If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I love what I do, but I’m exhausted,” this article is for you. I’ve been there. I feel your pain! But I want you to know that you can get past this. This doesn’t have to be the way you exist in your business forever. In fact, you know deep down that it’s just not sustainable, so you have to find a way to do things differently.
This situation is one of the really difficult parts of starting a vegan business, and it’s so common I thought it was high time I write about it, and tell you something about my own story. By sharing some of the struggles I faced in the early years of Vegan Mainstream, as well as some of the pitfalls I fell into, and overcame, I hope you can learn from me. And that you can get to the point, soon, where you will be able to say, “I love what I do!!” (full stop).
As vegans most of us start businesses because we want to make a difference. We want to be of service to our community, the movement, and we want to help animals. That’s a beautiful place to start a business from; however, at some point your vision needs to become bigger than that. You cannot run a business fuelled by passion alone. If your business is not sustainable — i.e. if you can’t find a way to make a living at it without running yourself ragged — the truth is simple: you will not succeed.
I started Vegan Mainstream in 2009, and boy I was fired up and ready to change the world! I came from more than 15 years of doing marketing for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, and I had a clear vision. My dream was to support vegans who were starting businesses to help create a stronger vegan marketplace, and to make the business world more compassionate and ethical. Those first few years I worked all the time. I was a person who would do anything for my clients because the way I looked at it was that by providing this endless support, I might just get one more person to go vegan, which would save lives and benefit our world.
I kept up a crazy pace. There were long days, and even longer nights. I regularly found myself working through the night to meet deadlines that I should never have agreed to. And all of this culminated in finding myself at the computer at 1:00 am on New Year’s Eve of 2013 working on holiday campaigns for two clients. “Well, so what?”, you might be thinking. “Lots of people work New Years Eve”. The thing was I had just gotten married. That day.
Maybe it’s a little clearer now: I had NO boundaries with my business. And even though I recognized how crazy I was being on December 31, 2013, it didn’t stop there. I did New Year’s Eve campaigns like that for the next three years. Until one day, I realized that I had devalued my personal life to the point that no days were sacred, not even my anniversary.
I realized that all I did was work on my professional goals – I was SO passionate about my business, it was the only thing I put energy into. In an average week, I rarely had time to cook dinner, so most often I would slap something together, then work until I was so tired that if I sat down in front of the TV with my family, I would fall asleep. It was terrible. I had lost any semblance of balance, and finally I realized I had to restructure my entire business.
So, what are the lessons in this for you? There are a few key things I want you to take away from this.
First, you need to look at your financials. Are you earning what you need to keep your business going? Of course there will be a few years at the beginning of any business where you have to be prepared to invest more than you may get back, but this has to be part of your business plan, and there has to be an end in sight. I see far too many new vegan business owners giving it all away (for free, or for less than what their product/service is worth) for the same reasons I was willing to work all the hours of day and night: because they think that if they do, even if they take a financial hit, they might help make the world a more vegan place. I know it can be hard, but you must give yourself permission to make a living wage. This might mean you have to charge more for your services. Donating all your time or charging too little is not sustainable. We all have bills to pay, and we often have others counting on us for financial stability. So don’t feel bad about charging for what you have to offer.
Second, realize that your passion-based business needs to not only help others, it also has to be good for you! Let’s be clear. This is not about being selfish, it is about recognizing your own value. If you had a job where your boss never gave you a word of encouragement, never gave you a day off, never paid you — how long would you last? As vegan business owners, we often sacrifice too much for our business. We forgo salaries, sacrifice sleep, miss important events, don’t take vacations, and the list goes on. Sometimes, we even wear our self-abuse like a badge of honor. We proudly tell people how we are staying up all night to complete projects, or that we haven’t been on vacation for six years. It’s ridiculous!
If you are just getting started, this is a trap you don’t have to fall into. But how can you avoid it?
Well, it starts with a balanced business plan. Your plan should include a good set of goals for each of the following areas: community, professional, financial and personal. I believe the foundation of a successful vegan business is in the creation of harmony between these four areas. When they are all working together, you will find you have a business that is fuelled by passion, but tempered by rationality and practicality. And that’s the key to a rewarding, but sustainable business.
You might wonder, what happened to me and Vegan Mainstream at the point I realized my harmony was broken?
I started to change things, slowly but surely. Over those next few years I changed about 60% of my business, so it was a big shift. I put more emphasis on goals in the areas I had been sorely neglecting. I started walking every day and doing spin classes five days a week. I shifted from traveling around the country to do workshops to creating online courses so I could leverage my time better, be at home more, and help more people in a day. I started keeping track of my company’s financials on a monthly basis so I always know if I’m on target. And I say no sometimes — I have defined the offerings of my business to such an extent that I can set priorities and work on what’s most important, not everything that comes my way.
My full plan for changes won’t be completely implemented until 2020, so I still have some work to do. But the point is I made a plan. Depending on where you’re at, the changes may be smaller, but I know for many people this is a big deal, so don’t feel like you need to find all the answers overnight. If this article has resonated with you, start by writing down what you need from your business to meet your personal, professional, community and financial goals. This is the first step to clarifying a new path and setting a new tone – one that will keep you in the business you love for many years to come.
Take stock of the balance that currently exists in your life and business. What personal, professional, community and financial goals do you have? Make a list to help clarify your path and take note of areas where changes may be warranted.