 
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again and expecting to get different results. And I think this is what leads many people to quit – the business is not getting the progress that we want, but we’re not willing to make the big changes that we need to make either. Remember what we said earlier about needing to either prove or disprove your idea as soon as possible, if you’ve been plugging away at something for a couple of years and it’s just not working – then change it. THAT is the reason why we have our own businesses, to be in control of those businesses. You are LITERALLY the person in charge, you have the agency to make ANY change in your business. But we forget that.
 
So if something isn’t working, and you’ve given it the time and effort to prove that, then your first thought shouldn’t be to quit, it should be to change. In that time you will have built up experience, you will have started to build up a brand and connections in your industry, you will have built up knowledge and are now in a far better place to take all that new career capital and put it into practice. What would you change in your business if you were starting again today – well, you can just do that now. You have the power to change whatever you like in your business. Do you offer a service that’s not working for you but you’ve got a load of clients using it, you can send them all an email with the date of when that service will end or sell those clients to someone else who offers a similar service and is more dedicated to it than you are. Are you selling a product that is just not selling no matter how much positive feedback and exposure you are getting – then realise that maybe it’s not the product that people want but your knowledge and expertise that lead you to make that product in the first place. Maybe you can teach people how to make the products themselves and save yourself all the cost of manufacturing and shipping.
 
You can literally do ALL of this. If you believe that you have the final say over quitting your business, then you also have the final say over changing it too. You are not a potted plant, you don’t have to just stay where you were put. So take what you have learned and use that to iterate and evolve what you are doing.  If you believe you have disproved an idea then move onto the next thing and work to prove or disprove that.
 
It’s easy to let your business paint you into a corner, to get to the point where you are doing everything you can to keep up but not able to do anything to move forward. So before you decide it’s time to quit, instead, ask is it just time to take action? Have you proven or disproven your business idea? If you have proven it, then take all the reasons why you started your vegan business in the first place and use that energy and enthusiasm to move it to the next level – which may include having to get out of your own way if you’re the bottleneck. Or if you have disproven the business (and you will only know that for sure if you are tracking your metrics and KPIs) then wrap it up, take the valuable things you have learned and move onto the next idea. Don’t get your business stuck in the limbo in between the two.
 
OK, so this is going to be a really important topic for some people, so let’s go back and have a bullet-point run down of how to decide if it’s time to quit or not:
 
  1. Business is hard. Ask anyone who has built a successful business what their advice would be for anyone else thinking about starting a business and they might just answer: “don’t”. And they probably won’t even be joking.
  2. Remember the pain and reward cycle. When you have success, the reward of that makes you forget the pain it took to get it. When you don’t have that success, that’s when building a business gets really hard. If you can’t see progress, if you don’t feel any success, then that pain and reward cycle just gives you the pain.
  3. But the reality is very few people come up with an idea for a business, then go out and find success where they thought they were going to find it. You might start a business doing one thing, but the thing that brings you success is an opportunity you have yet to discover. And finding out what this thing is might take time and it might take exploration.
  4. The pain and reward cycle is also what makes successful entrepreneurs forget how hard it was to build their business when they tell their stories – meaning that they will often skip over the obstacles they faced or give a true indication of how long it took. So go listen to Podcasts like NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz which really quizzes entrepreneurs of some of the world’s biggest brands to tell their true stories – it will put your own struggles in perspective!
  5. You need to be prepared for the long game. It’s probably going to take you longer than you think to find success so you need to make plans and preparation to accommodate that. You might need additional sources of income, and definitely don’t just quit your job with a few months’ worth of savings in the bank!
  6. Knowing if your business is progressing or not is key. You need to track key performance indicators, or KPIs, to give you the reality of your business. Compare your sales quarter to quarter or year on year, not week to week or month to month. Growth has a lot of inertia – it often starts small and slow and is easy to miss in the early days.
  7. Those key performance indicators don’t have to be just your sales, there are many indications of growth and progress within a business. Monitor your cost of sale, the number of visitors to your website and your average product review scores… if all of these less-tangibles are going up then sales will follow.
  8. If you are monitoring your key performance indicators and they are showing growth then keep doing what you’re doing but find ways to expedite that progress. If however, you are tracking all these things in your business and at the end of the year you are in no better place than at the start, then do something. You are LITERALLY the person in charge!
  9. If something isn’t working, and you’ve given it the time and effort to prove that, then your first thought shouldn’t be to quit, it should be to change. Don’t get painted into a corner in your business, if you have a service that’s not working for you but you’ve got a load of clients using it, you can send them all an email with the date of when that service will end or sell those clients to someone else.
  10. If you have proven your business idea then move it to the next level – which may include having to move you out of parts of the business if you’re the bottleneck. Or if you have disproven the business then wrap it up and move on to the next idea. Don’t get your business stuck in the limbo in between the two.
 
And that is it!
 
So, is it time to quit, or is it time to change? Are you even tracking the metrics in your business to know if it’s progressing or not? Are you holding your business back by forgetting you are the one making the decisions? Because remember, when you have a vegan business lives are literally at stake. Your success with your vegan business is what helps us move the vegan scene forward, so isn’t it time to take it seriously? That’s why Lisa and I started Vegan Business Tribe, we see VBT as our form of activism, OUR way to help the vegan cause with the skills we had developed over the last twenty-plus years of business. So, if you want support and you are not already a member with us over on veganbusinesstribe.com, then head over to the website and see how you can get involved with us so that we can help your vegan business move forward too. No matter where you are in the world and even if you just have an idea for a vegan business at the moment, you’ll be more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with other people who are on the same journey that you are.
 
So thank you so much for listening, as you know it really means a lot to Lisa and I that we’ve got so many people on this journey with us and you give up your time every week to listen, and I will see you – on the next one!

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