How to start a vegan business
Many people dream of aligning their ethics with how they make a living. It used to be that vegan businesses were restricted to food, drink or beauty products – but now you can find everything from vegan web designers to vegan accountants.
Read this guide to find out how you too can join the vegan business revolution!
Before we look at how to start a vegan business, we first need to talk about why.
When you have a vegan business, you have something that other business owners don’t have: a burning passion to make the world a fairer, cruelty-free place. 200 million land animals are killed to be eaten every single day. Successful vegan business owners don’t just see their business as a company (or a job that aligns with their ethics), it’s our form of activism. When you have a vegan business, lives are literally at stake.
Starting your own business is hard, harder than you could ever imagine. And it’s likely going to take you a lot longer than you think to find success with it.
So we need a big motivator. And for most of us, those animals losing their lives every day, or being treated like throw-away sentient commodities, is the thing that will make you keep going when others give up.
Motivation isn’t the only thing you need
Money may not be the most important thing in the world to you, but in terms of human survival, it is ranked up there just after oxygen.
But for whatever reason, vegans don’t seem to like making money, especially if we’re trying to make money from other vegans. But think of money like electricity: the moment it stops, everything in your business stops. It’s over.
If your business does not generate enough money to give yourself and your team a comfortable standard of living, then it’s not viable as a long-term business. You will either run out of money or you will burn out. And if either of those things happen, then all the good work you set out to do stops. Trust me, you can do far more good in the world with a profit than you will ever do with a loss.
Will you find enough customers for vegan products and services?
Depending on which study you read, only 3-6% of the population identify as vegan. So if you’ve got a vegan business, or you are selling a vegan product, it’s natural to wonder if that’s going to be a big enough marketplace for you to have a viable business. If you just plan on selling to vegans, then maybe not. The reality, however, is that the biggest marketplace for vegan products and services is non-vegans.
For example, Beyond Meat’s own research showed that 93% of the people buying their vegan burgers were meat eaters. We know from other studies in both the UK and US that 90% of vegan food is bought by non-vegans. More than 50% of the population in the UK display some degree of vegan buying behaviour, such as doing meat-free days or swapping out dairy milk for oat or soy. And the majority of vegan service businesses usually build their biggest customer base amongst non-vegans too. Even people who run vegan cafes and hotels will tell you that the majority of their customers are not vegan.
You could argue that if you launch a vegan business that is just selling to vegans, then you’ve missed the point of having a vegan business in the first place. So are there enough customers who are interested in buying vegan products and services? Absolutely, but the majority of them are not going to be vegan. Your business, however, might play an important part in their journey in becoming so.
How to find your niche
A niche is your company’s specialism, the thing that you are really focused on that sets you apart from others. And no, your ‘niche’ is not that you, or your products, are vegan.
If you think that being vegan is going to make your business unique, then you’re several years too late. We already have lots of vegan graphic designers, nutritionists and cake makers. If there’s any possible type of business, then I guarantee that by now someone has already made a vegan version of it.
So how do you find a niche for your business if just being vegan isn’t enough? Well, in many cases your niche finds you. There will be certain clients that you work with where it goes really well and you think you’d probably do well with others in the same industry. Or you find that customers keep asking for a really specific thing that no-one else really offers yet.
But also think about what you understand that other people don’t. Did you run a restaurant for several years so you know how to sell a product or service to restaurant owners? Then make selling to restaurant owners your niche. Don’t throw away all the career capital you’ve built over the years, instead ask how can you use your deep understanding of an industry you’ve already got experience in to give you a real edge over competitors?
Or sometimes people find their niche because they tried to find a solution for their own problem and couldn’t. But if this is where your idea for a business came from then beware! There might be a good reason why no-one else is selling the thing you wanted to buy – you might think you have found a gap in the market, but you must check if there’s a market in the gap first!
Most businesses find success by going through a series of failures. Your job is to go through that process before you spend a lot of time and money on your idea.
Proving your idea will work
The first steps of launching any business is to prove if your idea is going to work or not. Most businesses find success by going through a series of failures first. Your job, as an entrepreneur or new business owner, is to go through that process before you spend a lot of time and money on your idea.
Any assumptions you make before you get your product into the hands of paying consumers is no more than a guess. You are making guesses on what people will want to buy, how much they are willing to pay and what marketing messages they are going to connect with – and more often than not, those guesses are going to be completely wrong.
So if you spend money on having a new website built or a new brand created before you have tried to sell a single thing, you’d have been better taking that money down to the casino – because you would have got better odds of seeing a return on it.
Maybe your friends and relatives have all said your product is amazing and that you should sell it; well let’s see what people who don’t know and love you say first, shall we? Take your product to your local vegan fair, in whatever stage it is at, and see if you can sell it. Does it get the reaction from strangers that you hoped it would?
And if you are selling a service, the same rule applies. Engage with potential customers and see if you can get them to buy from you first before spending money on developing a brand – because once you get to know the customer and what they actually want, you might discover the brand you had in mind was completely wrong.
It’s really important that you learn all of this before you start spending time and money on your business. Would you rather spend six months and a couple of thousand pounds getting your packaging just how you want it, or would you rather get an early version of your product into the hands of people next weekend to find out if they even care about it in the first place?
The realities of funding
Programmes like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank have a lot to answer for! Because of these kinds of business entertainment shows, people think that if you come up with a good idea then some investor will give you tens (or even hundreds) of thousands to get it off the ground. And if this is what you are hoping for with your vegan business, then I’m afraid you are going to be in for a disappointment.
No investor is going to give you money just so you can see if your idea works, no matter how much confidence you have that it will.
An investor is looking for companies that have already gone through the initial start-up risk themselves, and have come out the other side having commercially proven their idea by amassing a paying customer base. An investor needs to see that putting money into a business will enable the company to scale up the success they have already created. For example, that more money will allow a company to expand their manufacturing facilities to win even bigger contracts.
So if you want to get investment, you need to develop your business to a stage of initial success before an investor will be interested to help you take it to the next level.
Many companies might think about crowd-funding their business idea. Crowd-funding can work, but keep in mind that only 20% of crowd-funding campaigns hit their target. 10% of campaigns don’t even receive a single pledge. That’s because for a crowd-funder to be successful, you need to already have a crowd (the clue is in the name!). The crowd-funding platforms are not going to drive traffic to your page, it’s all down to you to do that. So if you’re an established business with a big social following, there’s a good chance that crowd-funding will work. If you’re a new start-up with an audience of anywhere less than tens of thousands of people, then it’s going to be a struggle.
The unglamorous reality is that most successful businesses start out by self-funding. Or if the business needed money to start up, then they borrowed money. That might be money from a bank loan, friends, family, your life savings or even re-mortgaging your house. And if that is where the money is coming from, then you can see how important it is to prove your idea first. Because if you max out your credit cards to launch a business and all your guesses were wrong, then you still have to pay that money back.
Funding is out there. There are even individuals and organisations who only invest in vegan companies. But you need to prove your idea first by building an early customer base before you will be able to convince other people to invest in it.
If you’re struggling to make a start, or you’re trying to get everything perfect before you launch, then remember that it is perfectly acceptable to build your business in public these days.
The business you launch will likely be completely different a couple of years down the line anyway. It’s going to change, it’s going to pivot, it’s going to evolve. And your most loyal customers will be the ones who have followed your journey right from the start. So even if you don’t know what your business is going to be yet, build an audience.
Share your thoughts in a short video on social media every morning (recorded at the bus stop!) and see what kind of people you attract with them. You can start sharing your product ideas with your followers and get their feedback and input on what you are making. Start to build an audience, and then engage with that audience to find out what problems they have and what they would pay for.
Many people say a lack of time stops them getting started, but if you really want to get a business off the ground then try swapping-out your unproductive time.
Any activities that you currently do after 8.00pm (streaming TV, scrolling social media, playing video games) probably aren’t getting you any closer to launching your business. Instead, try going to bed at 9.00pm and setting your alarm for 4.00am. Not only are you still getting your seven hours of sleep, but you will get an exclusive three hours in the morning when no-one is sending you emails or asking you to make them breakfast. Do that for a single week and you’ve generated an extra 15 hours to work on your business.
Don’t think that you are doing this on your own. You will be far more successful if you surround yourself with other people who are on the same journey as you are.
If you come up against a problem, then hundreds of other business owners will have come up against the same problem and found the way around it. So reach out to others that are also on an ethical vegan business journey for their help, ideas, advice and moral support. Learn from them and let them keep you accountable.
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