Matt Everatt explains what to do if you find a competitor is stealing ideas from your practice.

A phrase many us have heard in regards to copycats or people stealing ideas was coined by Charles Caleb Colton, in 1820: ‘Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.’ To imitate is to flatter without necessarily being aware one is flattering. As such, that appreciation has to be sincere.

In business it can be frustrating to hear of a competitor taking your ideas, products or services and copying them. It can also be damaging, not only to your turnover if they attract customers, but to your health. You can spend too long focusing on their sneaky copying tactics that you lose focus on your own business. There may even be a temptation to go legal and in some instances that would be the correct thing to do, although I’ve seen companies and individuals fight to protect their intellectual property and almost wind up bankrupting themselves with hefty legal fees.

So, what’s the point of this post? Lots of business owners or individuals will have experienced this before and some will almost certainly do so in the future. What do you do about a competitor who copies your idea? They may even take some customers. How do you respond?

Imitation is the sincerest of flattery

My advice, go with Colton: ‘Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.’ Sure, if you have a true legal issue, such as protecting intellectual property then you may have no option but to go legal. Otherwise my advice is to give yourself a pat on the back and look forward.

If you had a great idea, product or service and someone has copied you, don’t stress about it. You have the head start, you have the competitive advantage. You’ve already tested the market and you have customers. The loyal customers will stay with you, keep them loyal by looking after them. Don’t be tempted into price wars with your competitor. Make your offering more attractive by means of better customer service, offer payment terms or loyalty schemes. Always remember, you are ahead of the game, make sure you keep it that way.

If it’s the first time you’ve experienced this in business, sure you will be angry, annoyed, figuring out a plan of attack. Don’t react, emotions will run high, after all someone has taken a piece of you. Ask yourself are you upset because someone has stolen your idea or because they’ve stolen your content? If content has been copied then it can be proven and may be easier to take action against. If it’s an idea, think of it this way, there aren’t really any new ideas and it’s likely that you copied or borrowed some yourself.

Revenge

The best form of revenge maybe speaking out, this is an option, however there are very few situations in which it makes sense to raise a huge professional stink or take legal action about copied work. As I previously mentioned, the legal route can be costly in both time and finances. The best revenge is success in business and a life well lived. You have to remind yourself, if your business, idea or service is successful, you will have competitors and it’s likely that they will copy or borrow some of your ideas. You need to consider your competitors and know them as part of your business strategy. You need to have a plan of action, a way forward if you face this kind of situation. Most importantly, don’t react immediately, take time to think. If you need to respond consider your options, is this a legal matter, or can it be resolved amicably between each party?

Most of all, remember, ‘Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.’ Or in the words of Judy Garland: ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else.’


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