What we've learned from the first two years of running Vegan Business Tribe
As Vegan Business Tribe celebrates its second birthday, we pick out the top five things we’ve learned about running a vegan business over that time – from why you need to remain flexible about what business you are building through to why the biggest thing holding your business back might just be yourself.
You can also hear this article as a podcast
Can you believe that Vegan Business Tribe is two years old this week? This milestone seems like the perfect opportunity to share some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the last two years – not specifically how to build a podcast and membership website (if you want to know the full story of how we launched Vegan Business Tribe and built our audience then you can hear that on episode 22 of the podcast) but from running a vegan business in general.
We know that a lot of our members like to learn from seeing what we’re testing and what works and what doesn’t, which is why we’re always sharing things like the listening stats from our podcast in our Community Hub. So we’ve picked out the five things that have been real lessons to us over this past two years. Some are things we already knew, but creating and building Vegan Business Tribe has really hammered a lot of those lessons home.
Looking ahead to the five points we’ve picked out they might not be what you expect! They are not things like ‘do more social media’ or ‘make sure you’ve got a good website’. Yes, that’s all an important part of growing your business but we’re going to be a little more specific. So let’s jump right in to the top five things that we have learned from the last two years of building Vegan Business Tribe.
1. Be flexible about what business you think you are building
Very few people come up with a business plan, go out and build the business they planned and then find success exactly where they thought they were going to find it. No business works right out of the box: most successful companies have zig-zagged, pivoted and followed unexpected opportunities when they came across them on their road to success. And it’s been the same with our journey at Vegan Business Tribe. The Vegan Business Tribe we have now is not what we planned when we first started out two years ago – and I suspect that what we have now is not what Vegan Business Tribe will be in another two years.
We spent our first two years working in the vegan sector as consultants, helping some of the largest companies in the world understand the vegan marketplace. It wasn’t until Tim Barford of VegfestUK suggested that we spoke at an event on how to run a successful vegan business that the idea of Vegan Business Tribe was born. But we nearly turned down that opportunity to speak, because at the time that wasn’t who we thought we were. We were looking to get into more high-street brands to help them understand plant-based consumers and the vast majority of those businesses were not vegan themselves, so it was going to be of no benefit to give a presentation on how to have a successful vegan business because it just wasn’t going to attract the kind of corporate audience we were looking for. But giving that presentation attracted a whole new audience that we didn’t even know existed, and on that day in London we found our tribe.
Many businesses struggle to move forward because they put themselves in a shoebox of what they are and what they are not. They miss exploring new markets and opportunities because they just say ‘that’s not who we are’, when the thing that might make your business a wild success might be sat on a parallel to where you are now. But what’s holding you back is the picture in your mind of what business you are building.
So the next time you get an opportunity to explore something, follow that opportunity and see where it leads. If your customers keep making the same suggestion, don’t just reply with ‘we don’t do that’, think about what’s stopping you. Keep a flexibility in what you think the company is that you are building because if you are too inflexible in what you think your company is, you might walk right straight past a really important turn in your business’ journey. Of course, not everything is practical to deliver – but it only takes a handful of our Vegan Business Tribe members all mentioning the same thing to get us thinking about if it’s something we should look at testing out.
2. Network, because you never know where it will lead
Building our network has played a massive role in growing Vegan Business Tribe, and the more we’ve networked the more we’ve learned to network more! Whenever we have interviewed someone who has built a successful vegan business, they’ve told us about the (sometimes hundreds) of meetings they had with people which seemed a waste of time – until they proved not to be. And this is what we’ve found with Vegan Business Tribe also.
A meeting with someone might lead to that person sending us an invite to speak at an event six months later. A Zoom call with someone where there were no obvious opportunities at the time has often resulted in them thinking about us months (even years!) later when a great opportunity arose. A chat with someone has led to an introduction to someone else that we didn’t even know they were connected to, leading to meetings with vegan celebrities, business leaders and even Government officials.
So every week we reach out to people on LinkedIn that we think we’ve got some synergy with – and you will be amazed, as a vegan business, who you will be able to reach out to. Vegan Business Tribe member Callum Weir launched his Plant-Powered Podcast and reached out to vegan bodybuilder and New York Times Bestselling Author Robert Cheeke – and was amazed that Robert immediately accepted his invitation to come onto his new podcast. And you can only imagine what a boost that gave to his listener figures.
So dedicate time to building your network, reach out and have conversations with people on the same mission. And don’t be afraid to ask your contacts for introductions – we’ve got to know some of the people at the highest level of the vegan scene these last two years, and a lot of those conversations have come about by systematically spending time and energy on developing our connections. It might look to you like you’re a long way from talking to some of the people you would really like to get to know but start by just coming to our Vegan Business Tribe networking meet-ups on Zoom. You will be amazed who people in that room know and might introduce you to. You’re only ever a step or two away from pretty much anyone in the vegan scene, from activists to celebrities to investors and founders.
You’re only ever a step or two away from pretty much anyone in the vegan scene, from activists to celebrities to investors and founders.
3. Your time and energy are your most important resources
Now I know what you are thinking – we’re here telling you that you need to say yes to every opportunity and spend all day on calls finding new contacts, but the truth is that your time and your energy really are the most important resources in your business.
We get a lot of feedback that the reason people love Vegan Business Tribe is because of the positivity that we give out – and although we are genuinely positive people, we know that we can’t give that positive energy out if we’re not feeling positive ourselves. So we don’t want to waste that positive energy on tasks that bring us down or are not actually helping us or our members move forwards.
So we are always assessing how we spend our time, from answering emails to our monthly admin, and we ask ourselves a single question: can I either automate this or get rid of it entirely? And it makes a massive difference to our productivity. For example, we don’t have an email inbox at Vegan Business Tribe, we have a ticketing system. Externally, it looks like we’ve got an inbox, you can send us an email and you’ll get a reply, but all those messages are handled by a ticketing system that has automatic replies set up, timed follow-on messages and templates which deal with 80% of the common everyday emails we get.
(And if it sounds like you need a bit of this kind of thinking in your business then go listen to episode 53 of our podcast: How to make more time.)
It’s not just emails that take up your time and energy, in fact you might want to start asking yourself about some of the bigger things in your business and if they are the best way to spend your energy. Does it need to be you still making your product? Or can you sub it out to someone else to give you more time to actually sell your product? Is doing your social media actually the best use of your time, or can you get someone else to do it in a more efficient way? Some of the most successful businesses you will see is where the founder does none of the day-to-day operations themselves; they use freelancers and subcontractors, and the first full-time member of staff they hire is someone to replace them as General Manager or CEO so that they can spend even more of their time on growing the business.
Zoey Henderson, founder of Fungtn Beer, has never brewed the company’s beer herself – she’s always subcontracted the manufacturing of the product and focused all her energy on growing the business. That’s because she knew where her skills lay. She knows the beverage industry inside out and saw the opportunity for a good vegan, alcohol-free craft beer. And she knew that if she was spending all her time making and bottling a product, she couldn’t be out in that industry making the connections and opening the doors that she needed to. So match your skills and your energies to the tasks in your business. And if something isn’t moving you forward or playing to your skills then automate it, give it to someone else or just get rid of it all together.
4. Measure and track – because you’re probably doing better than you think
When we talk with new members at Vegan Business Tribe they often say that they don’t feel they are doing very well as a business. A member with a new e-commerce shop might be worried that they only got ten orders in their first month. When we tell them that we know successful online retailers who took six months to get their first ten orders, then all of a sudden things don’t seem as bad! The problem is that they had nothing to compare to. Tracking our metrics has been really valuable with Vegan Business Tribe: knowing which months we see the most new members sign-ups; knowing the date we projected Vegan Business Tribe would have enough income to stand on its own two feet financially – these have all been so important in keeping pulling us forward.
Keeping a close eye on our metrics has also let us appreciate our longer trends: getting to 100 members took a lot of time and effort but it took half that time to get to two-hundred. However, we didn’t realise that until we laid our membership trends out in a spreadsheet. Do the same in your business: compare your sales today with your sales twelve months ago; take a look at the tasks that now seem routine but 12 months ago were huge obstacles. Because there’s a good chance that you are doing far better than you think even though, day-to-day, it might not feel that way.
Knowing your figures and metrics also means that you can plan forward too. Knowing ahead of time what money will be going in and out of your business is not just important to make sure that you don’t run out of money, but it’s also important to know what funds you have to invest back into the business. You might be worrying about your cash position but in reality it might be that you could be using the money you have sat in the bank to hire someone to do your social media properly, or to invest in that new software, or to get that new website built with all its automated time-saving systems. Or, even, to pay someone else to do the day-to-day running of your business so that you can focus on creating new opportunities.
5. Give yourself permission
This is a big one. And it might be the biggest thing we’ve learned over the last two years. It might take you a long time to realise that the biggest thing holding your business back right now, is you.
Too many people build a job for themselves instead of building a business. When you have your own business it is still easy to work like you have a boss looking over your shoulder, telling you that you have to clear your inbox every day and be at your desk from 8.30 in the morning until 5.30 at night. But when you have your own business, you can literally do anything you want. Not enjoying doing a service for your customers? Just stop offering it. Something in your business not working? Change it. Are your hours not suiting you? Work different ones. Are you at your least productive on Friday afternoons? Then go do something more productive with your time, make it your gym day or go play a round of golf. There is literally no one judging you. There is no one but yourself that needs to give you permission.
When you have your own business it is still easy to work like you have a boss looking over your shoulder. There is literally no one judging you. There is no one but yourself that needs to give you permission.
Most people have spent their working life as employees, so we get indoctrinated into the 9-5 culture. We do tasks because they are put in front of us, not because they are to our benefit. When most people become their own boss they become the worst most tyrannical boss they have ever had! Is something hanging over you every week, a task that you hate doing? Well you’re the boss, so change it, sub it out, automate it or just stop doing it. Once you realise that you are in control of how you spend your time it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your business. Is the CRM system you use giving you a lot of manual tasks? Go find a better one and swap over to it – you don’t have to keep using it just because it’s what the company has always used. It’s £50 a month more expensive? Well, how much time a month is it going to save you and what do you value your time at? And who are you trying to make a case to?! You need to get permission from absolutely no one but yourself.
It’s not just a liberating experience, but it’s a necessary one too. As business owners, we find that it’s often the case that the biggest obstacle in the business is ourselves. So give yourself permission – permission to take time out, to change what you do with your time or even change your whole business if that’s what’s needed.
Let’s have a bullet point recap of what we’ve just covered in this article:
- Be flexible in what company you’re building. We can let so many opportunities go by because we’re too inflexible in the view of what business we’re growing. Be open to those opportunities, accept those invitations that might run parallel to what you are doing at the moment and see where they go. That service that your customers keep asking for but you keep saying you don’t do might actually be the future of your business!
- Network, network, network. Make time each week to purposely increase your network and connect with people who might be able to move your business forwards. If you build your network of other vegan business professionals then you will only be a step or two away from pretty much anyone in the vegan scene, from activists to celebrities to investors and founders.
- Your time and energy are the most important resources in your business. Ask yourself: is what you are doing the best use of your time and energy? Could this task be done quicker, cheaper and probably even better by someone else? Some of the best founders have no plans to ever get involved in the day-to-day operations of their business, instead knowing that their time and energy will make a bigger impact elsewhere.
- Measure and track because you’re probably doing better than you think. But also use the metrics in your business so that you can plan forward: maybe you’re making more money than you realise and can invest some of that back into the business to move you forward quicker.
- Give yourself permission. When most people become their own boss, they become the worst most tyrannical boss they have ever had! So give yourself permission to be completely in control. There is literally no one judging you or watching over your shoulder to make sure you’ve cleared your inbox or stay at your desk until 5.00pm. If something doesn’t work for you in your business then you have the agency to change it.
Just as a quick post-script – we nearly added a sixth point about what we’ve learned from the last two years of Vegan Business Tribe, which is that the vegan sector is also the nicest, most supportive industry that we have ever worked in. We have worked across a number of industries throughout both our careers, but have never seen such camaraderie as we see amongst vegan businesses. Even if we could be considered to be in direct competition with someone else, those people have become our best friends.
The reason is that we’re all on the same mission. We are all working towards building a vegan world and moving the vegan cause forwards – and those of us who choose to do that in the business sector can have a really big impact.
So we’ll leave you as we always do with our heartfelt thanks for joining us on this journey over the last two years – and here’s to the next two!
Lisa & David
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