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December 20, 2011

3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Copycats – A SPN Exclusive Article

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Small Business can take notes from grass roots political operatives in 2012 and take measures to limit the possibility that competitors will be eating their lunch by mid-year by literally taking their lunch. So how do you keep competitors from copying your good methods and ideas or co-opting them for their own, engaging in corporate theft? You have to grease the signs.

Small Business Politics

The political time of year is revving up, and with this year being an election year in the US, prepare yourself for more questionable, dirty tricks than you ever thought you would see. Candidates will work years to build the one thing they can run on– their reputation– only to see it demolished by discovery of the skeletons in their closets, or, if those closets happen to be vacant, a heinous accusation that stays regardless of its accuracy.

Typically politically dormant, the state of the country is troubling me and I found myself recently at the house of a local businessman for a political meeting, and got to know a guy named David from a national association called Freedomworks, and his job was to assist that group’s chosen candidates win the election. His politics for this illustration are beside the point. What lasted with me was one of the tactics he said they commonly used to minimize unethical politicking (stop laughing, really!). Once they’ve decided to support a candidate in a local race, they make up signs and choose places to legally put them 30 days preceding the election day (it seems to do so sooner than 30 days is illegal in my state).

David informed us that in many circumstances, within 4-5 hours after they put down a huge collection of political signs, they watch the opponent’s side pass by in a van and take them out of the ground, leaving of course the signs for their candidate. Unethical stunts indeed. What David told us after that made me laugh and get the concept for this article. He said that they spray Pam (cooking anti-stick) or swipe Vaseline petroleum jelly on the surface of the signs so that when the other guys try to get rid of them, it makes it difficult. When you’re stealing signs at a busy crosswalk, I found out that speed and prudence are key, and if you have to wrestle with it, the target sign will often sit tight.

Protect Yourself

So how do you keep the other guys from messing with your company and engaging in commercial espionage? Here are some of the most successful ways to avoid competitors from ripping you off:

The Legal Route

This is the most noticeable one, people. For anything that composes intellectual property that you actually care about, guard it with a patent, copyright (©), trademark (TM or ®), or a patent pending application. Patents typically apply to things that do stuff for us, otherwise known as inventions, or things that may someday do something for us. Copyrights are used to safeguard the originality of a work of art like a book or a song. Trademarks can be petitioned for phrases, names, symbols or devices connected with trade and to differentiate those goods from the goods of others. A Servicemark (SM) is affiliated to a trademark for one-of-a-kind services. Donald Trump without success tried to trademark his Apprentice catch-phrase, “Your fired,” but lost, not because he couldn’t do it, but because another existing company that made pottery got there first.

Control Your Reputation

In some cases the bad guys merely try to take your reputation. This has gotten easier with the development of Google, Twitter and a variety of other forms of online communication. Considering that most open-forum sites don’t check the facts before posting, it isn’t challenging for someone to seed the Internet with fake unhappy customers complaining about your company on RipOffReport.com or a comparable outlet. I once had a client asking for help because someone with a chip on their shoulder literally took the time to make complaint videos and put them on YouTube.

The trouble here is that, in an effort to get as much truthful, social info about stuff online in people’s hands, most search engines give a nice high rank to anything that sounds like an evaluation, comparison, or personal experience about a product or business. That means that a couple unhappy clients or dishonest competitors can clutter up Google’s page 1 about your business and be hard to delete.

What does one do? Take control to the degree you can.

First discover what is being said about you by monitoring your online reputation.

Put as much positive press and info about your company out there as possible in the form of press releases, awards, articles, testimonials and case studies. False allegations on the web work best in a vacuum. If you fill the internet with great, honest and fresh subject matter about your business and do it constantly, it becomes much more difficult for the other guy to make inroads. This is SEO chapter 1.

Approach the issue head on. Contact the writer and, if it really is an unsatisfied client, see if you can resolve the situation and get a solution. Even if that is impossible, most of these forums provide a possibility to at least counter the criticism. If the bad press is from a competitor trying to ruin your rep, he’ll typically run like a cockroach when you turn the lights on when he understands you’re onto him.

Employ a company to do # 1 and # 2 for you if you don’t have the time and tools to do it yourself. Smart Company Growth does this as an unadvertised service. There are other services out there as well you can find by Googling.

Keep Ahead of the Pack

There are some things that are hard to protect legally from the imitator syndrome. Software functionality is a prime example, where you literally have to prove someone stole your code. It might be more costly to protect, if you can get a patent, than the sales lost to the clone. As an alternative, establish a company culture of frequent reinvention or product development. 3M turns over a sizable portion of their product line every few years on purpose for this reason. It takes time to reverse engineer your stuff. By the time the competitors have their lower-priced rip off on the market, you’ve come out with the next best thing. We see this with businesses like Apple all the time.

This technique is not easy but I can tell you usually turns out to be more rewarding, given you have a well-tuned method for creating new material, products and services that doesn’t take years to amortize the development costs for. To the victor go the spoils, and generally speaking the business that gets there first takes the lion’s share of the loot.

This doesn’t just apply to innovations and copyrights. What about new, cool ways to advertise yourself. I tell my clients, take attorneys for example, it’s great that you’re the first lawyer in your area to have a video interview on your website. Well done! What are you going to do when everyone else catches on? That’s where the better mousetrap ideas start to do well: a Vlog series every month, and interactive community, etc.

So the next time you assume that all politics is ineffective, filled with a lot of sharks who care more about power and greed than they do their constituents (and in most cases you’d be right), remember back to this article and learn from the easy yet effective little in-the-trenches techniques used to grease the signs for your company. So what are you doing to Grease the Signs for your company?

Share your remarks.


Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.

4 Responses to “3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Copycats – A SPN Exclusive Article

    Great advice, it seems your are very correct in saying that bad publicity can bring the other guy results. There were several cases this year where someone got a bad review but yet it pushed there site to the top because of the reviews. All reviews should be watched closely and monitored with a response. It just amazed me how a bad review brought a mass amount of traffic in for that business and people still continued to by the companies product despite the bad review. Enjoy the day!

    If a company has a strong reputation, one bad review will not or should not deter buyers. People are starting to get that there are phony reviews being placed out there. It’s when the first thing that anyone sees on Google p1 is the bad review that it can hurt you, and when there is nothing else 3rd party positive to weigh that against.

    avatar samupdate says:

    Its also a good idea to include a copyright text in your site footer and also to register your site with DMCA add the DMCA logo to your blog or website

    avatar classic says:

    I just wanted to thank you for always providing us with the most up to date and relevant information

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