What should you do when someone copies your business? Your first inclination will be to get mad at them for stealing your idea, but that may not be the most helpful thing for your business.
Here’s a rough script if you prefer to read instead of watch:
In this video, I want to talk about an issue that seems to come up every few months in my businesses, and that’s copy cats. Someone has tried to copy every successful business that I’ve ever had. When MarketBeat operated under it’s old brand, Analyst Ratings Network, our domain name was Analyst Ratings.Net. Someone forked over the cash for AnalystRatings.com and made a very similar site with the hopes that users would confuse their brand with ours. Another guy copied the old Analyst Ratings Network site entirely, even using the same text that was on our website. Recently someone made a domain that had the word MarketBeat in it like MarketBeatToday or something like that and they bought advertising on our website. We’ve also had people try to copy GoGo Photo Contest with a very similar business model and name. And I can’t count the number of times people have tried to rip-off my entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls Facebook group. There are at least 10 copy cat groups of my Entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls Facebook Group. I’ve had a lot of people try to copy my businesses, so I feel like maybe I’m uniquely equipped to talk about this issue.
The unfortunate reality is that anything that is successful will be copied by someone else. Some people just don’t think that they can come up with an original idea that other people find valuable, so they copy something that already exists and try to make their own version of it with a little bit of a twist. Most of the time this doesn’t work out well, because when you try to copy a business, you can only copy the visible parts of the business. You can’t see all of the processes that go into running the business behind the scenes. You don’t necessarily know what x-factor makes that business successful. They could have unique sources for their products or advanced marketing strategies that you con’t know about and can’t copy. You also don’t have the same skills, knowledge and relationships as the person that made the original business. And, just because a business was successful when it was started five years ago, doesn’t mean creating that same business will be successful today. Creating a network of blogs was a brilliant idea in 2004 when Jason Calacanis made Weblogs Inc, but it’s extremely unlikely that business idea would work today. The world has changed. For a variety of reasons, most of the time when someone tries to copy a business, it just doesn’t work.
So, what should you do if someone copies your business? Your natural inclination will probably be at first to get mad at the person for stealing your idea and trying to profit off your creation. It is entirely natural to feel this way, but spending a lot of time being angry about a copycat usually won’t help either you or your business. In most cases, the answer is probably ignore it and get back to work. In all likelihood, they won’t be successful anyway. The copy cat will work on it for a month and give up when they don’t get anywhere. This happens in 90% of cases with copy-cats. In all likelihood, the copycat will have no impact on your business and any time you spend worrying about the copycat will just slow you down and take up headspace that could have otherwise gone to actually working on your business. By spending time worrying about them, being mad at them or trying to stop them from copying you, you’re only distracting yourself from building your business.
The one scenario when you should take some action is when the copycat intentionally tries to confuse their brand with yours to steal their customers. You don’t want someone to have a bad experience with another company and for them to think they were dealing with your business when they weren’t. The way to protect yourself from this is by trademarking the name of your business and all of its key products. My company has a trademark for MarketBeat in many categories that surround news and financial services, so if someone makes another website, a podcast or a blog also called MarketBeat, my lawyer can go after them and get them to stop. There was a major financial company that’s 1000 times bigger than we are that launched a podcast called MarketBeat, but they instantly changed the name when they saw that we had a trademark. So, if you’re worried about someone using a business name that’s identical or similar to yours, trademark the name of your business and then you’ll legally own that name in your category of business and no one else can use it.
So, if you find that someone has copied your business, don’t spend that much time worrying about it. Ultimately worrying about a copycat will just make you mad unnecessarily and won’t help your business grow at all. Stay focused on what you’re building, don’t give credence to copycats and just let them be what they actually are, wannabes.