Vegan Mainstream is a company that helps entrepreneurs get their vegan businesses going, offering both free and paid services, from quick advice to in depth guidance, strategic business planning, and everything in between. We were able to catch up with Stephanie Redcross West, the solopreneur who founded Vegan Mainstream in 2009.
Please can you introduce your brand Vegan Mainstream and tell us about your motivation for creating it.
When I became vegan in 2005 I started to monitor and watch the growth of the vegan business landscape, and I noticed that many vegan companies were opening and closing in record time. When I talked with some business owners to find out why this was happening they always mentioned the daily struggle of running their business. They were so passionate about what they did — they loved making amazing dishes, creating fashion or providing their services — but it was the marketing, the sales, the organizational structure and the accounting that was really weighing them down.
I knew that the world needed more vegan businesses, but I could see there was clearly a gap. I began to wonder if I could help by merging the first-hand experience I had gained growing up in an entrepreneurial family with the skills I had developed in corporate America. I have always believed that the growth of the vegan movement would be propelled by the strength of our own business community. That was the seed behind Vegan Mainstream, and I started the business in 2009.
This meant we had to pivot and see how we could provide services that were more accessible to small businesses. That’s how I discovered our sweet spot: providing personalized coaching and support for businesses with a budget, and in-person or online training for small businesses/entrepreneurs trying to strengthen their own skills to do the work in-house.
Who has benefitted from your company and what is your current portfolio?
Because we were one of the first companies dedicated to helping vegan entrepreneurs, we were able to support people across multiple industries, including authors, doctors, cooking instructors, event planners, coaches, product manufacturers, yoginis and more.
Our central focus has been to work with individuals who are vegan and who have a dream of creating a vegan business, or people who are transitioning an existing business to align with their vegan ethics. For this reason, we have never limited ourselves to working with those in obvious industries, like food or clothing. In fact, it has been one of our fundamental goals to help people understand that a vegan business doesn’t have to be limited to those spheres. By defining our focus around the business owner and intent, not only the offering, we encourage business owners to understand the possibilities of aligning a career aspiration with an intention to also move veganism forward. It’s a broad-spectrum approach but all our clients ultimately share this very specific goal because being a vegan business owner — whether you are an accountant, a financial advisor, a lawyer, a fitness trainer, a designer or a restauranteur — is about doing business in a more compassionate, more ethical, more sustainable way.
How has COVID-19 affected Vegan Mainstream?
We have a global team so many of our team members were experiencing lockdowns and travel restrictions long before it impacted me in the US.
Of course, many of our clients were also hit hard. Since the pandemic caused so much uncertainty, we had to coach clients through the possibility, and then the reality, of canceling large-scale events, speaking engagements and anything that required physical gatherings. At first, we thought there might be a way forward if this was temporary, but it quickly became apparent that we all needed to re-evaluate our 2020 plans and make adjustments. It was definitely intense, but experiencing this with our clients and being there for them in this time has created even stronger bonds for many of us, which I’m very grateful for.
What are you witnessing in businesses adapting to post Covid-19 changes – how can Vegan Mainstream help facilitate positive changes within this?
When the pandemic first hit, business owners were looking to take their current offerings and adapt them to digital or no-contact solutions. Retailers moved to contactless or curbside pickup, service providers were considering online courses, and conferences moved online.
What was interesting about this lightning-speed adaptation was that it created its own level of volatility and uncertainty. While none of us were sure what the future held, many businesses were creating new processes and retraining teams without knowing if the steps they were taking would meet the coming demand.
Now things have started to change. While I still think businesses are in the process of figuring things out, I’ve been seeing more people taking a step back to look at their businesses holistically, and with a lens for the long term. Business owners are not only thinking about how they are responding to COVID-19 but how they can put solutions in place that could become viable revenue channels post COVID.
At Vegan Mainstream we have long focused on teaching people how to offer digital solutions so we were in a unique situation when demand for digital solutions skyrocketed. While we do teach the tactical work required to digitize a business’s offerings, our passion lies in showing vegan businesses how to make a digital transformation by offering an exceptional experience for their clients. We believe that the key to digital success is going beyond the steps to simply create digital versions of in-person events or experiences like cooking classes, conferences, training or shopping as a second-rate solution. Instead, we coach our clients to reimagine the digital world as a playground for their customers, offering a unique experience via digital tools that can rival, or provide something completely different from an in-person experience.
Please talk to us about the virtual learning landscape for vegan business owners.
It feels like the world has slowed down a bit. Of course, we are all currently being stretched in so many ways, including mentally and emotionally, but all at once there are pockets of time that we used to fill with travel, visiting, or other things we just aren’t doing right now. These slivers of time are available for us to use in other ways, and they are being allocated for wonderful things like self-care and extra time with family and close friends. In addition, many business owners are using this time to get training that they’ve needed or wanted, but couldn’t previously squeeze in.
I’m really happy to see this shift because online workshops and programs can really help vegan business owners and entrepreneurs accelerate or adapt their businesses to this new normal. As a constant advocate of making room for training and upgrading it is gratifying to see people making time for it, instead of trying to learn important skills off the side of their desks.
You seem to care about small businesses, please tell us why.
I am passionate about them because I see that they play a very significant role in the vegan movement. I think some people look to the big, corporate businesses as the real change-makers in the movement, and perhaps underestimate the importance of having smaller businesses in our local communities that provide different kinds of support, motivation, and encouragement for the masses to become and stay vegan. Small businesses weave veganism into the fabric of their communities.
Please talk to us about the diversity of the vegan entrepreneur business models and why do you think most business should have a virtual or direct to consumer offering?
I’m a big advocate for testing or developing a proof-of-concept when you consider new business ideas. Entrepreneurs often pride themselves on their creativity and ability to generate amazing ideas; however, the true art of discovering that next “big thing” is understanding how viable an idea is. The key is making sure that your direct consumer offering is built around a natural customer feedback loop, meaning that it is not solely used for generating sales. The success of a virtual or direct-to-consumer offering is based on its usefulness in predicting and fulfilling customers’ needs.
Can you talk to us about business relationships, how these are important and to what scale?
I think there are three types of relationships that businesses should engage in, with the first being a strong customer-feedback relationship. Of course, there should always be a way for customers to give feedback on products and services but I think facilitating a customer-driven product/service development approach can help spread ideas, promotions, and new business concepts like wildfire. These groups don’t have to be large — it’s more about nurturing ambassadors who are also invested in the growth of your business.
The second type of relationship I think business owners need are those with people outside their industry and networks. As vegans we tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with our ideals, but sometimes you need someone in your circle who has a different perspective of the world.
Finally, being an entrepreneur can be isolating at times. While it is wonderful to accomplish something new and different it’s always important to have someone in your corner. Making sure you have a few people who can function as a sounding board or support can really help when you need to shake off the difficulties of being a trailblazer so you can rise up and continue to do great things.
Do you think vegan businesses suffer social injustices and if so what social demands do you think are important to create a better balance?
Unfortunately, the vegan business world is not immune to social injustice. As individuals, we bring our biases into any workspace, business or organization that we create. As vegans, we must remember that the improved world we’re fighting for requires us to stand up for social justice at all times, and in all forms.
Also, I think the vegan community needs to make a correction in the way we talk about and share the vegan experience. Personally I feel that vegan black voices have been muted in the movement, or not provided the same channels to be heard and represented. I want to see better representation in imagery, stories shared, and a focus on the unique support that the black community needs and deserves.
What do you think the future holds for veganism?
I’m hoping to see a more diverse implementation of the vegan lifestyle in the coming months and years. To help the movement gain momentum the community has historically rallied around a few consolidated missions, but it’s time now to encourage diverse groups to participate in the narrative and bring veganism into their culture, which means allowing space for veganism to be expressed in a more personalized way. The future requires getting everyone together to be a part of the new world that we’re building.
In the business world, I think veganism needs to have a stronger presence within the service-based industry. Many service-based businesses are designed around helping customers experience a transformation. If we start to work on the infrastructure that people need to stay vegan (not just the products they need to go vegan) we can offer more lasting and sustainable change for the movement.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020?
Our focus is on developing more free services and content that can help businesses through these difficult times. We have started streaming live interviews with vegan business owners and individuals who have been pivoting within the movement. Our goal is to shed light on the everyday decisions and challenges that individuals are facing.
In addition, we have created a free online community on the platform Slack, called Vegan Mainstream Village. This is a place where vegan business owners can connect, receive weekly inspiration, ideas and challenges to help them focus on their most pressing priorities. As part of that, we recently launched a free Accountability Buddy Program designed to help vegan business owners with accountability by having a partner or group with whom they can meet regularly to discuss goals, ideas and challenges in their business.
Finally, we are expanding our online course lineup to include topical subjects like creating resilience in your business, or the art of teaching in the virtual world. I’m trying to spend more of my time creating online courses that have a highly interactive element to them, meaning that our online content is complemented with live support sessions, mini consults, and interactive homework assignments. The courses are designed to break down complicated challenges and issues that people are facing around transitioning to the digital environment. The focus goes beyond sharing information and teaches participants how to apply everything they learn. Our goal is to make the online courses that we are offering at Vegan Mainstream a truly transformational learning experience.