{competition} how to deal with copycats, imitators & thieves

stolen idea.jpg

lately i have noticed a number of my facebook biz friends lamenting the fact that their stuff is being copied. i don’t think any of us are immune to this problem: i see complaints from other photographers and artists, online businesses who sell information and expertise, and of course lately from many crafters and handmade goods businesses.

comments i have seen recently:

  • xxxxx has completely copied my design. so frustrating! what do i do?
  • i feel like i need to keep reinventing myself in order to stay ahead of the imitators
  • xxxxx stole my idea and is selling it for less than me! should i lower my price too?
  • one of my old clients has just started a biz doing the same thing as i am. how rude!
  • xxxxx has stolen images right off of my page and is selling the idea as their own. can i stop them?

here is my take:

protect your stuff

  • put a watermark on your images – picnik has free online software that would allow you to add text (use your biz name as a watermark) if you don’t have software such as photoshop or elements. make it harder for people to steal those right off of your site.
  • your original work is protected by copyright law. you do not have to add a copyright message on your work for it to be protected but it can be a deterent to thieves to add a copyright message to the footer of your sites, under your images, anywhere you think people might see them. (eg Copyright © 2011, karen gunton. all rights reserved.) 
  • make it clear that you own the designs and that copying is stealing. state that if someone imitates your idea that you would like credit for the design and ask for a link back to your site. sometimes being bold is enough to scare others off.
  • copyright protects authorship of your original work. if you want to protect your business name or your designs you might want to look into getting official trademarks and patents on your stuff.

resources: copyright in australia, canada, UKmyths about copyright, copyright vs trademark vs patent

embrace imitation

  • realize that you can’t reinvent the wheel. just as you are inspired by things around you others may be inspired by you. instead of trying to avoid being imitated, position yourself as THE trendsetter. the one whom others want to imitate.
  • if people are going to try to copy your ideas or designs anyways, try selling your designs, mentoring the newbies in your field, coaching others. turn your expertise into another income stream and become known for being the one to go to for help in that field.
  • befriend the newbies in your field. offer help, advice and inspiration. be open and kind and transparent. people don’t feel so good about copying a friend, are more likely to give you credit, and it improves your own reputation in the field, which clients recognize by the way! 

(btw, i wrote a post about the ellen show in which i marvelled at the way in which she embraces the competition. you should read it.)

don’t compete on price

  • lowering your price to compete with imitators or any competitors for that matter is a terrible idea. anyone else can come along and lowball you, so you better have something more in your arsenal that is going to keep your clients coming to you. (i won’t go on and on about pricing, you can read more here.) 

compete on value

  • stop investing your energy in the copycats. put your efforts into providing your clients with the best value and experience possible. yes joe blow might be selling the same thing as you but they are NOT you. that is NOT your thing. if you provide consistent, excellent value (in quality, quantity, service, expertise, time, attention, creativity) then your clients will quickly realize that those copycats have nothing on you. 

don’t try to outrun the competition

  • responding to copycatters by constantly trying to come up with a newer, more unique idea is going to get exhausting. respond instead by doing what you do better and bigger and with more excellence. become known for your thing. make it your signature. it won’t matter if someone imitates you – they will be known for copying while you will be known for being the original, the master, the best! the more excellent you are the more obvious it becomes that the copycat is a poor imitation.

be honest about the effect of stealing

  • if someone blatantly steals from you make it known. be honest and forthright about the situation, but be professional about it. how you deal with it is a reflection on you (not the thief) so make sure you can live with your reaction and the result of your actions. (i.e. as tempting as it might be, don’t be a whiny bitch about it all over facebook and twitter – that reflects poorly on you. be honest, hold your head high, and move on.)  
  • btw, i would bet your loyal clients and friends would spread the word awfully fast (let them be the whiny bitches!) and that thief might be forced to cease. 

a note about my experience with photography:

when i was first starting out i found the photography community to be quite cliquey and hard on newcomers. (i still find this sometimes, but i try to surround myself with awesomeness instead of that crap.) i have chosen to respond by sharing as much as i can with as many photographers as i can. i prefer to build a community of sharing and welcoming rather than one of judgey bitches raging on newbies for not doing it right and ruining the photography world.

imitation is huge in photography, most trends are copied and copied often. i myself have had people copy my ideas and i know i am influenced by other photographer’s work. if someone asks me how i do a certain thing or get a certain look, i am flattered and very willing to share. if i ever got to the stage where this happened a lot i would look at selling my designs or teaching others, just as others have taught me.

i have also had previous clients who have now started up their own photography businesses and taken clients away. that is ok with me. there is room in the market for newbies: the clients they market themselves to are different from the ones that are now my ideal clients. i also like the idea that i can pass along names of people who are looking for something i cannot or choose not to offer. we all have to start somewhere and i choose to be supportive of newbies and be a mentor whenever possible.

i guess my point is this: what others do is out of my control, my response is my choice. i have found my attitude of embracing, sharing and teaching has resulted in growth to my business, much more so than any business i have lost to imitators, copycats or to competitors in general. and you know what? karma is a bitch. remind yourself of that the next time you are annoyed. it is also blessing. the more i give, the more i get in return. =)

what do you think? how do you respond to competition in your field? do you have a strategy or some advice you can offer others? do you have a story about your own experience you can share? please comment, i would love to hear from you!