What brings you to cannabis?
If you ask any business owner starting to make their way in this industry this question, you’ll get a different answer.
While money and profit may be driving many cannabusiness owners, there are others who put advocacy initiatives at the foundation of their company. It’s these businesses, those who clarify their mission and vision from the get-go and communicate it to those around them, that tend to be the most successful.
Advocacy, in its simplest description, is supporting a cause that you believe in. It’s getting behind something and following up that support with words and action. It’s not enough to have your cause written down in a strategic plan (though it helps), advocacy really takes on a new meaning when you actually follow through and make a difference through your decision-making and resources.
In the cannabis industry, advocacy is critical. It’s about pushing the movement for legalization and decriminalization forward. It’s about fighting for access to a plant that heals and helps millions of people. It’s about education and disseminating information to change minds and a stigma that the industry has outgrown.
That said, advocacy means different things to different people and therefore will show up in a myriad of ways, depending on the company and its values.
Why You Should Incorporate Advocacy Into Your Cannabis Business Strategy
Advocacy involves taking a public stand on an issue and advocating for a particular cause. Whether it’s fighting for medical marijuana access, opposing the war on drugs, or promoting cannabis as a business opportunity, advocacy is a crucial part of a successful cannabis business strategy.
Advocacy isn’t just about spreading awareness; it’s about building support for your cause and making an impact in your community. It can be as simple as posting to social media, but it can also involve speaking at events and joining local organizations. Regardless of the level of activism you choose to engage in, there are a number of benefits to doing so: increased visibility, increased brand recognition, and increased sales.
Define What You Want To See Happen In The Cannabis Industry
There are many opportunities for cannabis-based businesses to thrive in the U.S., and it’s important to keep on top of current developments if you want to take advantage of them. It’s also important to define what you want to see happen in the industry. Do you want to see more research into cannabis-based treatments? Do you want marijuana to be fully legalized? If you have a clear vision, it will be much easier to work towards it.
You can start by looking at what’s already happening in the industry. You can also look at how other industries have been affected by cannabis-related developments. Researching these topics will help you understand what’s happening in the cannabis industry and how it might affect your business.
By aligning your business goals with your broader industry goals, your strategic vision will be more effective and more impactful.
Strategies For Bringing Advocacy Into Your Strategic Business Plan
If you are a cannabis business putting together a strategic plan, the question to ask yourself first and foremost is why are you in this industry? What are you trying to accomplish?
Jessica Velazquez started Indiva Advisors because she saw firsthand the impact of the War on Drugs – in particular for people of color. Decriminalizing the possession of cannabis and helping those who are interested in gaining access to more opportunities in this industry is what drives her and our company.
As a result, more than 50 percent of our employees at Indiva are minorities or women. Jess also sits on the board of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, where she has a larger reach to support people of color in the industry. Her goal is to be able to help more people of color and minorities to start businesses, obtain funding and find success – in whatever form that may be. As an organization, we want to break down barriers and provide resources and support to those who may not have easy access.
But for other folks, advocacy could be something completely different. For example, many of our clients come to the industry because they have seen someone in their close circle benefit from the medicine and healing cannabis provides. That’s what keeps them going day after day. So, they spend their time conducting more research and development and fine-tuning their processes to create products that are medicinal and enjoyable for the consumer.
Strategic plans for companies aren’t new; in fact, many businesses have them – and advocacy even has a place in them, though it may be called something different. Community service, philanthropy, diversity and inclusion initiatives are just a few examples. In today’s social media-driven world, where there are more choices to buy than ever before, consumers want to align their dollars with their values.
Cannabis is no different. It’s to the cannabis company’s advantage to clearly express its values and mission because not only will that differentiate you from your competition, but it will draw like-minded consumers your way – as well as their friends and network. People love a story and they want to feel connected to what it is they are consuming.
Walk Your Talk
A typical business strategic plan includes a vision, mission, objectives, strategies, and an action plan. Conversations around advocacy usually start at the founder and formation level. Usually there are founding members coming together to start a business for a unified reason.
For instance, we have a client who is a veteran and has used medical marijuana for several years. His purpose for being in the cannabis space is to bring quality medicine to other veterans and others in need at affordable prices. His dispensary is catered to locals, he consistently keeps the prices down, they offer discounts to veterans, they sponsor veteran-related events, and they have a veteran employee hiring program. He’s living his vision and mission and he’s marketing it that way. And as a result, he’s very successful.
Those cannabis businesses that take this seriously and who are really purpose-driven have clearly communicated their vision and mission with their employees, consumers, clients, vendors, and stakeholders. Everyone knows why they are in the industry. And it’s not about the money or the potential for financial gain. It’s about vocalizing what’s important to that organization and making a difference by following up and being accountable.
Set Aside Time & Follow Through
What’s notable is that during the application process to obtain an operator’s license, an applicant has to describe how they will be participating in the community and what types of programs will be developed to support their plans. Typically, there are pages and pages of descriptions and details, but sadly, once operational, we find that this the least of their priorities because, let’s be real, cannabis company owners are wearing multiple hats and just trying to get the business off the ground.
As in many businesses, this initiative and messaging must come from the top and be genuine and transparent. This is not something that can be delegated or promoted on a poster in a break room. This is real empowerment; it is real sharing of this perspective and it must be expressed in every aspect of the company. And, it hopefully goes without saying, that when new team members are hired, it must be embedded in the company’s culture and onboarding materials, as well as being talked about at the watercooler and at happy hour.
Remember, aside from the internal practices you can develop (hiring, training, programming and communicating) there are external initiatives you can implement such as participating in volunteer activities for various organizations or sponsorship and monetary contributions. NORML, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Supernova, and Veterans Cannabis Project are some great places to start.
However, you choose to integrate advocacy or community involvement into your strategic plan, one thing is certain – it must be included at the beginning. Make advocacy foundational, non-negotiable, and take it seriously. It will greatly benefit your company’s growth and morale and help everyone be and stay on the same page.
In Conclusion: The Cannabis Industry Needs More Leaders
When you’re building a business from the ground up, it can be tempting to get bogged down in the day-to-day operations. And while that’s important for business success, it’s also important to remember that advocacy can and should be a foundational pillar of any cannabis company strategy. The best way to do that is to be vocal about your business commitment and make sure everyone around you knows it. It doesn’t need to be a loud, attention-grabbing statement, but it should be noticed by those who matter most.