The importance of community in the business world

Katrina Fox
Mar 15, 2017 · 5 min read

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a salaried employee, finding and connecting with your tribe can help you achieve professional success.

“Who would you like to hang out with, regardless of whether they’re paying you or not?”

This was the question my friend Melissa asked me three years ago. After a career in journalism that spanned 14 years at the time, I was looking at ways to utilise my skills in different ways. I’d started hanging out with small business owners and entrepreneurs and discovered that many of them needed help, advice and training in how to get featured in the media. But while I enjoyed mixing on the entrepreneurial scene, something was missing. I wasn’t wildly passionate about helping just any business owner — even if they were paying me.

The marketing books I was devouring urged the need to find your ‘target market’ or ‘ideal client’. It all felt a bit clinical and even a tad military: Locate suitable mark, take aim, then fire — only with sales material instead of bullets.

Melissa’s question allowed me to stop pussyfooting around trying to market to ‘everybody’ in the small business sector and attempting to force relationships that weren’t a fit.

“Vegan business owners and entrepreneurs,” I replied, without hesitation.

From then on, everything started to fall into place. I wrote a book on how to start and grow a business run on ethical vegan principles. Then I had the idea to start a content website providing success tips for vegan entrepreneurs, followed by a podcast in which I interview successful vegan business owners about their challenges and strategies. As a result I picked up regular writing gigs for vegan publications and booked clients for my PR consulting, editing and proofreading services. I also received invitations locally and internationally to speak at vegan events and got quoted or featured in the media as an expert in vegan business.

I was personally and professionally fulfilled because I’d found my tribe. Every piece of content I created, every nugget of advice I offered, I did so with joy, passion and a desire to truly help my clients. I no longer saw them just as customers to sell to, but as my community, on a shared mission to create a kinder world.

This shift in perspective was crucial to growing my business. Over time as I consistently delivered high-quality, high-value, relevant offerings, both free and paid, I was rewarded with thousands of downloads for the Vegan Business Talk podcast, vegan entrepreneurs signing up daily for my newsletter, book sales, and other vegan business owners recommending my products and services.

For a business to be successful, it must take care of its clientele and make them feel special. To do this requires authenticity — a genuine desire to make the lives of your customers better. As consumers, we can detect BS. We know when a brand is ‘faking it’ just to get our money. When you treat your customers as part of your community, you develop loyal fans who love you and delight in telling their friends, family and networks. This is worth way more than any paid advert could buy.

Kezia Jauron, co-owner with her partner Gary Smith of Evolotus PR agency in Los Angeles, has found that being involved in the vegan and animal rights community, both locally and globally through social media, is excellent for referrals. “It’s almost to the point where I don’t want to work with a new client if I don’t already know them or know their work,” she says. “When I see that we run in the same pack and have common friends, or at least support the same organisations, it’s like pre-qualifying them as a lead.”

Creating this sense of community in your business also applies to staff. They are your brand ambassadors, so the more they love and are passionate about your company, the better they will represent you to the public. Several vegan business owners I’ve interviewed foster this community atmosphere by providing their employees with a pleasant working environment where they feel safe and valued, often with perks such as free or discounted lunches or products.

If you’re considering crowdfunding your business — whether at startup phase or further down the track — having a community of influencers to support and spread the word about your campaign is essential. It’s something many people skip over, but a lack of strong community is one of the key reasons crowdfunding campaigns are unsuccessful.

Community in the corporate sector

It’s not just entrepreneurs who can benefit from creating and being part of communities. As a vegan in a non-vegan workplace, it can feel isolating, particularly in the corporate sector and even more so if you hold a senior position.

To counter this, Darina Bockman, senior finance director at commercial real estate services firm CBRE in San Diego, California, founded the Vegan Leaders in Corporate Management network in 2014 to bring together the many untapped influential vegans working in large corporations, to make them more visible and united.

“My personal experience had fueled this idea,” she explains. “I was a vegan activist but also a rising Fortune 500 professional, and I felt there was no community encompassing both. I believed that the vegan lifestyle was a logical fit for high achievers in business — based on the same values of personal leadership, integrity, quest for knowledge and truth and so on. But the ‘corporate’ vegans needed a community that was all about non-fringe image, pragmatism, strategy and professionalism.”

Because vegans working in the Fortune 500 world are a minority within a minority, building a peer community is essential, adds Bockman. “Through my LinkedIn searches, I keep finding dozens of high-profile vegans working at major investment banks, big pharma, oil, technology and agricultural giants. But lots of those people don’t know other vegans, let alone vegans at their company. Imagine how lonely that must feel, and how hard it would be to ask the employer for vegan accommodations or vegan advancements. But imagine there are a dozen accomplished vegans there — suddenly you can organise and have a sense of strength. And by connecting across other companies, you have a critical mass and can start pushing for serious changes.”

The network — which includes a website and a LinkedIn group comprising more than 1,300 members across more than 100 Fortune 500 companies — is already making an impact. Inspired by the network, in just two years, companies such as Microsoft or Facebook already have strong vegan employee groups, and others including IBM and US Foods have now created them.

Bockman’s goal is to create a worldwide network of vegans across all major corporations. “My big thing is to encourage networking and exchange of ideas. I want to connect vegans in the same geographies, industries and professions, and help create blueprints of vegan initiatives in corporate workplaces. I believe the value of this growing community is enormous — it can help normalise veganism in a powerful new way.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Barefoot Vegan magazine. Read and subscribe here.

Katrina Fox

Written by

Journalist, PR consultant, author: Vegan Ventures: Start & Grow an Ethical Business, host: Vegan Business Talk podcast, founder @veganbizmedia. Loves glitter.