Hmm, that looks familiar…3 things you can do when you’re being copied

They say that imitation is the the sincerest form of flattery but it’s not much fun when someone is blatantly copying your business ideas. I hear frequently of mum-run businesses being copied, sometimes it’s a matter of someone being a little too inspired by another business but it can also be full-on plagiarism.

So what should you do when you find you’re being copied? Here are my tips:

1. Rise above it

I know, that’s easier said than done. But sometimes there’s not much else you can do. The great thing about starting a small business these days is that there are lots of low-cost, low risk business options available. The not-so-good thing is that in removing the barriers to entry, it’s been made easier for anyone to start a business. And that means it’s easier for you to be copied.

But just because someone copies you, it doesn’t mean that they are in any way as good as you. Or that your customers will be fooled by them, either. The chances are they’ll be a poor imitation at best, because the best person to implement your ideas is YOU. Plus you’ve got a head start on them!

2. Protect yourself

If you you have intellectual property that you’re considering protecting, you can find out more about copyright, patents and trademarks at the Intellectual Property office.

You can sometimes protect yourself in ways that don’t involve the law, too.  Most of us are nice people and want to support others, so if someone asks you all about your business and how you got started, you might be happy to give them quite a bit of detail. It can come as a shock if they then use all that information to set themselves up in competition to you. Now I’m not suggesting that you should be suspicious of everyone, that’s not a pleasant way to live your life, but be careful about giving too much away about your business.

Update, 8/5/13: Having experienced a few of my own copycats recently, I’m changing my approach at helenlindop.com compared to the one I’ve used here at Business Plus Baby:

  • I’m giving away less information openly on my blog and instead creating ‘meatier’ free training that you need to sign up to access such at twitterforbusiness.net. Some of it will still be free and the persistent copier will still be able to access it, but at least my work isn’t quite as open to all as it is at Business Plus Baby. By the way, this approach isn’t just to deter copycats, my main reason for doing it is that there’s more value in a goodtraining course than in a series of short blog posts.
  • I’m using formats that are harder to copy, for example audio and video. Yes, you can copy a video, but it’s harder to change a few words and pass it off as your own work with video than it is with an article.
  • I’m removing blatant copcats from my mailing lists. True, it’s not a bulletproof strategy, but at least I’m not emailing the copycat each time I create something new. 🙂

These examples are mostly going to apply to you if you’re selling training or information products, but I think it could also work for craft businesses. I know that the cake making business is swarming with copycats, some whom copy photos of cake designs and pass them off as their own. Why not put just a few photos openly on your website to show your expertise, then only make your full catalogue available to people who make contact with you? This could be an ordinary page of your website, just don’t link to it from your main site. You can make the url tricky to guess e.g. your site.com/bqthdgsgssuuj rather than yoursite.com/designs. Again, it’s not rock solid security, but at least you’re not handing your work to them on a plate. (Excuse the pun there!)

Some people are blatant copiers, others are just being cheeky or ignorant about intellectual property and what they can do with it. To deter those cheeky or ignorant types, it can pay to put watermarks on any photos of your products that you publish online. This makes it harder for them to re-publish photos of your products without the proper credit. This won’t stop the determined copier, unfortunately.

3. Strengthen your brand

One significant weapon you have against the copycats is a strong brand. You brand is much more than just a logo or colour scheme, it’s the personality of your business and how you communicate it. One of the great things about being a sole trader is that you can have a very unique and personal brand that nobody else can copy. That’s because your brand comes from YOU – and you’re an individual.

So when you’re faced with an imitator, think about what’s different and unique about your business. Then think about how you can express that more strongly in your graphics, copy, website, leaflets, customer service and even how you communicate on social media. Then get to work and spread that message far and wide so you stay ahead of your copycat.

You’re already better than them – widen the gap so they stay far behind you.

And if you’re not sure where inspiration stops and imitation begins, try this article The importance of being you in blogging, business and everything else by Prerna Malik.

If you enjoyed this post, why not make sure you stay in touch by joining  my mailing list? I’ll also send you a copy of  my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Replies to “Hmm, that looks familiar…3 things you can do when you’re being copied”

  1. Great post – and so true. I have someone local who copies me – wording of website, copies my tweets etc. However, the sentiment is all mine and clearly isn’t her own sentiment. I think it reinforces my authenticity – and gives me a laugh every so often.

  2. It always astonishes me how bold these copycats are. (And ‘bold’ is a polite word for it!) People really do notice and it can’t do much for the copycat’s credibilty. Perhaps they just don’t stay in business very long?

  3. Hi Helen,

    Thanks for the beautiful post and for the shoutout. You’re right, strengthening one’s own brand is definitely a good strategy and one that I’ve personally adopted to battle my own personal copycat:-)

  4. I’ve not fully started my business yet but this post has some good points to think about such as watermark or logo, security in your website and not giving too much free information away. Thanks.

    1. You’re welcome, Nisha! You can never make your work 100% copy-proof, but I think that more effort it is to copy you, the less likely they are to try.

  5. You’re welcome! Unfortunately watermarks aren’t 100% effective, but I think every little helps in the battle against the copycats.

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