You’ll never out-copy somebody else

Twice in the last week, someone has forwarded me an example of a competitor aping what I’ve written.  One took an employment ad we’d run, changed a few words and phrases, and ran it as their own.  Another posted a series of tips online taken directly from one of our newsletters–word for word.  

There are plenty of reasons you shouldn’t copy someone else.  It’s stealing.  It’s lazy.  It’s wrong.  

But the bigger reason (to me) is that one of the joys of building your own business is the learning that comes from building each piece of it.  When you’re forced to stare at a blank screen and write the text for your website, or the ad for a new position you need to fill, or tips for your first newsletter, you have to make countless decisions that help you learn.  Who are you?  How do you want to present yourself to the outside world?  What kind of people are you hoping to attract, and what kind do you want to turn off?  How can you best communicate, and in what voice?  

These are important lessons to learn and there’s no shortcut to learning them.  When you copy someone else, you cheat yourself out of learning anything other than how to copy.  Copying isn’t a strength you can build on.  You’re never going to out-copy us or anybody else.  And just like the high school kids who spend all their time trying to do what everybody else is doing, copying is a lousy way to stand out.  

Instead, forget what the competition is doing and chart your own path.  Decide what your business is and what you’re going to stand for.  Sure, it’s not easy.  But learning will always take you further than copying will.