Dealing With Copycats
Is one (or more) of your competitors copying your idea? Congratulations! You are not alone.
As the co-owner of a niche publication, I look at copying as the best form of flattery—I have to! If I spent hours upon hours stressing out about having my ideas copied, I’d go crazy. I’d probably throw in the towel. But I don’t.
You will never create a solid career for yourself by worrying about who is stealing your ideas. —cbsnews.com
I watched this great video on how to deal with copycats on Entrepreneur.com. It’s not long—not even three minutes—but there were some great takeaways.
The first thing to realize is that no matter what it is that you do—be it a publisher, software designer, or a marketing professional—you have to come to terms with the fact that you do not own the market. There are hundreds, nay, thousands, of people out there in the world who do what you do. There are very few unique ideas—and when there is one, copycats are right around the corner.
So what do you do? Ignore them, unless you have a ton of money to shell out in legal fees. Ignoring is hard, so when you are ready to be proactive, here are some ideas on how to beat the copycats and strengthen your brand:
Sell Yourself Better
Being a good salesperson isn’t easy. For some, it comes naturally. For others, not so much. Stop stressing out about who is ripping you off, worry about selling yourself to your clients. Get out there and show your clients what you can do for them. Market yourself and your ideas in ways your competition isn’t. Show your clients why they should hire you for the job instead of someone else.
When we’re selling ads in our niche magazine, we work hard to illustrate how we are different from our competition. Here’s a conversation my business partner had at a recent conference:
Magazine Publisher: So, I see XYZ has put out their own wedding magazine. You’re going head to head with them?
My Business Partner: No, actually, XYZ is going head to head with us.
The magazine publisher smiled and said he liked my business partner’s response. She went on to explain to him why, even though we cover the same topic, our publication is completely different than those published by our competitors. She had examples of everything from content to ad sales strategies to distribution down pat—she was ready for her spiel. He was impressed.
Highlight Your Expertise
Let your experience speak for itself. Take advantage of seminars and conferences where you can learn new techniques that matter to your niche. These professional development opportunities are a write off for your business, so get out there! You will have the opportunity to meet new people, hear about new ideas, and even (gasp!) copy some of those great ideas and implement them into your own business.
These opportunities are especially important if you have a specialty. You want to become the expert in your niche so you have leverage when competing for jobs. If you are savvy about the latest technology, techniques, and trends, you will be that much more of an asset to your clients.
Focus on Your Client
For many freelancers, building relationships are the building blocks to their careers. And building those great client relationships takes time and effort.
Someone might be able to copy your ideas, but they can’t copy your relationships with your customers.
I was watching a rerun of The Office last night where this exact problem played itself out. If you aren’t familiar with the show, the main character, Michael Scott, decides to leave his current employer, Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, to start his own paper company. The Michael Scott Paper Company opened in a quasi-closet/bathroom in the same office space as Dunder Mifflin, and Michael Scott started stealing his former employees’ clients one by one. He offered them better prices and better customer service, and he was successful. So successful, in fact, that Dunder Mufflin bought out his business.
Sure, it’s a television show and the premise is pretty unlikely—but it could happen. I’m sure there are freelancers out there that have had clients follow them from their full time job because they enjoyed working with them; their relationship was with the employee, not the bigger business.
Customer service can make all the difference in a tight and struggling job market. There are a multitude of freelancers on the market looking for work who are qualified. What is it about you that is going to make you stand out? Your relationship with the client can make all the difference.