Understanding ‘the ripple effect’ in business

Running a business is hard. You’re often faced with doubt and there are times when you feel like you’re not making any progress. But some of the things that you are doing now are creating ripples that you won’t fully appreciate until the future.

We look at the ripple effect and how you can leverage it.

You can watch or listen to this article as a podcast instead.

If you talk to any business owner, they will tell you that running a business is hard. It’s possibly the hardest way for you to earn money. 

You are often faced with doubt. There will be lots of times you think about quitting and, sometimes, it’s really hard to feel like you’re having any impact. Your social media interaction feels like it’s plateaued. You’re not getting a response to your email campaigns. Those enquiries just haven’t started dropping in on their own yet and it’s easy to think ‘what’s the point in all this? I’m not making any real progress here’.

That’s because some progress is really hard to measure and you won’t realise the impact you’re having until, maybe even, a number of years later. Let me give you an example about someone who had a big impact on Vegan Business Tribe, John Awen.

John was a heroin and crack cocaine addict for 12 years. He abused his body to the point where he had three heart attacks and contracted hepatitis. He was stabbed, shot and served 9 different prison convictions during that time. It was being shot that finally shocked him out of his lifestyle and addiction and he moved to a smallholding where he raised his own animals for slaughter. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – this doesn’t sound like someone who we’d know as Vegan Business Tribe. And if you ever meet John Awen, then he’s six foot tall, has a shaved head and covered in tattoos. But John had such an impact on our life that we named our daughter Awen after him. 

And that’s because it was while John was raising his own farmed animals that he made that connection between the innocent animal and the food on your plate. He became vegan overnight after having that revelation and vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to being an advocate for the animals and to make amends for his life so far. John is now a vegan activist, author and very powerful speaker. One interview he did with LadBible got over 3 and a half million views on YouTube. 


The power of ripples

So obviously John’s got a really powerful story, but why am I telling you all this? Well, Lisa and I first met John at our local vegan fair. That year, John spoke at 55 events in 52 weeks up and down the country, mostly unpaid. Sometimes he’d find himself speaking to a roomful of people, other times he’d just get one or two people turning up to hear him talk. But the title of his talk that year was ‘Why being vegan isn’t enough’. Lisa and I had only been vegan ourselves for a year maybe at that time. We sat and listened to John tell his personal story and explain why, if you want to end animal cruelty,  just going vegan yourself isn’t enough. You have to become an advocate, you have to convince others to become vegan too using whatever skill set you have. John’s skill is talking, he’s a really powerful communicator, but your skill might be art, or it might be video-making, or it might be finance and accounts, whatever it is – you have to use the skills you’ve already got to move the vegan cause forwards.


His words hit us hard that day. We were sat there, smugly thinking we’d done our bit by turning vegan, but it made Lisa and I realise we were only at the start of our journey. We shut down our marketing agency and changed direction. We’d not have started Vegan Business Tribe if we hadn’t heard John’s talk that day, but the punch-line to the story is that John didn’t actually know that he’d made that happen. We were just two faces sat at the back of the room one weekend in the sea-side town of Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. It wasn’t until a year afterwards when we met John again and I told him it was his talk that inspired us to launch Vegan Business Tribe.

John is now a good friend. As I said, we named our daughter Awen after him (the photo shows the first time they met!) and I’ve never known a more compassionate person that the man John is now. But he had no idea about the ‘ripple’ he created that day. To him, that day at the Scarborough Vegan Fair would have been fairly unrememberable. There wasn’t a huge amount of people sat in the session, he didn’t have a book to sell and he could have easy driven back home having thought it was a waste of his time. But without John, we wouldn’t be here today as Vegan Business Tribe doing all the good work we’re doing.

You don't always know the impact you are having

I’ve told that story a number of times without fully realising the lesson of it myself: you will never fully know what impact you are having. You will never be able to monitor who your business is having an impact on. Maybe your YouTube video only got 12 views – but what impact did it have on those 12 people? Maybe you gave a talk at an event and only had a handful of people in the audience, but what did those handful of people go on to do with your information. We are just one example, but how many other ripples do you think John has created in his time as an advocate that he never even knew about?

I’ll give you another example. When someone joins us at Vegan Business Tribe I always like to have a Zoom call with them to welcome them to the Tribe, find out what their business is and to see how we can help. But, being a marketeer, it also allows me to find out how they first heard about us and what it was that made them sign-up. And I one person who signed up with us is Jason Rustage from Gourmet Poké.

We were talking about his business on the welcome call, the success he’d had so far, and I asked him how he got started. He told me he’d come to a seminar I’d given a year earlier at VegFestUK about how to start a vegan business. He’d taken lots of notes, quit his day job, and started his business using the advice I’d given. And, just for a moment, I was taken aback. I remembered giving talk but I didn’t remember Jason from the day – but he’d gone and done all that on the back of the seminar that I’d given, and a year later, here he was with a successful vegan business and signing-up as a full member of Vegan Business Tribe.

I’ve had that happen to me a number of times now. Someone who came to one of our events 12 months ago, or has been following us online for a while without having ever engaged with us, joins us as a new member and I’ve not known the positive impact that we’ve been having on their life or their business until that point. Our reach as an organisation is much bigger than I realise, and when many of our members sign-up, they will mention an event they saw me speak at or maybe saw a competition we ran on LinkedIn a year ago – or maybe they had a conversation with me on a stand six-months earlier at an event that I’d forgotten about.


Those ripples pay dividends years later

I’ve learnt that these ‘ripples’ accumulate over time. For example, I’ve still got people mentioning that they first saw me at Vegan Camp Out two years ago, walking around with my big banner-stand on my back. I had one person tell me that they had kept one of our printed guides on their desk for over a year to keep them thinking about the idea of setting up a vegan business. Conversations that I’d long forgotten about end up paying dividends long after. And when I go to a vegan event, usually one or two people who I don’t know will tell me that they listen to our podcast or follow us on social and it always makes my day.

You might feel that no-one is listening. You might feel that you're not having any impact. You'd be wrong.

You don't know who is watching

It’s not just about never fully appreciating how many people you are reaching, often when it seems like your marketing and your messages are reaching no-one, it’s also that you don’t know who you are reaching either. I still remember my reaction when I first spoke to Seth Tibbott, the founder of Tofurky, one of the biggest vegan food brands in the USA, and he told me that he was on our mailing list and reads our emails. Or when one of the founders of ProVeg, one of the largest organisations in the world who are looking to change the food system, with offices in 10 countries, came over to say hello to me at a conference and tell me he was a fan of what we were doing with Vegan Business Tribe. Those are always real ‘wow’ moments, and my response is always something like, “how have you even heard of us?!”.

So you might feel that no-one is listening, you might feel that you’re not having any impact. And you’d be wrong. Just by having a vegan business you are influencing and impacting people every day. You are creating ripple, but sometimes, you might not know what the impact is until possibly years later.

It’s not just about getting new customers though. The ripple effect can also play a really important role in professional development and your career too. Think about how often you talk about your achievements to your wider network? How often do you post your wins and the work you do on LinkedIn for example? Do you regularly show everyone who’s digitally connected to you how your business is growing and the good work you are doing? A prolonged period of doing that will really influence people’s opinion of you. If you’re looking for a new role, then do you think someone who’s seen you smashing it for your current business every day for the past twelve months is going to pass up the chance to talk to you when you’re looking for your next opportunity? When you come to talk to your first investor, don’t you think that conversation is going to go a lot better if they have already seen you posting about how well your brand is doing every week for the last couple of years?


And this is something you are completely in control of. The ripple effect doesn’t have to be serendipitous. You will see some of the vegan food brand founders are brilliant at doing this. Go look up the LinkedIn profiles of Better Nature Tempeh Co-Founder Chris Kong, or Joe Hill from One Planet Pizza, and see how much good stuff they post almost every day about how their businesses are doing, the wins they have and the setbacks they are overcoming too. They don’t know exactly who’s seeing those posts, but it creates what Chris Kong calls a ‘halo effect’ around them and the business.

Creating and leveraging those ripples for yourself

So how do we leverage the ripple effect for our own business? Well the first thing you have to do is create those ripples! You have to be visible. You have to get out there and that means getting out from behind your computer keyboard. Do tradeshows and events, meet people face to face. Go where your customers are and work out how to get in to the same room as the movers and shakers in your industry. Think: what can you do that’s going to get yourself and your brand seen by hundreds of people? Thousands of people? What can you do to get your business in the news on a regular basis, be that your local news station or your industry’s trade magazine. And if you need help doing that then watch this workshop on how to get your vegan business in the news from vegan PR expert Karin Ridgers.


The key to the ripple effect is regularity and consistency. Remember what I said about John Awen and how he spoke at 54 events in 52 weeks up and down the country? Sometimes he’d just have a couple of people in the room. It didn’t matter, ripples start small. I’ve taken a stall at events where I thought it had been a waste of time – and then 6 months later it turns out that’s where a new great contact remembered first meeting me.

The second thing to do is leverage that visibility. A lot of our VBT members here in the UK first learned about Vegan Business Tribe by spotting me out and about wearing the Vegan Business Tribe back-pack banner stand (see photo). This is a regular backpack, but mounted to the back is a meter-tall banner that I had printed up with the Vegan Business Tribe branding and message on. I put this on and head out to a vegan even and it’s like a magnet to anyone there who has a business or is thinking about starting one – I have conversation after conversation with people. But sometimes, someone will manage to nip behind me and take a photo of the banner and then run off again before I’ve had chance to say hello. And I kick myself when that happens, because I know that is someone who’s interested in what we do but I haven’t managed to get them into our marketing eco-system. Because hoping for that person to get home after the event and remember they took a photo of something that interested them, then hoping they will go to our website, then hoping they will at least sign up to our mailing list or even join our membership… well, that’s a lot of hoping! And hoping that probably isn’t going to happen.

Instead, I want to capture the details of anyone who’s interested. So when I’m out and about with my banner on my back, I also have a pocket full of postcards that I ask anyone I speak with to fill out so that I can send them more information. This way, I don’t have to hope that they will take action, I will take that action for them. I get their permission to put them on our VBT mailing list, then they are going to get an email from me every week with really useful content for their business while at the same time allowing us to start showing them the benefits of joining up with us at Vegan Business Tribe. They have entered out eco-system, they have joined the top of our funnel so we can help push that ripple along!

You have to create those ripples. You have to be visible. You have to get out there and that means getting out from behind your computer keyboard.

Turn those ripples into tsunamis

Marketing and promotion can be hard. It seems like your company is creating all this content and going to all these events and posting away on LinkedIn and nothing is really happening. But let me tell you, it’s only now that I’ve been doing all that myself for Vegan Business Tribe for the past four years solid that I truly feel the benefit of the ripple effect. I now go to an event and lots of people seem to know me that I’ve never met before, and that makes any ‘sales’ conversation I’m having with them a whole lot easier because that familiarity and trust is already there. When I meet great contacts who I know can help my business, they speak to me like I’m a close friend even when it’s the first time I’ve spoken to them – heck, I didn’t even know they they were aware of what we do!

So it might seem like you’re slaving away talking to no-one, but as long as you are creating ripples, over time, those ripples can turn into tsunamis. 

A bullet point recap of what we’ve covered in this article:

  1. Sometimes, it’s really hard to feel like you’re having any impact. There will be lots of times you think about quitting but that’s because a lot of the progress you are making and the impact you are having is hard to measure. It won’t be visible for some time to come.
  2. Remember my story about John Awen. He didn’t know that he’d inspired us to create Vegan Business Tribe until years later – in fact if he’d have dropped out of the vegan scene, disheartened at how many people were turning up to his talks, he’d probably never known at all!
  3. Ripples accumulate over time. An event you did a year ago or a trade show that you thought was a waste of time might have been the time that your dream new customer found out about you, but you didn’t know until much later.
  4. It’s not just about how many people you are reaching as a business, it’s about who you are reaching as a business. You might be surprised who’s taken notice of your LinkedIn posts or who’s read about you in the news or seen you at a tradeshow without you knowing who they were.
  5. And some of those people may go on to have a key part in your business or career future. If you’re talking to your first investor and they are already familiar with the good work you do, even if they have never interacted with you before, then that conversation is going to be a lot easier!
  6. You have to create those ripples yourself. Be regular, be consistent, be visible. And often that means getting out from behind your computer keyboard.
  7. You then need to leverage those ripples. If anyone is showing interest in what you do then get them on your mailing list. Collect their details. Don’t wait until they remember you and come back 12 months later, get them into your funnel now to speed that process up!
  8. Be patient. It’s only four years in as a business that I’m now starting to realise the huge value of the ripples that we started, some of them, several years ago. Over time, those ripples can turn into tsunamis.

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