(This is a guest post by Stephanie Pollock)

Every few months, a wave of murmured frustration sweeps across my social media circles. Private Facebook groups light up with comments, pleas for help and genuine anger over what continues to be a hot button issue in the online marketing world (particularly with coaches): copying.

“A client I worked with swiped my home page copy!”

“I found a direct cut and paste job of my sales page – the one I worked on for HOURS – on someone else’s site.”

“But that’s my ______ (insert: turn of phrase / program name / product idea / etc). She’s in my world – she KNOWS I’m using that…I don’t get it.”

Waking up to find your ideas, words and design being used by someone else (usually someone you know) feels awful, especially after pouring your blood, sweat and tears into your work and consistently seeking out ways to be distinct in a very crowded marketplace

And while we hear, “copying is the sincerest form of flattery,” it means very little when it compromises our livelihood and professional reputation.

The question many of us ask is, “Why does this keep happening? What’s missing here?”

As coaches, we know that inauthentic actions (like copying) usually come from fear. The business owner who copies usually does so because they haven’t yet stepped powerfully into their own uniqueness and voice. As they navigate the new world of business, they creatively ‘swipe’ from those whom they deem successful in hopes of translating that to their little corner of the web.

It’s not ok – but on some level, we get it and can have compassion. We were once struggling newbies too.

But after hundreds of conversations about this with friends, colleagues, and clients, I believe there’s another challenge in this copying equation – one with extremely blurred lines of grey.

At the most basic level, there’s an inherent lack of understanding on what constitutes copying and what’s just creative inspiration. Let’s talk about the key differences between the two, so you can use this as a guide the next time you find yourself revisiting another coach’s copy a few too many times.

Creative Inspiration & Modelling:

All creatives, artists and business owners draw inspiration from the world around them, whether that be tapping into other markets to get fresh ideas or scanning the competitive landscape to understand where they can find their point of distinction.

Modelling looks like taking high level ideas and finding a very personalized way to bring them into your business. It’s an expansive perspective – one that says, “Wow – that’s really cool. How can I take the pieces that really resonate with me and use them as a guide?”

For example: let’s say you come across a coach who runs high-end retreats in remote mountain locations. These retreats also include a suite of luxury touch points like: yoga classes, massages, a spa morning, local, organic food and a swag bag filled with speciality items.

After checking out their sales page, you instantly go into “I want to do that too!” Perfect – use this to inform and inspire you. Get clear on the specifics of what you’re drawn to — is it the retreat itself, the luxury approach, the beautifully branded sales copy and design, or a combo of it all? Once you understand where you’re most inspired, you can translate these concepts in your own business. As Danielle LaPorte says, “By observing our envy, we shine light on our true desires.”

(Quote reference: Danielle LaPorte)

It’s great to be inspired by others and to learn from those who have gone before. It can also serve as a powerful guide as you get clearer on your unique point of view and brand. The key is to keep it conceptual and elemental – and then use your own ideas, voice and brand when it’s time to get granular. And remember that modelling is never a replacement to actually digging in, doing the work and bringing your own business brand to life.

Copying + Plagiarism:

In contrast, copying goes way beyond inspiration into mimicry and plagiarism. It’s a limited perspective – one that says, “I wish I had that. I’d love for my coaching business to be that successful. Maybe if I do what she’s doing, it’ll work for me too.”

And yet, it rarely does. While modelling relies on personalization and effort, copying takes the easy way out and reeks of inauthenticity. And the readers know it – they can sense that something is off, even if they can’t articulate it. Naturally, this confusion translates to the bottom line – resulting in poor conversion.

For example: let’s say that you’ve been wanting to expand beyond 1:1 coaching and create your first group program. You’ve been plugging away at your idea for months, and not getting much traction. One day you stumble across the sales page of a woman you know through Twitter. You read it and your breath catches as you realize that she has PERFECTLY captured your ideal program. It’s exactly what you want. And the branding, naming and copy is killer to boot. Envy washes over you.

It propels you into action as you start to work on your program. You’ve got her sales page up in a browser window, and your word doc in another. You start to map out your program – toggling back and forth between yours and hers – swapping out verbs, adjectives and numbers – but liberally keeping the premise, positioning and perspective.

By the end – the copy IS different. It’s not a copy and paste. But it might as well be. Because it’s not really yours. The words may be different, but the spirit and intention behind it isn’t. And that’s copying. Period.

Keep Copying in Check with these 5 Tips:

  • Go on a mini digital sabbatical when you’re actively creating something new — don’t get distracted by what others are doing. It’s a slippery slope.
  • Furthermore, unsubscribe to any sites or newsletters that trigger you into comparison mode.
  • Before hitting publish, review and ask yourself, “Does this sound like me? Is this an accurate representation of my brand?” Better yet, ask someone you trust to review as well.
  • Use inspiration from others to dig deeper into how you can bring your own brilliance forward. See it as an opportunity to go the extra mile with your ideas. “How can I make this so unmistakably me?”
  • Trust yourself. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned coach — the world needs your voice – your authentic you. Trust in that and create accordingly.

Business activator + leadership coach Stephanie Pollock is devoted to helping talented women in business GO PRO with their dreams, stepping into the spotlights — and revenue streams — they so richly deserve.

She’s the publisher of Going Pro Magazine, a Top 40 Under 40 changemaker and creator of Beyond PRO: Claim your place as CEO – a leadership program designed specifically for entrepreneurial women.

You can find her online at Stephanie Pollock Media Inc and on Twitter at @steph_pollock.

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