Imitation is NOT the greatest form of flattery.
In business, it sucks.
I’ve seen a serious and unacceptable uptick in the number of entrepreneurs who think it’s ok to copy, plagiarize, straight up steal from others in the cut throat world of online business. Somehow, some of us have come to believe that it’s ok to copy a tagline here, a business idea there.
Same (exact!!) website? No problem.
Repackaging someone’s product? Sure.
It happens time and time again. It’s happened to me more times that I care to remember.
I like to believe that I have a thick skin. When my ideas, tag line, concepts, website design was stolen, I was annoyed, then angry. But I kept going.
I deeply believe in the work of helping women reclaim themselves so I push my edge of being open, being seen. It’s not easy.
But in the last 12 months, I’ve taken some copycat blows that almost brought me to my knees.
The lowlights –
I wrote an intensely personal poem and shared it at an intimate speaking event. Two days later, a “competitor” copied my talk in a blog post and closed with a passage from my poem. No credit to me. Of course. This kept me up for a few days.
Two entrepreneurs have copied my bio – verbatim, the personal parts. This broke my heart. Really.
There’s something fascinating about a woman who helps women reclaim their voices having her voice stolen, by women.
I’m a strong person. Have no doubt. But I am also (and sometimes unfortunately) an idealist. I trust hard. I easily forget that the world is cut throat and that money corrupts.
When entrepreneurs share their copycat stories, we receive helpful and conventional advice – get a lawyer, write a cease and desist, sue them , keep going. Yes. All essential moves.
But how do we keep from receding? From feeling less sure about being seen and heard? How do we not hold our ideas, our messages, our life changing work close to the vest so that they aren’t lifted by someone with less imagination and a penchant for shortcuts?
Here’s what I did.
Step 1. Let out the emotions that come with violation.
Turn to family, my friends, fellow entrepreneurs and I vented the shit out of it. Even let some tears flow.
Step 2. Fuck them.
Decide not to ever let someone else’s lack of integrity stand between you and your vision.
Step 3. Get a theme song. I’m serious.
Music heals. Find a song that lets you feel into your anger, your dream, your life’s work.
DMX provided me with this genius gem –
“wanna fight me? Fight these tears
I put in work and it’s all for the kids
But these cats done forgot what work is
They don’t know who we be
Lookin! but they don’t know who they see…”
DMX, Lyrics from X Gon Give it to ya
(see how I gave him credit there?)
Step 4. Cover your assets.
Handle your business like a business. Get your IP in order. Make sure your product names are trademarked and copyright notices are in place. Make sure your non-compete and non-disclosures are drafted delivered and signed. Don’t forget that clients need to sign them too.
Step 5. Address it head on with your copycat, or not.
This is a choice you have to make on your own and in consideration of the nature of their theft. Some people don’t deserve the time. Some need to be confronted head on. I’ve taken varied approaches. If you need an attorney, get an attorney. Send cease and desist letters, inform their web hosts. You get the point. Use the law and the powers that be to back your claims. There’s also power in sending an “I see you” letter.
Copycats are like bullies. Your silence can equal their power.
Step 6. Love the shit out of your purpose.
Read your client testimonials, identify a muse (my daughters are mine), focus on the good you do. See the faces of the people whose lives you’ve changed. Focus your love and your energy in the direction of your greatest good.
Step 7. Be seen. Be heard.
Get out in front of your message. Claim credit for your ideas. Your brilliance cannot be stolen. You have an endless source of it. Even if you have a smaller audience, less PR, if you’re the underdog – YOU ARE THE THOUGHT LEADER IN THIS SCENARIO. Know it. Believe it. Own it.
Step 8. Keep going.
The world needs what you do. Your copycat is proof.
[And a brief public service announcement for copycats everywhere. What would happen if you stepped away from external influences – even for a little while – and took the time to nurture your creativity? To find and nurture your own voice? To do the work?
I’m sure you’d find your brilliance too.]