Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

How to Copy Your Competitors Without Breaking the Law

Chances are, you opened your small business because you believe you can do it better than anyone else. And better usually means differently. Maybe you have a unique take on an old concept, you've figured out a more efficient means of production or delivery, or you invented something completely brand new. Either way, doing the same thing as your competition might be the furthest thing from your business plan.

Which is why you might've also raised an eyebrow at a recent Entrepreneur article encouraging business owners to start copying their competitors. It turns out the magazine is not telling you to plagiarize or steal marketing plans, and the article has some worthwhile advice. So we decided to build on it, with a legal spin. So here's how to copy your competitors, legally.

Learn From Others' Mistakes

"Everybody makes mistakes," Craig Simpson writes. "Unfortunately, even the smallest mistakes in direct mail can be detrimental to your campaign's success." And the lesson of watching your competitors mess up -- and not duplicating that failure -- can extend far beyond direct marketing. So learn from these legal mistakes:

Learn More About Your Market

As Simpson points out, you can also learn from what your competitors are doing right: "You can learn new information about your target market by watching your competitors' movements and seeing what the market responds to." And when it comes to marketing, you want to be on the right side of the law:

Proven Formulas Work

"Sales copy is written a certain way because it works," Simpson writes. "You want to study what your competition is doing. This is just good business sense." But the effectiveness of your competitors' sales copy, or your own, is only half the equation. Your advertisements and sales pitches need to be legal as well, and here are some tips for keeping them that way:

Of course, the best way to make sure any of your business practices are legal, whether you got them from your competition or not, is to ask an experienced commercial attorney.

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