Many entrepreneurs, creatives, and makers who have been at their craft for awhile have had the experience of finding their work, their products, or their content repackaged, duplicated, or plagiarized by others at some point in time. Sometimes, it’s a newer entrepreneur or artist taking “inspiration seeking” to a whole new level. Other times, it’s a massive corporation or brand that has used the work of an independent artist without permission.
Most entrepreneurs and makers I work with deeply value creativity and originality - meaning that it can be difficult to look around and find that someone else has seemingly copied our idea, our product, our content, or in some cases, our entire brand. (A dear friend and client found her entire business - the name, the logo, the website, and even the social media images - plagiarized and up and running as its own business in Asia).
On the flip side, when working with new entrepreneurs and coaches, one of the most common things I hear as an intended early step is “I’m going to go out to [insert name of someone I want to be like]’s site and see how she did it.”
While seeking inspiration can be helpful, the greatest inspiration often comes from looking within - or looking around out in the world - versus looking at other people’s websites or products, especially if those people are in the same industry as we are.
Below, some thoughts on what to do if you feel like you might fall on either side of this equation.
If You Think You Might Be the Copycat:
Have a heart to heart with yourself.
Ask yourself: are you seeking inspiration, or have you moved into imitation? Signs that you might have moved beyond the “inspiration” point: repackaging phrases, content, other people’s wording, descriptions, products or programs; visiting certain websites regularly for inspiration; becoming a bit of a cyber stalker of your favorite entrepreneurs or brands.
Seek inspiration from outside of your industry.
Find inspiring people who do distinctly different work than you do. Get curious about cool things happening in other industries. Ask yourself if it serves you to follow the people who you’re following in your own industry.
Stop looking around and start looking within.
Take the time you’ve been spending on other people’s websites and LinkedIn pages and Instagram accounts and blogs and redirect that time into reflection and quiet space. Meditate. Go for a walk in the woods. Take time to find your own voice, your own style, and your own way of thinking about and speaking about things.
Consider: what could be possible if you trusted yourself enough to create your own content and tune into your own ideas, rather than pulling from other people’s?
And what’s currently getting in the way of doing so? Is it a lack of confidence? A lack of trust in yourself? Not being able to find your own voice or your own perspective? Get quiet, spend some time tuning inward, and see what you discover.
As Marie Forleo, who is often imitated but will never be replicated, says:
“The world needs that special gift that only you have.”
If you think you might have a copycat:
Pause. Take a deep breath.
In talking with entrepreneurial soul sisters about this topic, I’ve discovered that this can be one of the most hurtful and most triggering things that we encounter as entrepreneurs. We pour ourselves into our businesses, and to find our content recreated, oftentimes by people we historically have trusted, can be a particularly awful experience. First things first - we need to pause and take a deep breath.
Ask: Is it True?
Take a page from Byron Katie’s book. When we feel that parts of our business have been repackaged or recreated by someone else, we can ask:
“Is it true?”
And, “can we be absolutely certain that it’s true?”
Oftentimes, the answer - especially to the second question - is no. We cannot be absolutely certain that it wasn’t just a very intriguing coincidence. These questions can help us to move out of a place of unhelpful inner dialogue, and into a place of calm acceptance.
Remember that it is inevitable.
If we put our content out into the world, it will be available not only to our communities and our clients, but also, of course, to our competitors. As Seth Godin says, “The easiest products in the world to develop, option, license and get to market are copycat products. They are beyond reproach. They feel safe.”
The truth is that many people want what is easy and what is safe. As a result, copycats will not go away anytime soon. That said, copycat products are rarely as good as the originals. Often the originals are creating more than a product or service; they are disrupting an entire industry and forging a whole new path that others will want to follow.
This is part of the package, and how awful would it be for us to hold back on our content or ideas, for fear of others stealing them? This would be a modern day version of The Miser and The Gold - tragic for everyone involved.
Take a page from my friend Mike’s book.
A few months back, I asked him how he felt about the number of people who have openly expressed a desire to create an exact replica of the organization that Mike has created. His response? “Good luck! It’s a lot of f$#king work.”
I can’t help but smile to myself each time I think of his response.
Take Oprah’s advice.
“How far you are from the center - from the diveness of yourself, your source energy, that which created you - is how out of sync you are with your life. When you are aligned with this, nobody can touch you.”
Focus on aligning with your center. Put your head down. Make something awesome. Keep creating. And remember that no matter how many words or phrases or pieces of content others might take and repackage, they will never be you.