Why I won’t help you copy my business

Oh hi!

I know we’ve all said it but…August… WHAT? HOW?! …right? I don’t understand. (Not only that but *eh hum* If it’s August, where has the sun gone please?) 

Back to Business…

Rainy days aside lets get onto the topic at hand for this weeks post. If you join me on Instagram you may have notice that i’ve taken to Instagram Stories – it’s so much fun having chats with you on there and I just love your replies (THANK YOU!) – I did a story 2 weeks ago that got a HUGE response so I really feel it deserves a little more limelight which brings me to today…

 

A warning in advance

Todays post is another ‘Woes of the Small Business’ post so if you’re here purely for chunky knit’s and not to hear my business waffle, I totally get that – there’s absolutely no hard feelings. I apologise for yet again going off topic but promise I’ll be back next week with something VERY exciting to get back on the chunky knit track (and maybe a reward for sticking around. Eeeep!) 

What’s the (IG) Story Morning Glory?

The subject of the Story was another email I’d received (really, I’m not complaining – my inbox is blogging gold lately! 😉 ) The email came from a lady who wants to set up a business doing chunky knitting and so asked me: 

“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?”

 

Pardon?

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 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, your 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.

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 out 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 who’s work is similar to yours, you’re in danger of getting it stuck in your mind, which can really sniffle your own creativity.  

Lauren’s Conclusion: Competition can be a good thing yes, but giving your competition a leg up is just silly. 

“Take it as a compliment”

The one thing that always gets said in these situations (and there will be a booby prize for anyone who comments saying this!) is some form of “take it as a compliment” or “imitation is the best form of flattery” 

Nope.

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! 

If I wear a top and someone ask’s where I bought it, I’ll happily share that information so that they can go to that shop, purchase it and hopefully enjoy wearing it. On those occasions I am honoured, I totally get (and love!) that compliment. But if someone said “Where did you get that top? I’d like to visit the shop, learn how they did it and make it myself to sell to people, I might target their customers while I’m at it”… That’s different. 

If someone wants to forgo all the hard work 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 complement is an admirer or a customer, not a copier. 

Just to be clear

(A point I also made on my IG stories the other week when discussing this) 

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. 

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 who’s hard work has been carelessly reproduced. They’ll also be playing catch up for ever which is never a winning formula.

When they want a peice

I stand by what I wrote earlier – I don’t think people always realise what they’re doing. 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 Kit’s 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)

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 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 ‘complimentee’.

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… but it is still theft. 

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.

PHEW

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 

L x

Further reading

Really interesting post by Pragya from Hedge and Hog Prints – “Why isn’t imitation a form of flattery?”

One of my earlier posts (from 2015)-  “How not to copy someones work”

What a LAD

Chunky knitter, tea drinker, word writer. I'm Lauren Aston: bringing you 90% waffle and 10% useful information.

Latest on the blog

Join the subscribe tribe

Enjoy yarn delivered to your door
Fancy some LAD blogs delivered to your inbox?

Join our blog mailing list and receive a lovely email every time we add a new post.

22 thoughts on “Why I won’t help you copy my business”

  1. Liz Padgham-Major

    Oh I feel your pain Lauren! A couple of years ago I was selling at a fair, two ladies came up and picked up one of my hand embroidered brooches set in a mini hoop, they admired it and asked lots of questions, I could actually hear myself saying too much, but they seemed so interested and really appreciated it. Anyway a few minutes of pondering then one said to her friend " ok we now know how to make this, looks easy, I’ll order the mini hoop on Monday and you have the fabric for embroidering the flower on, just like this " she then put down my brooch and walked off! I could not believe what I had witnessed! Still haunts me today!! Lots of love xxxx

  2. As usual a brilliantly written post on a subject close to my heart. I put my dog coat patterns out there for home sewers for personal use – only to have at least 2 people make a business out of using them. It was simply horrid at the time, but now, I realise that they can never do what I do – come up with new designs, present them in a beautiful way and sell them on a secure website.
    I worried for you when you did you knit kit – my dog jumper kits were ripped off by a marketing company and then appeared in a well know department store who could have bought them off me – and not the rip off that was made in China!
    Good for you for raising this issue that so many of us face in this internet world!
    Debbie

  3. This is a brilliantly written post from all perspectives!
    As a broader comment however, people may approach in this way because it is societies way of learning. In my industry, if you want to learn how to do your job well, you seek out the best person in their line of work and you learn from them. This is also similar to the way universities work and job training. I don’t think there is a full appreciation for creatives and small businesses because of this underlying culture of learning. So while it may not be a compliment, or right, some people may be doing what they know and not fully understanding creativity and the essence of what that means.
    In saying that, some people are also quite rude and just out for a quick buck!

  4. Totally agree with everything you have written here! I have two parallel small businesses – as a jeweller and a craft bead etc. seller, both over on etsy. The beads I sell were initially fairly niche (I set up my shop as I could only get hold of them by importing them in small quantities from the USA) but in the 2 years after I set up, 3 of my customers did exactly the same thing. Of course, I couldn’t stop them, nor did I try to….but surprise surprise, the market suddenly got super-saturated! Partly because it was the time for those particular beads to be soaring in popularity (a few people who weren’t my customers had also done the same thing), but also because – and I really felt this to be the case – those who had been my customers just jumped on the bandwagon and weren’t necessarily offering anything new or different. I’ve even had people write to me directly and ask for my suppliers! I’ve been luckier with my jewellery – when I used to teach it several years ago, I had several students who said ‘I am so excited to make more of this design you’ve shared with us so I can sell it and start my own jewellery business’….it was a pretty common attitude. Like you, I don’t actually think that any of these people mean to be rude or disrespectful. They’re just completely ignorant. Ultimately, yes – they can hurt our businesses, but I truly believe that theirs will never thrive, because it’s just not built on their own creativity, talent or passion. You can’t steal that from someone else – it will NEVER be authentic!

  5. Absolutely spot on, what an amazing post. Could not have written it better if I’d tried 🙂 I’ve been subject to copycatting, they’re even so short sighted they can’t see what they’re doing is wrong. In a way it’s propelled me on to be better, quicker, more creative and more playful. I’ve been told I was ‘unqiue for my time’! And ok perhaps what I’ve created was created in different forms, but what I started 5 years ago was thoroughly researched and nothing similar existed. I’d have never had the balls to start it if I knew someone else was doing it… yet everyone now thinks it’s ok to do that and not even do any research. So well done for writing a piece which is so eloquently put xx

  6. Very well written post. We have had this a lot as well both via email and a lot of the time when we have been at trade shows we have paid to sell at to wholesale accounts, not paid to give all of our business information out to people starting out and missing actual trade customers or bloggers/journalists in the process

    I’m happy to help people and support other small business owners. I run a Supportive FB group for small businesses. We can all learn something from one another and this game can be lonely at times as a small business owner. BUT, my business partner and I spent 3 years together doing our fashion degrees & learning how to design, about different fabrics, pull ideas together, story tell, pattern cut, create a collection and then market it. Been on numerous unpaid work experience placements for months to learn in an actual business, big and small, go on photo shoots, speak to customers in mail order and then pack orders, make the tea, photocopy etc and then 12 years in the industry working my way up from the bottom to running projects and teams of people, being responsible for their development and growth andmassive budgets. All that I’ve learnt and that I’ve worked for,all the suppliers I’ve spent literally years building up relationships with, learning how to and not to do things. I will help answer questions were I can, if someone is genuinely struggling with an aspect of their business (or even just when it’s an idea) then I’ll help, I’ll scratch your back etc, but I will not help someone copy my business and I don’t think it’s fair to ask. People assume it’s easy, that you set up a website and bam you have a small business but it isn’t. It’s hard work and you are constant juggling plates. I respect anyone who tries to set one up, but it just takes respect to get respect.

  7. Hi Lauren,

    May I share your post please? I’ve set up a business where people pay to shadow experts because like you, I believe there are far too many people who expect you to share all the fruits of your labour and get nothing in return. I think it is not only disrespectful but naive. On the other hand, I do also think for people who are desperate to change careers and do something different, it’s very hard: schools and universities share no detail or insight into how to run your own business. Spending time with people who love their work and can share insights give people such an incredibly valuable chance to learn. I do want to help people find their calling – but because I’ve heard stories like this so often, I get my customers to sign non-compete legal documents (they may want to be a florist but they can’t do it in the same location, take staff or customers) and confidentiality (NDA) agreements (they can’t blog, share or publish details of their experience afterwards). I personally feel you are right not to let people shadow/learn your craft, because it’s very niche – but for people doing something broader (running a B&B, cafe, restaurant, kennel, architect, author etc…) believe a more honest ‘pay for what you’ll learn’ model is more fair and respectful. If it’s ok for me to share your post let me know: [email protected]

  8. Janice ashworth

    What a well put together piece, I think you are right in everything you say, but I think the problem is fundamentally that most people who try to copy , generally don’t have a creative bone in their body. Truly creative people may be inspired by something they see and find a new pathway to explore from that inspiration but they wouldn’t copy it. If you gave several people the same materials they would all inevitably come up with the same idea, but that doesn’t mean they can make it into a thing of beauty, and copying a business model they may have something on paper that may look similar, but they wouldn’t have learnt the business from the bottom up and have the love and care that it needs to make it grow. Some customers may be fooled for a while, but without the love and soul they could never develop and bring it to any success. To succeed you need to keep developing and moving forward and that would never happen. I am pleased that being creative is now seen as something to aspire to and to copy, in my youth it was something to hide as it was seen as something strange and not worthwhile.

  9. I kind of get what you’re saying here but you’re acting like you did it all yourself. Who taught you to knit? How did you learn to create a website? Who aided you in navigating instagram? And what makes you think you were the first person to have these ideas? Maybe someone has been dreaming of doing something similar for years and they finally feel it’s the right time. It’s ok if they started at the same time as you but not since? What about all the people who were doing what you’re doing first? Who gave you advice when refining your products?

    I feel like you’re coming from a place of fear and whilst I understand it I’m not sure it’s a healthy place to live from. Believe in what you do and trust that it is worth selling and buying. There are literally millions of people in the world isn’t there enough of a marketplace for everyone. Also I think its important to be generous. Share your skills, teach others to do what you do. If you love it don’t you want others to be able to love it too. And be successful at it as well? And I do believe the more generous we are the more blessed we are.

    That person that has asked you for help, maybe they will be your biggest advocate. Maybe they will help your business grow in ways you haven’t even dreamed of. Maybe them sharing that it was you that got them started, you that supported and encouraged them will get your name out there even more.

    No one is asking you to do it for them. They are just asking for a little advice. A little wisdom. Is that too much to ask? You don’t have to give away your trade secrets but there are things you’ve learnt that can help others in their journey. I’m pretty sure someone helped you. None of us is an island and as much as we like to think we’ve achieved everything we do alone I’m not sure it’s true.

    So let’s be generous with one another and help where we can.

    1. I don’t agree. I had my own business for 4 years. I worked hard to research and learn how to do my marketing, my financing, my accounting, the curating of items for my shop, staging, finding great suppliers, etc. It is a HUGE learning curve and yes, agonizing at times. Blood, sweat and tears. And lots of money invested. Then you get someone who comes in and wants to copy every single thing you do and wants the information handed to them on a silver platter, without putting in any effort. I had those people in all the time. I learned to share just enough and not to be specific. Why should I share all my hard earned knowledge? No one, and I mean no one shared their knowledge with me. I gathered it all through research, on the Internet and in books and by taking classes which I paid for. So you go out and do the same. Hone your skills. Don’t expect that it will just be handed to you for free.

  10. I totally agree. I hate my day job and would love to set up and run my own business but I don’t have much creative talent or any business experience – not a good combination! So I continue making things for myself for pleasure and wouldn’t dream of copying someone else’s ideas. If I was able to set up my own business at some point I want it to be with an entirely original idea (which I probably won’t ever have) and be through my own hard work, not someone else’s! I haven’t come across you before, I saw this post on fb, I’m off to find you on instagram, your work looks lovely!

  11. I like your post, it resonates with me and reminds me of people being far too inquisitive into my business. Thank you for posting it. People taking loads of photos of my stand (without asking) and then getting indignant with me when I ask them who are they, what are they doing and where are those photos going. In the early days I often gave away business information and you know what….i rarely got acknowledged for it and have gone in to see my designs show up in their ranges! Learning the hard way has taught me I’m not a free business consultant service, Im much more guarded now. I recall someone causing a right fuss at my tradestand when I refused to tell them where I got my materials from. Unfortunately I’ve found it’s not just small start ups ~ some of the biggest copyright breaches I’ve had come from over inquisitive buyers from large high street retaulers requesting full sample ranges and explanations of how things are made….. sigh thanks again for your post.

  12. At least you got a full sentence – "Where do you buy your wool?". One of my lastest messages was – "Materials?" LOL.

  13. I have a design business in a small town, my landlord asked if another designer could open a "non competing" shop next to me and because I wanted to be a good person I agreed as long as we were completely different services and merchandise. He moved in and within 2 weeks asked to "combine" our businesses! He did everything he could to become me. I have a very successful client base. To date I moved to another town to escape him. and the lying landlords. I now have 100% more business in new location. My point is competition can be good if it forces you to grow. He is still copying my business by stalking my social media and adding anything new I do. LOL my peeps inform me as I am too busy to care what he does! Good luck all small business owners!

  14. You’re not alone, I actually hate talking about where I get my creative ideas from, I don’t mind genuine conversation but I hate it when I sense that I’m being used ad a source. I thought that being self-employed would bring me more security but nope

  15. This is brilliant! I had someone ask me for business advice on Depop. I knew better than to reply, and a week later she was selling the same rings as us! When you put all the hard work in yourself learning how to run a business without having asked people how to do it, it definitely gets my back up that some people can be so cheeky!

  16. Great read!!
    I have had similar experiences, where people have asked how I make something.. like come on do you really think I’m going to tell you how to make it!? And then people turning round to someone who’s purchased something from me and saying ‘oh god I hope you didn’t pay that much for that, I could have made it a lot cheaper for you’ I was gob smacked and a little hurt, she was tarnishing my business and making me look like I was ripping her off.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *