The vegan business world is, to a large extent, uncharted territory. So when you choose to enter this world as a vegan business owner or entrepreneur you might feel like you’re fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch — you know it’s there, but you aren’t quite sure where to go to find it. Indeed, you may spend a good amount of time trying to navigate the darkness, to avoid stubbing your toe or making a big mistake.
So what’s with the darkness?
It may be somewhat comforting to know that there’s a good reason for the darkness. Because the vegan business world is so new, there is limited quantitative marketing data that can be used as a baseline for testing new approaches and ideas, and this is common in new markets. But what may not be so comforting is the pressure the darkness creates. Since many vegan business owners are self-funded this lack of clarity can create a high-risk situation as businesses with limited budgets try to gauge the best marketing tools and channels to employ.
The resulting pressure to get the marketing right the first time may be compounded by the fact that most vegan business owners are driven by something more personally significant than their bottom line. Many are propelled by ethical beliefs, a desire to help others, hopes of helping to limit human impact on the environment or a duty to save animals. These responsibilities often mean that vegan business owners are quick to define their purpose and guidelines; however, that can make it even harder to meet not only one’s own expectations, but also those of the vegan community. Without a standard definition of a vegan business, owners can find themselves once again navigating with limited visibility.
Finally, most vegan businesses serve an evolving market that is growing at an astonishing rate. Because of the growth it can be hard to identify and segment your customer base because the market itself is constantly shifting and expanding. This means business owners not only need to be nimble with their marketing approaches, but they must also revalidate their target markets often to ensure their marketing and messaging remains relevant. I’m not suggesting that other markets don’t change, but when you are running a business in an emerging market the rules are a little different. The standards don’t always apply, which places an additional burden on business owners of trying to keep up with the growth.
Finding the light
So, if you’re a new vegan business owner (or if you’re thinking about becoming one), how do you handle all of these moving parts?
First, I recommend accepting — with your whole heart — the role you have taken on. It’s important to understand that, as trailblazer, you will face unknowns as we work as a community to take veganism mainstream. If you’ve been feeling the pressure lately, try to take a deep breath and know that we are all going through this together. Your fellow vegan business owners are performing stunts without nets too, so you’re not in this alone.
And never forget to look at the bigger picture. The cause is so great, the impact so amazing and the opportunity feels endless. I want to inspire you to build a level of confidence while walking in the dark. Let’s put on a pair of shoes and take three steps that will help you when you feel yourself stumbling:
#1: First, clearly define your business for yourself. In my opinion a vegan business is based on the owner’s veg status and their ethical practices. Over the years other terms have surfaced like plant-based, so I recommend spending the time to clearly define what your business stands for, and not getting caught up in buzz words or labels. Use the time to explain your ethical, environmental or health choices. This doesn’t mean you have to make declarations, it is more about clarifying why your business does what it does. For example, how do you source your products? How do you decide on the type of curriculum you teach or the way you coach clients? Or why you have decided not to use the word vegan? Get really clear on the definition of your business and take the time to commit it to paper. This is key to staying focused on your business road ahead.
#2: Spend time this week creating a list of your marketing metrics so you can establish your own baselines. Try to document each marketing campaign you run so you can go back and look at the results and start to figure out what’s working (or not). Then, if you’re up for it, talk about your results on your next podcast or in your next blog post. Let the world know about your findings so that we can start to build a collective knowledge base. It’s also a great idea to find some fellow vegan business owners to brainstorm this with — in your town, or online. We will establish a market history more quickly if we work together.
#3: Create a process for validating your customer base and target marketing. Add surveys to your purchasing process, so you can gauge how your customers are interacting with/using your product or service. Put some processes in place that suit your business type, for example exit interviews for people taking your courses or coaching programs, or small focus groups of customers to find out why they chose your product.
It’s true that the suggestions above are useful steps to take in any type of business, but in a vegan business these steps become critical because things are changing so quickly and there are precious few existing guidelines to follow. We must make our OWN guidelines and rules, and help each other by shining a light into the darkness whenever we can, sharing our successes and even the times when we falter, growing together into a more compassionate, more supportive business world.
Make our OWN guidelines and rules, and help each other by shining a light into the darkness whenever we can.