List of messages I’ve received lately:
- Hi, can you tell me who supplies your wool? I really want some but don’t want to pay the extortionate prices everyone sells it for.
- Hello, I also make chunky knit blankets… I have a customer who purchased a blanket then sent me a picture of a dropped stitch…could you tell me how to fix this?
- Where do you buy the wool?
- Hi, I’m starting a chunky knit business…any tips?
(I’ve paraphrased but not altered the content of the messages)
Let’s journey back…
Back in August 2017 I received an email from a lady who wanted to set up a business doing chunky knitting and it inspired an entire blog post, she wrote:
“how to create the best product, and how to advertise and create a business from it? …Also, where do you get a sewing up needle big enough?”
(Direct quote, not paraphrased)
As you can see from my opening bullet points, these types of messages are still coming in thick and fast so I felt it was a good time to revisit that blog post. I’ve updated and added to parts this week but feel a lot of it is still relevant. I hope it helps to explain…
Take it away 2017 Lauren…
Yet again, people of the internet leave me gobsmacked and baffled. It’s not the first time I’ve received an email like this and I know it won’t be the last. It’s also not uncommon, I heard from numerous small business owners saying they too receive emails like this on an upsettingly regular basis.
The more I thought about it the more it occurred to me that, if so many people are sending emails effectively saying “I want to copy your business, please tell me how so I can do that and set up in competition” then there seems to be a link missing here (because to me, that clearly isn’t OK?!).
So here’s what I think…
I believe in people, I know that there are so many wonderful humans out there and although we’ve all come across some rude folk in our lives, I refuse to believe that this many people are this rude. So instead, I’m assuming – no, I’m declaring – that the people who send these emails are in fact (mainly) nice people, who – through no fault of their own – don’t fully understand the implications of what they’re doing. And that’s OK – we aren’t all experts at everything, we all have something to learn and maybe some people just don’t quite GET this. So today, my aim is to help enlighten on this topic.
As always, I’m not looking to single anyone out or to publicly shame some poor email-ee. I’m the first to admit my failings in many, many areas and would hate for one of my blunders to be smeared on someones blog, named and shamed. I just want to help explain why it’s rude …In my opinion.
Heart and soul
*Excuse me a moment while I climb up onto my Small Business Soapbox*
Your own business is your baby. Be it big or small, it’s your creation, your ideas, your blood, sweat and tears. No matter how much you try to take the ‘personal’ out of it for the professional, it’s your brain and hard work that created it and ultimately that makes it personal. You’ve put your heart and soul into it, how could it not be? It’s your baby and you want to nurture, sustain and protect it.
When you had the idea, you worked tirelessly to consider every detail; you found suppliers, you designed artwork, you came up with a marketing strategy, you created a website and you collated all of the information you’d learnt into one place and put it out there for the world to see, judge and hopefully enjoy!
Why I won’t help you to copy my business
The idea of then dishing this information out to a stranger so that they can replicate it – crucially, without doing any of the hard work – to me, seems laughable. I for one didn’t go through the agony of those learning curves to benefit someone else. I earned those through dedication, public embarrassment and humiliating muck up’s; they’re all mine mate.
AND even if we were the nicest people on earth and wanted to help as many folks as possible, most of us need to earn a living from our businesses, which makes it completely counter productive to share this information with someone who wants to compete. We’d practically be shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that. Giving them a leg up to take away from us.
The good kind of competition
I completely know that not all competition is bad, I think it can be a really powerful dynamic to have someone on the other side doing well, it can push you to be better and get better. To come up with original ideas that compete – sometime you’ll come up with a knock out and other times they will, but it’s all part of pushing you and having a benchmark (as long as you don’t take it too seriously – let’s remember that we only ever see a social media version, which is often a fraction and rose tinted version of reality.)
On the other side of that I must admit that I’m careful not to look at competition, I’m a firm believer in the importance of original and creative ideas and if you look at someone whose work or product offering is similar to yours, you’re in danger of getting it stuck in your mind, which can really stifle your own creativity.
Competition can be a good thing yes, but giving your competition a leg up is just bad business.
“Take it as a compliment”
The one thing that always gets said in these situations is some form of “take it as a compliment” or “imitation is the best form of flattery”
Sorry. I’m just not into that one. It seems to be one of those old school saying like “the customer’s always right” that we now know isn’t always true, yet people often say it to fill a gap and assume it’ll shut you up… it’s basically a “calm down dear” and you can imagine how I feel about that one!
There’s a difference between admiring someones work – which is a huge compliment – and replicating someones work – which is theft.
No only that but it’s really bloody rude and inconsiderate. but by replicating someones hard work you’re completely disregarding the time and energy they’ve invested, the skills they’ve acquired and honed and the research and development they’ve conducted, bypassing that whole process to imitate it when you haven’t earned any of it… I just don’t see how that’s a compliment. Yes it’s wonderfully flattering that someone likes it enough to want it for themselves, but to try and action that desire, in this way is wrong. I mean, I’d kill to trade places with Beyonce but I’m not going to sing ‘Run The World’ and then claim that I wrote it.
Be inspired by someones passion, by their creativity, by their drive and spirit – tell them, talk about them, share them….don’t rip them off by copying them exactly and then trying to pass it off as your own work. If you like what someone’s doing, empower them and share in their happiness rather than trying to capture it exactly. We are so much more impactful when we lift each other up.
If someone wants to forgo all the hardwork that you put in just to replicate something you’ve worked tirelessly to build I don’t accept that that’s flattering. Thats stealing. It may not be obvious to everyone and I do understand that (hence the blog) but I can’t stress enough that it’s not a compliment. In this case, a compliment is an admirer or a customer, not a copier.
Just to be clear
My biggest fear in this regard is to come across as unsupportive, so I really want to stress that my issue is specifically with people trying to imitate. If someone has an original and creative idea then that really is wonderful and when asked, I’m always happy to offer any advice I can that might be of use. This is exactly why we launched the Toolkits, to dish out that information in the hopes it’ll help others to succeed in their own way.
To really stress the point – I’m also friendly with other ‘Giant knitters’ who started at a similar time as me because there’s an understanding and respect that none of us copied the other, we just happened upon something at the same time and took it in our own directions, some of those happen to overlap yes but we understand that that’s just circumstance. However, I find it too hard to be friendly with people who’ve said to me “I enjoyed your knit kit so I’m going to use it to create my own business” or “I want to do what you do, tell me how” I just can’t get on board but I do hope I’ve made the distinction clear.
The problem with faux creativity
The problem with imitating a creative business is that the perpetrator, surely without realising it, is simply removing the essence of what makes it great in the first place…They’re taking all the creativity out of it. And without that, all they’ll have is a shell of an unoriginal business and a very upset creative in their wake who’s hard work has been carelessly reproduced. They’ll also be playing catch up for ever which is never a winning formula.
As it’s a bit of a touchy subject for me (especially at Christmas as whenever we release a new ready made product it’s normally a matter of weeks before other chunky knitters have copied it.) It’s honestly gutting to work so hard at something and be so proud of it for it to then be taken from you and ‘owned’ by others who didn’t even have to think about it. So I just wanted to add a short thought on this:
By all means, become a chunky knitter if that’s your calling, but for f*cks sake, please don’t just copy my Santa Hat and Wreath like the rest of them. I can spot it a mile off, and so can customers. Yes you’ll have new customers who don’t know it’s my design (not yours) who’ll buy it because you price it a few pounds less than me but it’s also inauthentic and unsustainable so please let’s not p*ss each other off from the get go. Figure out who you are, do your own thing and I’m certain you’ll do great.
Again, and without wanting to turn sales girl – This is why we wrote the Define Your Brand Toolkit. It’s totally possible to have lots of businesses selling the same type of product but the only way to stand out is to do it your way, not someone else’s.
When they want a piece
I stand by what I wrote earlier – I don’t think people always realise what they’re doing when they ask for ‘help’ like this. They’ve seen a good idea and they want a piece of it – that’s why I created Knit Kits, for personal use, so people can have a bash and knit a blanket for themselves or their mates and yes I make a small profit from that but that is also the cost of my time and expertise in coming up with these products… As a side, I didn’t create the Knit Kits so other people could learn it all and set up a competing business (despite lots of people sadly doing just that. There’s a boundary there that I struggle to protect but hope that anyone with morals will respect)
2019 Edit: See ‘Janet’ Blog ‘This One Is For You’ for how this can get out of control and please god, learn from my mistakes!
But back to my point, they want a piece – It’s just a shame that the ‘piece’ they want is Everything you’ve got (with a capital E), rather than just being contend with purchasing one of your products or to enjoy seeing you progress and following along with the goings on. They want to be immersed in it, which despite everything, I do kind of understand and somewhere in there, i’m sure, is a compliment however, acting on it in that way can be extremely hurtful to the very person they’re trying to compliment.
What they’re actually doing, is taking something that is yours. It’s your intellectual property an it’s undoubtedly hard to protect because it isn’t necessarily tangible and because we don’t have the same legal resources that Beyonce has… but it is still theft and it’s not OK.
If you like it;
Appreciate it, don’t copy it
To the people asking these questions;
My advice could only ever be to wait for your own spark of genius, go out and get inspired, when you create something wonderful that’s unique to you – whether it be a specific product or a signature style that’s all you – that’s when you’ve found it and that’s when you’ll have the product, the passion, the love and therefore the enthusiasm to make it work. Those things can only ever come from developing your own ‘business baby’ and not from taking someone else’s.
Please don’t put someone in the position where they’re expected to give away all of their business learnings and secrets. It’s not fair and it’s not creative and I know you’re better than that.
Final point for any copy cats:
And if you’re ignoring all of that, and still going to ask, please at least attempt to use full sentences and be polite. I can’t take another “Where do you buy your wool?” – a “Hello” would be nice.
(I’ll likely still ignore you but at least you could learn some manners)
That was a biggun! Well done if you hung in there, I applaud you!
I’ll leave you to enjoy your evening (if there’s any left)
Thank you SO MUCH for joining me again <3
Really interesting post by Pragya from Hedge and Hog Prints – “Why isn’t imitation a form of flattery?”
Brilliant post by Dom from All That Is She – “Instagram: The Imitation Game”