People often say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. This might be the case but when it comes to business, I call BS. To put it indelicately, imitation in business can be described as copying and stealing. To put it eloquently, imitation is someone taking inspiration from you rather than being inspired.
You might be inspired by content, ideas or imagery that you stumble across and therefore output content as a consequence. This is distinct from taking inspiration from another individual or business and passing it off as your own to consequently inspire others—intentional or not.
I’ve had a personal experience with this recently, where an individual, who I know personally, has recently copied my words, turn of phrase, sentences and ideas, amongst other things, passing them off as their own in their business.
I accepted a long time ago that when you’re successfully doing something ‘cool’ and different in business, there will always be replicas of your business model. Once you accept that reality, rather than feel threatened by it, you move towards the consideration of what to do when someone legitimately copies you.
It smacks of the individual/s being cunning, strategic and disingenuous. It’s hard enough in general business but when you know of one another in the business world, it’s so disheartening. When you’ve worked so hard it’s a real kick in the teeth to have someone copy your content or ideas and pass them off as their own.
But the question, is what do you do, if anything, when this happens? Well, I’ve learnt that we have a few options:
1. Do nothing and simply adopt a head down bum approach to your business, all the while keeping a close eye on the copier. You might consider changing some of your business strategies or ideas to make them less transparent.
2. If you know them on a personal or professional level (as in you’re clearly aware of one another’s existence) consider inviting them to a coffee and have a conversation with them, stating that you’re noticing similarities between their outputs and your own, and you don’t like it.
Be mindful that if you opt for this conversation, from their perspective you’re essentially accusing them of being dishonest and lacking integrity. The conversation may therefore not be a feel-good one; you may walk away feeling discontent, infuriated, upset or potentially validated.
Before having this conversation, you want to be clear on the outcomes you hope to achieve by having this conversation and perhaps write down what’s important to you to make clear to this individual.
You’ve got to weigh the purpose of the conversation up against the likelihood of this outcome actually being achieved and any potential backlash—backlash for you personally, your professional integrity and your business. This will help you inform whether the decision to have the conversation is business or emotionally driven and therefore in your interests.
3. Get clear on your legal options by speaking with a lawyer and proceed accordingly, if you really want to.
If this article resonates with you, I am truly sorry. The reassuring thing though is that no one will EVER be YOU. No one can compete with you on that; that’s the beauty of being unique.
If there are three things I’ve learnt in business, it is to trust my gut always, take everyone’s opinion with a grain of salt and to always have a backup plan.
Be the inspiration to others and that will always get you far in both business and life.