On the Bleeding Edge of Culture

This week’s story is about Being on the bleeding edge of culture. At the age of twenty-five, Sandra Nomoto founded Conscious Public Relations Inc., an award-winning virtual agency that certified as a B Corporation. After a decade in business, she authored and self-published The Only Public Relations Guide You’ll Ever Need. Living vegan since 2018, Nomoto is now The Content Doctor, a content writer and editor for vegan businesses who also helps vegan and spiritual non-fiction authors. She recently released the world's first vegan marketing book titled, Vegan Marketing Success Stories, and aspires to eat vegan food around the world and blog about it. It’s clear that Sandra is passionate about systemic change, and in particular the adoption of vegan business practices.

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Show Notes

 

Transcript 

Jalen 

When we spoke last, you were telling me about launching services for being in business and and it sounded like you were experiencing some pain being at the bleeding edge of culture. So give us some back story... so you went vegan four years ago? 

 

Sandra 

That's right. 

 

Jalen 

And then some period of time later, you then incorporated it into your business model. 

 

Sandra 

That's right. So at the time I went vegan was shortly before I closed my first business Conscious PR, and then for about a year and a half, I was just freelancing as an admin assistant, kind of figuring out my next career move. I didn't think I wanted to stay in marketing. I wanted a good 10-foot pole away from the practice after you know being in public relations for 13 years. And at first, yeah, I was paying attention to what was happening in the vegan industry and initially thought about writing for vegan and plant-based media outlets that I was following and reading. So I did some research, found not all of these outlets pay. So at best I might be able to make a part-time income or I could apply as a full-time staff writer or something like that. Journalism isn't my background, so yeah, that kind of a role didn't make sense for me either. So discouraged by my research I sat down to meditate at the end of 2019 and that's when I came up with the idea. My—yeah, my intuition was just so loud and clear. It was like, “you're vegan and you're always going to be writing, whether it's, you know, personally or professionally. So put those two things together and go.” So I know enough times when I've ignored my intuition that when I do, it just delays the process and the idea comes back to me a few years later, even louder. So when I heard the call this time, I knew not to ignore it. Alright, let's throw a service page up on my personal website. Yeah, because I didn't come up with a company name or anything. I told everybody I knew that I was looking for folks to copywrite for. And that's how I launched my business at the start of 2020. So initially I was using the title, The Vegan Copywriter, and then a few months later I switched that over to The Content Doctor just because I found the word vegan can turn potential clients away. And if you are vegan, you want to hire me, great. But my criteria now—this is almost three years into my business—my criteria for businesses is that as long as you're a vegan business, you don't necessarily have to be vegan-owned. We can work together. So long as you're not bringing harm to animals, humans or the planet to a lesser extent, that's my criteria for clients.

 

Jalen 

I think the awareness of what it means to be a vegan has been growing, to be, to have a vegan lifestyle and diet. So are there any additional characteristics of a vegan business beyond what it would be for an individual? 

 

Sandra 

No, I would say when, yeah, if you're an individual and you say you're vegan, I would say that carries a lot more weight because you eat three times a day. And so all your meals have to be animal free. Anything you wear, anything you bring into your home needs to be, right? That doesn't mean that you know we have to all throw away our leather goods and you know my bedding. And our bedding is really expensive. You know, I'm not going to be just—yeah, throwing my down blanket. 

 

Jalen 

Yeah. Comforter. Yeah, yeah. 

 

Sandra 

You know? That's it. And buying a new one. Making your business vegan if it's not already by default might be an easier transition than you becoming vegan yourself. That's why my criteria is that so long as you're a vegan business, you don't have to be vegan-owned. Other vegans might not even consider that a vegan business, because if you're still putting, let's say, the lunch that you put in the workplace fridge is a ham sandwich, that may not be a vegan workplace in their eyes. But I'm not going so far as to scrutinize those kinds of details. 

 

Jalen 

Right. And so part of your journey in launching this business was a book. 

 

Sandra 

That's right. I launched the world's first vegan marketing book. It's called Vegan Marketing Success Stories in November 2022. 

 

Jalen 

It was part of. And I guess that in part that's to promote those businesses that are holding that space and also maybe help people understand what it's all about. 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I mean, because there's so many vegan cookbooks and how to go vegan books out there I really wanted this book to focus on what the title says, which is marketing stories. So anybody who's not—you don't have to be vegan, you can pick it up and build a marketing strategy for your business. It's very practical. I wanted it to be such. The only difference is with compared to any other marketing book is that all the examples that you're going to find are of vegan businesses, and again, that doesn't necessarily mean vegan owned. I did ask that question of all the contributors who submitted so out of the 47 contributors, 60% of them are vegan or have at least one vegan person on their team, so we're not talking a whole schwackload of vegans here, which I think is really cool because it shows that even in the in the vegan world, there's still a lot of of room to grow. 

 

Jalen 

Yeah, yeah. Right. That's awesome. So where do you feel you are in this process? I mean, you, you opened your doors, but four years ago under this banner and you've published a book. And you've been promoting it. How has the process of promoting vegan business and working with big business been going? 

 

Sandra 

Working with vegan businesses has been great. Yeah, I've been—I was really lucky to land my first couple of steady clients right when I launched. One of them sort of had to drop me 2 1/2 years later. So unfortunately I'm not working with that client anymore and that's always a struggle for, you know, a growing business, right? Maintaining steady clientele. 

 

Jalen 

Oh yeah. 

 

Sandra 

On the book front, it's been really interesting because I think it's gotten a good response from vegans. Obviously, I still think there's a way to go in terms of getting it into the hands of more vegans who run businesses or vegans who work in businesses and then another struggle, of course, is to get it in the hands of just—again, people running businesses or marketers who are not aware of what the reason is at all. I mean today, I just connected or reconnected I should say with somebody, a marketer who I had on LinkedIn and just, you know, just let her know, hey, I've got this new book out, you know, chapter one is free if you want to sign up to my e-mail list. And she said I'm a carnivore and I'm a successful marketer. Good for you for finding a niche. But this is not for me and I went wow, you know, it wasn't my intention to force this upon her, you know. If you're open to it, great. If not, like yeah, I'm fully aware that most of the world is not vegan. You know, we're fighting an industry where 95% of the people in the world support animal agriculture in some way. And so I just thought that comment was really interesting. 

 

Jalen 

Right. 

 

Sandra 

Because she made it seem like it was, I don't know. I interpreted it, she was very strongly saying this book is not for me. And that wasn't my intention at all to say that you should convert to veganism. Anyway, because yeah, that really is not the focus of the book. So that's just an example of what we come across every day. 

 

Jalen 

Yeah, it was. I mean, it's interesting in that I mean, I feel like perhaps veganism is kind of like where environmentalism was 30-40 years ago, where people all of a sudden they see they see it as this affront to how things are or how. 

 

Sandra 

Yes. Yeah. 

 

Jalen 

They are, yeah. 

 

Sandra 

And thank you, PETA, for that. Right. Because for so long, PETA has been such a strong advocate for animals, and the stance that they've taken—the marketing message that they've tried to push is the graphic-ness of what animal slaughter looks like, and not that that's untrue, but it's just it's just the way that that they've operated for so long. And so yes, we're still such a new industry and still figuring out what the best way is to market these products to people. I was just, yeah, on another podcast where the host commented on Beyond Meat’s strategy, where they don't say the word vegan, they don't. They almost don't say plant based. All—what they're trying to do is just showcase their products just like any other food company might, in hopes that that omnivores will try the product and think it's good and then continue to buy the product. So there's that, there's that way. And there are so many ways to market your business. So the education part. The activism part varies so much between vegan businesses depending on how strongly they feel. 

 

Jalen

Right. 

 

Sandra 

All about veganism, I suppose. 

 

Jalen 

Right, right. So I guess the interesting piece that well, one of the things that I'm curious about is the fact that it's in some respects, veganism represents a certain departure from mainstream society, like perhaps like environmentalism was, you know, 34 years ago, what strategies have you used to try to find a way for it to be an attractive option for people, or is it? Or is that not really the concern? It's more like, let's just speak to the converted. Because you know, it's not really worth trying to. 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I guess there's several ways I do that, so working with my clients. So you know many of them are vegan-owned and just naturally it is going to be part of their messaging. Of course, that amount differs from client to client. So they really set the tone for what the message is. I don't dictate that for them. On the other, I have my personal platform, so that's where I post. I would say Instagram Stories is a really easy way for me to do that because other people are creating the content and then I just share it. So I'm doing a lot of that, you know, “activism,” online activism through Instagram Stories, and also Twitter because there are great people putting that content out there. And then of course, appearing on interviews like this where I get  to talk about what veganism is and why it's important. Because of the book that I put out, I find that I think I'm being pushed into this role of educator. Just because again, there's so many, so few vegans in the world and those of us who have chosen to put ourselves out there, we're naturally going to be teaching. So yeah, I mean as a result of being on a LinkedIn Live interview to promote my book, somebody who's following me, who's the organizer of a local meet up asked me to keynote their December meetup, so I'm going to be there in a few days talking to a group of mostly non vegans about veganism and how it relates to their business. So again, not a position I was looking to be in, but you know, when you're vegan and you're in business circles, I guess because there aren't very many vegan business communities in the world.  Yeah, I think you just get pushed into positions like this and you have to say yes, because otherwise you—yeah, again, nothing wrong with just being an online activist, but I think we each have our part to play. I'm not the type that's going to be doing the cube of truth in downtown Vancouver or protesting outside of the slaughterhouse. Business and talking to folks and people like you are the way that I do it. 

 

Jalen 

Right, right. So then being someone who supports vegan businesses, you're trying to give voice to their attempts to reach their market. Have you found through your contact through doing this? Have you found strategies that seemed like some strategies would have worked better than others in terms of getting the word out? On behalf of these businesses. 

 

Sandra 

Great question and I've been asked that several times like how different is the strategy and the answer is we're using the same strategies and tools that everybody else is using. So yeah, the only difference is the amount of education and activism around reduction of animal products. So for example, if you're a food company—I work for—so a couple of my clients, one is a vegan bakery in Whistler called BReD. They're the only plant based bakery in that town. Another I've worked with is a pie company. And all of their pies are vegan, so there's some education as to why you would want to purchase a plant based food product versus the animal version. And so naturally, a little bit of that education and activism is in their messaging. I wouldn't say to a huge degree as, like I said, PETA before. Nothing graphic, but yeah, naturally, that education is gonna have to be in there, because otherwise people are gonna wonder, why should I buy this beef samosa pie, that's not made of beef versus the animal alternative. 

 

Jalen 

Right. I'm wondering what do you see as the next step or do you see a next step right now? In terms of  your journey trying to sort of promote the business. I understand what you're saying is that you're not just looking to serve vegan business, but you're actually wanting to promote vegan business in general? 

 

Sandra 

Right. That's right. One of the ways I do that is I co host Canada's only vegan networking group called VEG Networking Canada. All the criteria to be a member is that you have to be vegan. That's pretty much it. You don't have to run a business, although most of us are business owners or entrepreneurs. You can be working within a company, but we do interview and welcome special guests. So a lot of our guests are running vegan businesses but aren’t necessarily vegan themselves and so we're giving them a platform. So we record these interviews, we throw them up on YouTube for anybody to watch, and then the non recorded portion is usually just informal networking and question and answer and that sort of thing. So that's one way that I feel both connected to the vegan community and other entrepreneurs who are vegan but at the same time extending that olive branch to folks who are, who kind of understand the space but maybe not, are vegan themselves. And what I love doing is after the more compelling interviews is I share them on LinkedIn, because I know I've got a big audience of non vegans on LinkedIn. And we just share why it's such an interesting interview and some— yeah, and some that happen to be vegan. I like to point that out just to normalize and show that vegans are not just sexy white women or buff, you know, influencers at the gym. You know, we're all, you know, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, ages. So that's one way I'm doing that. And then just recently, I knew Veganuary was coming up. So for those who aren't aware, Veganuary is a campaign. It's also a nonprofit organization based in the UK that's been around for many years that advocates for everyone trying to go vegan in the month of January. So when you sign up you'll get emails, you know, recipes to try and encourage you to try going vegan for an entire month. However, I wanted to try—I thought about using that to try and push more vegan businesses to transition into becoming a vegan business. And so I put out a news release in early December, didn't really get too much pick up on it as I suspected, but just even putting it out there hopefully. And whenever I do a news release, I don't just send it to media, I also post it on my social media because you never know who might be stumbling on there and seeing it. And I've been a writer for B the Change Media. So B the Change likes to talk about impact, impact business, B Corps. They're run by B Lab. So yeah, I pitched them and I said, hey, would you publish a Veganuary related article if I incorporated stories of B Corps and they said yes. So that story is going to be coming out in January. So I consider that a win, you know one out of how many outlets I pitched because again, it fits their criteria, so long as they talk about B Corps who are vegan and some of the ones I reached out to have actually incorporated Veganuary into their business, which is great. So again, things like that. Now I'm thinking about doing some public facing events with VEG Networking Canada because we have some really amazing members who are leaders in their field. So maybe thinking about doing some paid events in 2023, I haven't really talked to them about it, but I think that's the next step on our radar is just getting that networking group out there more because it—yeah, it started out as a BC based group, but now we have members across across the country. We do need more in other provinces, but we've got a really great group in Ontario, one in Montreal and another in Regina. So yeah, just getting our group out there more. 

 

Jalen 

Right, so you're trying to get people to create structures for people to support each other for, you know, people like minded to support each other. I hear that you're trying to find ways to— connecting to the B Corp field and getting ways for them to see that. Being business is or can be an extension of B Corp philosophy. They're trying to get existing groups to sort of see themselves in a vegan business lens. And is there anything else you can think of? You feel either it has been working or it has the opportunity to pave the way for people to embrace the concept at least. 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I don't have much more to add other than yeah, if, whenever non vegan spaces give us the opportunity to share more about veganism or even about transitioning into becoming a vegan business, that's a door opener because that's really all we're asking for is to be heard. 

 

Jalen 

Yeah, yeah, sure. 

 

Sandra 

There's a really amazing organization I do want to drop called Vegan Women Summit. They're mentioned very briefly in my book, but CEO Jennifer Stojkovic has been a vegan for a long time and is really walking the talk in terms of diversity and inclusion. So every speaker that is on stage is a woman and more often than not, a vegan woman. And although men are invited to join and attend the summit, both online or in person and they have asked her to be on stage, the stage is reserved for vegans, for women working in vegan businesses and the online version of the summit that I attended earlier this year I saw an entire panel of vegan women of color, which I've never seen before. This is like, triple minority we're talking about here. And I thought that was really amazing. Like, I just I give her and her team such props for it and they run a really **** *** organization over there. She also just put out a book in 2022 called The Future of Food is Female. Well, you can sort of gather what you're going to read in the book. I haven't myself it's on my book stack yet to read, but just that's an example of a vegan organization that's really pushing and being the change. 

 

Jalen 

And it's awesome. You know, I myself am looking to serve the impact business community and many times when I've spoken to friends about this, they suggest like oh, you know, I think you need to be more flexible because you know I don't that's that sounds like it's a pretty tight niche here. And I listen to what they say, and I still feel my heart is wanting to serve impact businesses. When I hear you talking, I feel like you're  looking at an even tighter niche, and so how is it trying to build a business out of that, such as a small niche? Do you find it a strength or do you find it a challenge or both?

 

Sandra 

Yeah, definitely. When I ran Conscious PR, I was barely aware that I was, you know, a female business owner. Just because these conversations that were—are so normal now about diversity and inclusion were not when I was early in that business. And so it wasn't until the tail end of running Conscious PR, I was interviewed by a Masters student and she asked me, “Have you ever lost any clients because you're a woman?” And I really had to think about that. How would I even find that data out if I wanted to find that. 

 

Jalen 

How to. 

 

Sandra 

Call every single client who declined working with me and ask if it was on the basis of me being a woman. You know, like it wasn't even on my radar. Now I realize I'm not only a woman, but a woman of color, running a vegan business and yes, so that’s super niche. Also, I think I've never been living more authentically because now I'm aware that I'm a woman of color running a business, and then I've decided to niche down to only work with vegan businesses. However, that's you know, close to 100% in alignment of who I am and I really felt that when I launched this business, that Venn diagram of, you know whatever you want to call it of

 

Jalen 

Yeah, that's going to be power in. 

 

Sandra 

You know who you are and how all your parts intersect. I really feel that's the space I'm in right now. That doesn't mean everything's perfect, but, in terms of intersecting your values and what you do for a living, I do feel I'm right in that center. 

 

Jalen 

In the zone, yeah. 

 

Sandra 

In the zone? Yes, great way of putting it. 

 

Jalen 

And so I guess that helps you with your clarity and motivation in that sense that the feeling and alignment and then there's the challenge part, what to do with that? What ways have felt successful in terms of managing the challenge? 

 

Sandra 

And running yeah, a new business during the pandemic and having the most successful financial year I've ever had. And that was pretty awesome. Of course that has not you know—2021 and 2022 looked a lot different, but that gave me a lot of confidence in that yeah, I could run this kind of business and be successful. And yeah, as I said before, I just find myself being pushed into—not in a bad way. Like, you know, we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zones being pushed into the role of educator and in some way teacher, because this is such a new topic and it's not being talked about nearly as much. I mean, it's getting better. I would have to say in the media and niche outlets like Plant Based News and LIVEKINDLY and VegNews and all of this vegconomist, they're also helping. But it's looking at this paradigm shift and the systems change that has to happen and those of us who are vegan and we see it. We see the other side, but we're physically standing on—at the bottom of this mountain, like that's what it feels like. It feels like we've already envisioned the other side, we just need to get everybody else on board. 

 

Jalen 

I mean, I've talked to a number of small business owners or aspiring small businesses. Others about the process of niching down, and that's often like an anxiety provoking idea as you're heading into it until we can find some ways or that it's gonna work for you? Is there anything in particular that helped you take the plunge towards narrowing things down, or is it just you just hold your breath and take a step?

 

Sandra 

 

Yeah, you really just got to take that leap and I think, yeah, thankfully because I've run a previous business and in some ways this business was easier to just launch because I've done it before, yeah. And then right away, just telling everybody I knew, tapping into my existing network and saying here's exactly who I'm looking for to work with and that really helps when you're specific and then also joining vegan business networks. So Vegan Mainstream is an online community and academy in the US. So yeah, whenever you purchase an online course, you get into their access to their community. I tested out Vegan Business Tribe’s membership. They're based in the UK, so a lot of—very Europe focused, but a really great community that's also mentioned in my book. And then I joined a network called VIVAS, which was specifically for vegan women. It's since morphed into a different type of network that's open to all genders, but yeah, really powerful network. There—a lot of the folks really helped me put my—or were part of my book both contributed—either contributing or folks I hired. Yeah, I would say tapping into networks like that and being in Facebook groups and things like that have made it feel less alone. As a vegan business owner, even though I can't—we're such a small part of the global population and seeing other vegans and seeing others succeed in their businesses has been pretty cool. And I didn't even think twice in 2020 that we were—

 

Jalen 

Right. So. Got it. 

 

Sandra 

You know that we are a minority just because that's the circle I started to roll in online and because of the pandemic, you know, we weren't in person networking events and shaking hands. You know, everything was online and so that really helped me feel like I was part of a—of not only one but many. 

 

Jalen 

So would you say that you found yourself networking, getting connected to these groups beforehand or as a result of, or sort of at the same time. 

 

Sandra 

At the same time as launching. 

 

Jalen 

OK. 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I knew, you know, I'm not new to networking, so I just knew I had to.

 

Jalen 

Yeah, yeah. 

 

Sandra 

I had to find my tribe, you know, quote unquote. Yeah, and thankfully they've existed. 

 

Jalen 

Yeah, absolutely as you said you know, you're at the bottom of the mountain. But it also sounds like that there is clarity around where your path is and that's got to make a big difference. 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I mean in terms of my business, the yeah, the path has always been very clear. How fast we are able to get other businesses to shift into becoming vegan? Now that's the big challenge. But I'm not alone in it, so that's fine. 

 

Jalen 

That's great. Well, thanks, Sandra. I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your story about this journey, of bringing vegan business to the world. And do you have any parting words of wisdom or others than in a similar position? 

 

Sandra 

Yeah, I'd say find your people, because there's always communities for whatever you're in support of. And in this day and age, we need more folks who are fighting for social impact, for people, for people, survival for the planet, and for the survival of animals. So we need you and then in terms of how to get in touch with me and everywhere with my name, SandraNomoto.com, same thing on social media. And yeah, if you're curious about veganism at all, I have my own resource list that has helped me in my journey and that's on my List Love page and you just scroll down to the plant based section and you'll find that list there. 

Jalen 

Thanks so much. 

 

Sandra 

Thank you. 

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