How to collaborate with other vegan businesses
‘Vegan’ is not just an industry sector, it’s a movement – and we know that we can achieve more when we work together. There are lots of ways you can collaborate with other vegan businesses to create a bigger audience for both of you – and sometimes, a bigger mission.
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We’ve seen lots of vegan companies collaborating recently – one vegan business 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 that is complementary to your own means you both get access to each other’s audiences in a really constructive and supportive way.
And that is the thing with vegan businesses: this is a sector unlike any other you might have operated in. Not only are us vegans usually a lovely bunch of people who want to create a fairer, cruelty-free world with our businesses, 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. The concept of ‘competition’ between vegan businesses is completely different to any other industry. I have never heard a vegan travel advisor say: “I’ve just seen someone else start up as a vegan travel company 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 and work together whenever they can because they are all on the same mission. This is important because although success in business is usually tied to making money, with vegan companies success is also measured in what change you can create in the world. And if someone else is working to create that change too, then they are less the competition and more a colleague.
When we run our Vegan Business Tribe networking meetings on Zoom, everyone is smiling at the end 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, someone is in competition with someone else – they are on the same mission. And the market is big enough. Even if you’re selling just to vegans, 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?! Moving beyond vegan customers, up to 90% of 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 do 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 working together will help you better define what you are selling and to find 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, some deliver tours themselves, others book people onto other people’s. Being close to ‘your competition’ helps you keep your offering unique.
But usually, when we’re talking about collaboration we’re talking about companies coming together who don’t sell the same thing but 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 reading these few examples, I bet you’re already thinking about what kind of link-ups you could do with other vegan businesses that would benefit both of you.
One of my favourite recent examples of collaboration is One Planet Pizza. One Planet Pizza were the UK’s first vegan frozen pizza company and you can buy their pizzas from various stores throughout the UK. They also have a direct-to-consumer option which 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 directly 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 being couriered out to plant-based customers. Not only is this a great way to get customers to try more vegan products 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, and the company whose samples are being included 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’s a win/win for both companies.
But One Planet have gone further than this to actually team up with other companies to make a pizza together! Two companies that really hit the big time with vegan products in the UK were Meatless Farm and Applewood’s Vegan Cheese. When Applewood cheese launched it sold out 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 the pizza from One Planet Pizza but you can also buy it from Meatless Farm through their own direct-to-consumer website – letting both companies reach a far bigger market.
Meatless Farm and One Planet 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 suppliers that you are already using – can you make more of this relationship? Instead of someone just supplying their product to you as an ingredient, can you start shouting about the fact that this company’s products are in yours and get them to shout about it too? Can you be partners in developing a new product together rather than just having a customer/supplier relationship?
Or if you sell a service, can you include someone else’s product as part of your offering or 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 an ethical collective and sell a joint website and content package from which you all benefit and promote?
A cause-led collaboration not only gives back to what we all care about but also means that you can raise the profile of both businesses without trying to 'sell' to each other’s contacts.
Maybe you are in hospitality? If you run a vegan B&B then could you become the vegan hub for your area? What other local businesses can you team up with? Can you come together with a local restaurant to send your guests to them for their vegan evening meal, maybe you could even help them develop a better vegan menu? You could even include the meal 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 vegan companies because you’ve immediately got a point of commonality – you are already on the same mission. And if coming together means you can build a bigger mission then you will be surprised 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 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. But if you don’t have the profits yet, then donate your time instead!
Take a look at Viva La Vegan clothing. They created a special clothing 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 not yet found that 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 rather than just earning a living in the vegan sector. Blué O’Connor runs Kings Grooming, a vegan company selling male grooming products. But Blué is also the founder of Talk Club, a support network that brings men together to discuss their mental health. To promote Talk Club, Blué teamed up with Bristol Beer Factory to create an alcohol-free vegan beer called ‘Clear Head’, and 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.”
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 finding someone who is already talking to your target audience and asking them if they will be 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. 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 by now, this should have 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 having a previous relationship. It 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.
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 on Zoom to find a room full of vegans all looking to link up with other vegan businesses. Create your own support group of people who 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 in the real world and online. 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!
Start with something simple. Put the quick and obvious things into action first. Perhaps just do a joint online event or demo and invite each other’s customers to it to see how you get on.
And if you have a platform yourself (just like One Planet Pizza had 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 media, 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 those consumers’ 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 first. 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 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.
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 Forest Green Rovers football club including the logo of vegan charity Sea Sheperd 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 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?
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