Hillary Rettig

Hillary Rettig

Posted May 30, 2011

Published in Lifestyle

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The Purpose of Even a Vegan Business is Profit

Read More: business, entrepreneurship, feasibility, Hillary Rettig, mentors, profitability, Small Business Administration, vegan

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Yes, I know about the evils of profit, and I'm obviously not suggesting you elevate it over all ethical concerns. But if you wish to be in business – which I believe is a valid personal and activist strategy – then you need to focus on profit. Even businesses operating on enlightened triple bottom line principles focus on a Profit metric alongside People and Planet.

A business is a “machine” for generating profit. The machine's parts include production, marketing, sales, financial management, customer service, etc. When they are all operating correctly, the machine hums along and you extract more money from the economy than you put in. That's your profit.

What do you call a commercially-focused endeavor that you invest a lot of time and money in, but that doesn't generate a profit?  If you're lucky: a hobby. If you're unlucky: a heartbreak. I draw a strong line here because I've experienced that heartbreak myself, and have seen others experience it. I want to save you from it. I also know, personally and through the experiences of others, that it's easy to fool yourself into thinking things are doing better than they are, your big break is right around the corner, etc.

Don't settle for a faux business: one that looks profitable but doesn't pay you a decent salary (a “donut” business with an empty hole in the center); or one that perpetually teeters on the edge of profitability without ever attaining consistent and sustainable profitability (a “trundler”).

Never think that vegan businesses are somehow special and exempt from the ordinary rules of business operation and growth. They aren't: the vegan rules are added to the business rules, which makes the whole endeavor quite a challenge. Vegan retailers, for instance, often weigh considerations such as fair trade, fair labor practices, and organic/sustainable provision when deciding what to sell. None of that, however, absolves them from having to make the most basic business calculation: “Can I sell it, and at a profit?” (And after you do all that, some customers will still complain or refuse to do business with you. Alas, that goes with the territory of trying to run an ethical business.)

This brings me to a final point: that in business, the entrepreneur's vision is almost inevitably compromised. You enter your business with a passion, and your customers share some of it – but it is your obligation to acknowledge the part they don't share and accommodate it to the greatest extent possible. (Or, put another way: it is not the customer's job to accommodate your needs and viewpoints, but your job to accommodate hers, thus making it as easy and attractive as possible for her to buy.) You shouldn't compromise your key values, but you shouldn't also have so many uncompromisable values that you can't run a profitable business.

This quandary is far from unique to vegan businesses: professional artists frequently chafe at the need to compromise their vision, as do programmers, building contractors, and others. (Of course, those who chafe too much are unlikely to remain in business.) The hardest part of business, I and many others have found, is setting aside your ego and seeing things from the standpoint of the customer.

Profit isn't easy, which is why most small businesses fail. Maximize your odds of success by, (1) getting training; (2) enlisting mentors; and (3) doing an apprenticeship by working in a business of the type you want to start. Most people who fail at business do so not because they are not smart or dedicated enough, but because they didn't lay a proper foundation or ask for help.