Allison Jones: I know you weren’t yourself when you did this, Hedy.
Hedra Carlson: I know. I was YOU.
Those lines are from a movie called “Single White Female”. If you missed that one, it’s about a creepy psycho woman who tries to morph into her roommate and kill her.
Few people will ever experience a murderous copycat roomie (thank goodness!) but many entrepreneurs deal with something equally disturbing: a business wannabe who attempts to hijack your persona, offerings and brand.
I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing more aggravating or disheartening than discovering that someone lifted your swag and put it up as their own.
Over the last few years, I’ve had to deal with:
- my blog posts showing up on other sites – without credit
- my header design stolen right down to the font and color (they replaced my picture with theirs)
- ideas and offerings duplicated (with rock bottom prices, of course – the old “copy and undercut” method)
- web copy from one of my offerings ripped off almost verbatim (they were clever enough to change some of the wording to avoid being a plagiarist but there was no doubt it was an obvious copy – I am still getting occasional emails from people who have seen the revised version and tell me that it has my stamp all over it)
While some may say that imitation is a form of flattery, I beg to differ. When it happens to you, it feels akin to identity theft or a home invasion. (For the record, I have been a victim of identity theft so any time someone seems like they are trying to “be me”, I have a visceral and violent reaction.)
Why would someone feel the need to resort to such a sleazy business move?
Sometimes people do this unintentionally. Perhaps they got inspired by your work and don’t even realize that they are being a swagger jagger. Also, two (or more) people CAN have the same idea so there can be crossover.
Others assume that this will be the fast track to jump start their business.
Then there are those who were taught that “modeling” their business after someone else’s is “standard industry practice” so they see nothing wrong with a little lifting here and there.
Possibly, they think you won’t notice or mind.
Or maybe, just maybe…they don’t give a shit. It’s hard to say what is driving a biter because I can’t relate to that method of doing business.
It’s also hard to believe that anyone can operate like this without feeling like a fraud but sadly, it seems to be the norm – which you’ll quickly learn when you try to confront them. In my experience, they’ll usually go into denial, make excuses and act indignant. Or they’ll ignore you completely and keep on keepin’ on like nothing is wrong. On rare occasion, you’ll get an apology and they’ll remove it but I have found this to be the exception, not the rule. It’s the Wild Wild West in the internet world, folks….and there are plenty of outlaws that are making their own crappy (and possibly illegal) rules.
So what can we do to combat this? What is a mindful and positive way to deal with a business stalker – and how can you avoid becoming one yourself?
How To Deal With a Business Stalker
First of all, breathe. You’ll need to be grounded and professional – hysterical or fuming rarely leads to a good result.
Next, make damn sure you are right. It has to be close enough so that there is no mistake. You may want to show the offending material to other people first to make sure it’s identical to yours. Again, people can have the same idea and the last thing you want to do is make an accusation without a thorough investigation.
Contact them in a polite and friendly manner behind the scenes. Always start off on a positive note – never get aggro in the beginning. This way, you allow them to save face and hopefully, they’ll be willing to happily remedy the situation immediately without any drama.
If they act like a dick about it, you may need to get aggressive. In the worst case scenario, you might need to hire a lawyer. A cease and desist letter may do the trick nicely. If not, you may need to explore other legal options.
In some cases, you might also choose to ignore it. That is not an easy option but sometimes it is the only sane path. One of the pitfalls of success is that you will have imitators – you will need to learn to let go and let karma do its thang. Thick skin time, baby.
Lastly, keep on changing up your game. Keep your biters on their toes. As I like to say: I’m a Gemini – I have a million ideas and personas. Have fun keeping up with that, dummy.
How To Not be a Business Stalker
First of all, eliminate the word “competition” from your business vocabulary. That has a fearful scarcity vibe to it and creates a graspy, desperate energy – which often leads to bad business decisions. Instead, use the word “colleague”. It’s friendly and reminds you that there is enough work for all of us. (And yes, there really is.)
If you are inspired by a colleague’s work, reach out in a genuine and friendly manner and form an alliance. There is strength in numbers and your business will thrive with healthy peer relationships.
See something you like? ASK permission and give credit! Simple as that.
Do not stalk someone else’s business. That means: don’t watch their every move, don’t suck up to their team, don’t monitor their stats, don’t try and show up in all the places they show up. It’s just gross. You might hear that it’s a good business practice to keep an eye on your “competitors” but ultimately that only leads to comparison. Compare and despair is not a good business mantra.
Look to other sources outside your industry for inspiration. I rarely hang out on my peer’s websites. Instead, I’m checking out: Rap music, Game of Thrones, cookbooks, fashion magazines, Tabatha Takes Over and other (trashier) reality shows. Let your other interests spark your creativity.
And remember, it’s okay to get inspired but don’t emulate. Be you.
At the end of the Single White Female, the copycat dies. This can be a reality for your biz should you decide to become a business biter. A business built on imitation will not – and cannot – remain sustainable in the long run. Be yourself, be genuine and you’ll create a business built on integrity and self respect as well as a brand that people can trust.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” ~Judy Garland
© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2013
image from taoxproductions