You've busted your booty building your business... from designing your branding and naming your company... creating your products... taking photos and designing graphics for your marketing. You've put your heart and soul into every decision for your business only to come across someone who totally ripped you off. Say what?!$%&? That heart sinking feeling... ugh we feel you! While they say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" it sure doesn't feel that way when it comes to your business. We've heard about a lot of businesses getting copied in our network and have even faced the situation ourselves, bummer sauce, so we thought we'd give you a little #realtalk on the topic.
Are you really being copied?
Before you get really fired up.. we encourage you to take a step back to look at the situation and give them the benefit of the doubt. I know.. how positive of us! Really though, we're all hyper-connected to our business so it is possible to maybe see something that isn't really there. For example.. you find someone who is offering similar packages to you or wrote a blog post on the same topic. Is it really copying? We suggest you break things down by starting with these questions:
- Did they really copy you or could they have been inspired by your work? (covering same topics but not copy and pasting your work)
- Do you personally know this person or know for sure they follow your business?
- The market is very saturated. Is there a chance that you could be overreacting because you work in a similar industry? Is it possible that they might not actually even know about your business?
At the end of the day, these questions all come down to one thing -- intent. Did they copy and paste your words or simply write about the same topic? The truth is the market is so saturated that you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't offer similar services to you or has written a post on a similar topic. And when you work in a similar industry chances are the verbiage and key terms and topics will overlap. While we all strive to be original, what really makes us original is each of our perspectives. There's a ton of web designers out there. We're one of millions! At the end of the day the way we present our brand, marketing and the style behind our designs is what sets us apart!
Let's bring this situation to life with an example. We usually launch our Freebies on Fridays and use the hashtag #FreebieFriday on our social media and newsletters. We thought it was a fun little caption and helped us stick to our schedule. While we just came up with the idea on the fly and weren't inspired by another business doing the same thing... we know that we're definitely not the first one to use that phrase. In fact, I just typed in #FreebieFriday on Instagram and there are 39k+ posts using that hashtag. Holy moly! 😳 Wouldn't it be crappy if someone started going through that hashtag and accusing each business of copying their hashtag? The point is.. not every idea you execute is going to be 100% original, but that also doesn't mean you're blatantly copying someone else either. So if there aren't some additional red flags from our initial questions, you may want to put your pitchfork down on this one.
Should you be worried about people who are inspired by your work?
The next intent comes with people who have been inspired by your work. This is when you know someone is a fan of your business because you've seen them like your Instagram posts and comment on your blogs, and now you've noticed they've covered some similar topics on their website here and there. They have their own perspectives, but it's become pretty evident that they're drawing inspiration from your biz. Should you be worried?! This one can sometimes be a little fuzzy.
My personal belief is as long as there's enough distance between the two it's not too big of a deal. There is so much content in today's world that I think we can all benefit as a whole by being inspired by others work. Maybe you wrote a blog post on a topic and someone realized they had a lot that they could add on the topic! Call me an optimist, but I really believe that people who are inspired by your work generally have good intentions. They're usually more focused on looking up or learning from you than trying to rip off your ideas. For the most part, I look at this intent as something positive and a situation that can even open up an opportunity to start a relationship with the other person. Maybe add a comment or give them a shout-out on social that you appreciate their take on the topic! If your ideas mesh well, you might even consider reaching out to them to see if they'd be interested in collaborating on a blog post or another idea. The key to being inspired by someone's work (and this goes for the people who find themselves inspired) is to do it respectfully. If you get an idea for a blog post from someone else, call it out in your post and link back to them! Give credit where credit is due! Even thank that person for sparking your idea or giving you a new look at something. When you are respectful to those who inspire you and offer credit, this situation can benefit both parties involved.
Of course there will also be those people who will take being inspired a step too far. Maybe they used to only offer 2 packages, but after you launched your Instagram styling package, you noticed they added that to their roster. Or you notice that they've reposted 5 of your Instagram posts in the last few weeks. Or suddenly they rebrand and the colors they use are almost identical to yours. If you find yourself in this situation I definitely think it is worth reaching out about. While this can definitely be an uncomfortable situation the key is to write an email that is friendly, direct in addressing your concerns and either suggests possible solutions or asks for their suggestions for a solution. In my experience, being polite and genuine is the key to opening a conversation. Try taking the high road and being professional even if your feelings are elevated. While your feelings may be hurt in the moment, there is a chance that the other person may not have even put all of the dots together and realized how inspired by your work they have become. Even if they have, they may not have realized they crossed the line. The good news is when there is no ill-intent usually the situation can be resolved pretty easily. Yay for everyone!
What should you do when you're dealing with a full-blown copycat?
Now onto the ick factor... The full-blown copycats. These people consistently repost your Instagram posts and never credit you, have lifted full blog posts and published them as their own, have named their business almost the exact same name as yours, or even worse have ripped off your products and sold them under their name. Maybe it's not PC, but I'm just going to say it. These people can really suck. They've seen your success and have tried to use your work as a shortcut to their own without putting in the hard work. This situation is definitely a little stickier than people who have been inspired by your work because these people often haven't even tried to hide that they're copying you. Depending on the circumstances you may need to contact legal representation right away when sorting these situations out too. While I'm certainly no lawyer (and can't provide legal advice) here is how I have (and would) deal with some situations.
If you catch someone reposting your content verbatim either on your blog or using all of your images on Instagram you may still be at a level where you send an initial email to try and have them remove the content. I suggest taking a similar approach to reaching out to someone inspired by your work -- introduce yourself, let the person know of your concerns and request that they remove the copied content or properly attribute it. While I know it won't always happen, there is a chance that the person will be cordial with you and remove the content without having to take further action -- phew, what a relief when that happens too!
On the other hand, if someone has completely hi-jacked your content, products, or is impersonating your brand I would skip trying to reach out and go straight to your lawyer. This also goes for if you originally reach out to the business and they either ignore you or start blocking you on all platforms. At this point the issue is beyond simply working out via email and your lawyer will be able to best advise you on how to proceed. Double bummer sauce when this happens.
At the end of the day, dealing with copycats in your business is one of the not so fun parts of business, but something we think is important to talk about. While I hope none of you have to deal with the situation, in an Internet-driven world chances are you'll be faced with some form at one time or another so we want you to be armed and ready in case you do! We hope this post has been helpful and be sure to share any other suggestions you have in the comments.