Are you Scared of Copycats?

“What if a novel idea strikes your mind, you come with a fresh, new product or service, and then someone else copies your idea and start selling a similar version?” This was one of the questions a student asked me at a recent conference. “If fear of copycats holds you back, you can’t do anything new,” I replied quickly. Well, I know I wasn’t wrong in that opinion, but still I can feel the pain when this happens to someone. Yes, frustrating is the right word.

But in the world of business we face it every day. There is hardly any choice but to face it. Sure, copyrighting or trademarking might help, but this may cost you a pretty penny, and probably this is the reason why most of our small entrepreneurs hardly find it a good option. They just prefer to ignore it, and even if a handful of small firms invest in intellectual property protection, it’s not easy at all for them to monitor infringements or to fight a legal battle against copycats. And finally, there’s even worse than that — copycats may just legitimately tweak your ideas.

How much can it really hurt? It depends. What if the duplicate version is only a poor imitation of your original product, service or marketing message? It’s hardly a problem. When the copycat fails to bring that life or energy to something as you have done in creating the original one, it’s really difficult to outsmart you. What the copycat does will never get the heart of the original version, and is therefore destined to get only lukewarm response in the market.

But you may not be so lucky every time. What if a copycat takes your idea and makes it better? What if a big guy turns into a copycat, goes for a large ad campaign that is much beyond your small budget, and starts taking clients from you? That’s not fair — you shout inside your mind, but nothing is in your hand that can prevent it from happening — a sense of helplessness and anxiety starts to creep into your mind, and suddenly you feel caught in the grip of negative thoughts. Now, all of your positive energies are gone.

This is where we go wrong. The key to fighting copycats is being more innovative while, on the contrary, dwelling on the negative squashes our ideas. This can make things worse. So, stay focussed and keep innovating. Try to improve your work before someone else does. In this race, whenever a copycat does better than you, just try to learn what makes it better and strike back. And always focus on enhancing your business’ intangible values such as reputation, branding and image. These things can’t be copied.

Working hard on a unique idea and then getting copies is never a pleasant experience, but don’t let this fear hold yourself back from doing something new, and even if someone rips off your idea, instead of ruminating about it, just take it as a part of business. No doubt it’s really difficult to keep copycats at bay, but you can certainly be ahead of them by thinking afresh and keeping innovating. Never let anger, worry and negative thoughts take your focus off the positive.

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