That seems to be a recurring theme in my client (and potential client) conversations lately. Not that they’ve been ripped off, but that they’re afraid they will be. And listen, there’s good reason for this. There ARE people who will ask your advice, peek in on what you’ve been doing, envy it, think they can do it better themselves, and — without a hint of shame or remorse — take your idea, your copy, your pricing, your concept, or whatever they want, often with a very deceiving smile. Yuck.
Can you indulge me a quick story? I was RIPPED OFF several years ago by a colleague. I’m not even kidding. The day I was alerted as to what was going on was not a good day.
Everything was swiped. My copy. My concept. My price point was undercut by — if I recall correctly — like 47 cents. Was I concerned? No. Doing what I do isn’t as easy as it looks. I knew the ultimate result of their thievery. So, business-wise, this attempt was more laughable and desperate than anything else. But, I was HURT. Really, really hurt. And shaken. I had been deceived by someone I trusted. (And I am S–L–O–W to trust.)
I was fortunate, though, because this robbery had no impact on my business or income. But others I know have not been so lucky. I have a former client who’s invested over a quarter of a million dollars defending the idea she had and others stole. SHE had to PAY to defend against being robbed. This is just not right… however it IS sometimes the cost of being a leader in your field. Most (dare I say EVERY?) leader in her field has wannabes nipping at her heels, looking for a shortcut to their own success.
My point, I guess, is that you can’t REALLY be playing BIG without the threat of being ripped off. So, maybe the chosen title of this blog post is deceiving. Because I don’t believe you can really AVOID being ripped off… not entirely… not if you’re VISIBLE and LOUD and COURAGEOUS in business. However, there are things you can do to DRAMATICALLY LESSEN the impact of being ripped off.
When you have a truly innovative idea or concept, PROTECT IT. I don’t necessarily mean legally… although I wouldn’t miss this step! But, on a more practical note: don’t tease it out… fertilizing the minds of intellectual property thieves everywhere with the seeds of your “baby.” Sometimes, when you’re up to something REALLY NOVEL, you have to keep everything under wraps until you get all of your ducks in a row, and THEN — when you finally raise your flag in business — raise in a way that is massively bold and appears established and “set.” When you’re up to something like THIS, starting slow and following a linear path to “success” is a recipe for disaster and an invitation to thieves. Massive action on multiple fronts allows you to claim your space quickly, lessening the impact of any ripoffs.
Quick Note: You all know that I have had some
cause to be fairly knowledgable in the justice system.
(Thanks for never asking any questions! lol….)
I happen to be considered an expert witness
in more than 1/3 of the United States, so “law” is
an area in which I’m fairly comfortable and confident.
When you’re in the courtroom, or a legal arbitration, should you ever end up there,
it will be important to be able to show that you
“were there first.” So, being able to show that you’d
launched and made money with your concept, sales page,
idea, etc. isn’t a GUARANTEED win, but it does carry some weight.
OMG! As I’m typing this I remember this other time — very very early on in my business — in which I was ripped off. This time, a woman stole my website copy.
EVEN — get this — the about me page. AND, she was from my local area… about 90 minutes away. And she was a coach. So, I call her. And she denies it. I’m laughing out loud now as I type this. Not ONE word was changed. NOT EVEN the ages of my kids, my husband’s occupation, my “story” of how I became a coach. lol…. I remember saying, ”Listen, lady. I wrote every word of this. Are you saying that you created the exact same copy in your own mind, AND that our family structure, kids ages and husband’s occupation are all the same?” She hung up and the site came down. Hilarious, now… looking back. I wish I remembered her name.
Okay, moving on… what to do when you ARE ripped off. You essentially have a couple choices.
1) You can ignore it, as I did in the first story above — after an initial, very civil confrontation– and let the battlefield of business take its course. (If you are NOT in the “commodity” business — and you ShOULDNT be — the business battlefield will almost always take care of “rip off artists” for you! They don’t survive very long.) Use this time to be SURE you are fully and completely differentiated in your market. Make sure you know that your clients won’t settle for less than what YOU deliver.
2) You can slap the thief’s hand with a Cease&Desist letter or even a direct confrontation, business owner to business owner. Often, this is enough to let them realize that you know about the incident, and that you’re serious about defending what’s yours.
3) You can go full throttle and legally sue the heck out of them. This is often the necessary route when you are defending a patent or a product you created is being ripped off and sold mass market. It is also a solid route to consider when a “big company” — and sometimes they do — rips off a much smaller company. In a typical David and Goliath story, David usually wins big in the halls of justice. =) BUT, consider the costs. NOT ONLY the legal costs, but the emotional costs… the costs to your productivity, the costs to your time, the costs to your reputation.
As Ray Kroc said, “I can create faster than they can copy.” Sometimes, his “ignore the rip off artists” approach is the best route to take. I’d venture to say that a LOT of times, it’s the best route.
Man… this blog post is too long, so let me summarize:
Here’s the MAIN THING about being ripped off: The FEAR of it keeps people playing small way too long. You CAN smother your idea trying to protect it. Don’t fall into that trap! BUT, if you’re truly launching something novel, launch BIG. And, if you ARE ripped off, ignore your ego and consider the costs. Often the BEST road to take is also the HIGH road. Create faster than they can copy. =)