Small Business Advice: What To Do When Your Competitor Copies You

Copy Cat: What To Do When You’re Copied

Originally Published March 2013. Updated November 2021.


– Having your business copied is rarely a flattering event.

– You can use the SWOT method to analyze your competitors.

– Changing your brand can be more of an opportunity than an inconvenience.

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But when you own a business and you find another business imitating you to the extreme, you are not flattered. Let’s face it: You are annoyed. And it happens more often than you may think, especially when you’re a growing, independent brand or you are in certain industries like fashion that have a history of taking referential designs a bit too close to copies. 

One of the things we are taught in business is to find what makes us “unique” and capitalize on that feature. This is different for every business; your unique quality may be your service, your personality or even a special patented product.

We work hard to differentiate ourselves from our competitors so what do we do when someone comes along and begins to “copy” our businesses?

Evaluate The Copy Cat

Start by assessing your competitor on the surface. Things may appear similar, but the proof is in the details. In business school we learn to do a SWOT analysis of ourselves versus the competition with an evaluation of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In this review, you should make note of the audience they are targeting. Is it the same as yours? Try to be open minded about why someone might choose them over you. During your evaluation of their business, take notice of other items like their social media, their search marketing tactics and, most importantly, their website. Have they gone so far as to not only copy your idea and business model, but to also imitate your brand?

Now that you have reviewed your competition, it’s time to pull out the details of the strengths you hold over that competitor all over again. You would have picked this out during your SWOT analysis. It’s now time to face a tough choice: you can go head-to-head or you can “change.”

Opt for Change

Change may be frustrating, but it can be a wonderful opportunity for re-connecting with current clients and attracting new ones. Brands enhance their identities all the time to appeal to the changing tastes of their customers. Use your SWOT assessment as a guide to rolling out a new message and plan.

Here are a few items’ that often come up when we discuss this issue with clients.

1. Your Name is Your Brand:

If your name is part of who you are and the services you provide, perhaps this needs to be called out more to your customers. For example, we have a client called Weddings in The Bahamas and someone else shares a similar name (we won’t say who). I have advised my client to adjust it to her name Weddings in The Bahamas design by Anne Marie. If your client’s are referring you by your personal name, make sure it is integrated into your marketing and design.

2. Experience Matters:

Were you the first in your industry to do provide that product or service? Will the matter to your clients? Integrating the number of years you’ve been in business or an established message into your design and marketing can be a great way to help you stand out.

3. Get a Brand Facelift:

You don’t want to throw out all that equity you have with your current audience, but maybe it’s time for a business facelift. Notice I didn’t say makeover. Tweak your overall look and feel so it retains your business integrity, but shows you know how to adapt. This is a great way to make sure you are standing out and then the person who copied you looks older and dated. This step is more of an investment and can take time to fully implement, but it can be just what the “therapist” ordered.

Good ideas rarely belong to one person for very long. Take it from me, I was marketing “technology therapy” long before therapy became the “in” thing. You may be first to market or the best at what you do, but others will try and copy you. The best advice for success is to be flexible and learn to adapt. As you make these adjustments and changes, use them to your advantage and, most importantly, stay connected with your customers. They will be a great barometer as you grow.

Stand Out with an Expert Edge

Get one-on-one guidance on how to boost your business and stake your claim in the hearts of customers! Whether you work with a mentor or watch our on-demand training sessions, our expert strategists can help you develop a brand that can’t be beat.

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