The same holds true if you “only” improve an existing product or service. People are going to be quick to do the same thing. Of course it isn’t fair. You put in the time and effort and took the risk to pave the way and they didn’t.
But that doesn’t matter. You are going to be copied, ripped off if you prefer less polite language. You have to deal with it.
In the course of doing Business Awards in Zimbabwe for more than 8 years now, I have talked to literally hundreds of business owners who had to face this issue. When I distilled what I heard, I realized they had given me what amounted to a simple, straightforward five-point plan that has worked for them.
1. You accept the fact that there is going to be imitation. Yes, of course, if it is relevant, you get patent and service mark protection for what you have created. But your default position should be that those things will not protect you. Others will find a way around them, or will simply ignore them inviting you to file an expensive law suit. Acknowledge all this up front as well as the fact that you will have to deal with the competition head on.
2. What follows from the first point is that you can never underestimate the competition. They will be relentless, move far faster and be better than you think possible. Ignoring them or hoping the market will reward you for being the original is not a safe course. There is a reason the cliché goes: “Pioneers get arrows in their backs.” There will be no such thing as resting on your laurels for you, and that brings us to point 3:
3. You never want to compete on price. It’s a loser’s game. Someone can always have a lower price than you, either because they are willing to buy market share, or because they simply don’t know what their costs are. You don’t want to go down this road.
4. Keep innovating as fast you can, to improve your existing product or service and adding new ones to your line. There are two “easy” ways to do that:
5. Stay close to your most important customers. They will be able to tell you what they will need next, or at least identify the problem they would like you to solve. And it is always easier to solve for an existing market need than it is to think of another new idea out of whole cloth. Plus, if you pay attention to what they have to tell you, you will have a built-in market for your next product or service–the people who have told you they have a need.
6. Once they have identified the need for you, fill it as fast as you can (because you know the competition is going to copy you again.
The takeaway from all this is something you already knew: You can never be complacent; you can never stand still.
You must always be getting better.