From registering your business to copyright law, protecting your business might sometimes feel like a bit of a minefield.
And when you’re a startup or SME, you don’t always have the funds to protect yourself from copycats. As well as registering your trademarks and laws, there are plenty of easy ways you can guarantee protection for your small business. Here are a few examples.
1. Protect Your Brand Legally
Starting up and running your own business is hard work and costly, we know that. If another ‘copycat’ business latches itself onto your business idea, the risks can be high if you aren’t legally protected.
One of the best ways to protect your brand is to register with a trademark. This allows you to take legal action against anyone who uses your brand without permission and it means you can use the ® symbol (which can be pretty off-putting to copycats on its own!).
You can protect your brand’s words, sounds, logos and colours – but there are a few rules over what can’t count as a trademark. Here’s a full list of these rules and how to register online.
If someone uses your trade mark without your permission, this is called intellectual property (IP) infringement. It’s your responsibility to defend your IP, but you can get help from a solicitor or the Intellectual Property Office.
2. Make People Remember You
Once you’re set up legally, there are a few extra ways you can reinforce the protection around your business. (And for startups, this option is extra beneficial because it can be more affordable than registering for a trade mark.)
There are quite a few ways you could do this, and we recommend doing as many of the following as possible:
• Create a memorable logo design – when it comes to logos, simple is effective. Here’s how to create the perfect logo for your startup business.
• Advertise as widely as possible – from advertising on social media to flyer distribution, there are tons of ways to promote your business.
• Get involved locally – sponsor local events (make sure you print your own t-shirts!) or even rent a stall at the town market; getting your name and brand out in front of people is key to being remembered.
• Give out freebies – giving out promotional gifts or goodie bags at trade events is a great way of sharing your brand with people and creating a positive, emotional connection. Free gifts like branded mugs and custom tote bags are great options.
3. Focus on What Makes You Unique
The strongest brands don’t need to worry about copycats. Take Hoover for example. This company’s branding is so strong that, even though there are plenty of similar companies out there, consumers will still choose them. It can be useful to take a step back and focus on your own brand and how you can improve your offering.
Your brand is more than just your logo. It’s your values, how you want to come across to customers and what makes you unique from the competition.
To determine your unique selling point (USP), there are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
• Do you target a unique audience?
• Do you offer a unique product or service?
Once you’ve figured it out, it’s a great subject to structure or inform your marketing strategy around. Here’s how to find your business’ USP.
4. Spread Brand Awareness as Quickly as Possible
By growing awareness quickly, you’re making important steps in differentiating yourself from the market. Once you’ve decided on your brand guideline, you can start marketing yourself in the way you want consumers to see you.
The quickest (and cheapest) way to do this is with print. You can easily brand your packaging with custom stickers, or create a totally unique instore customer experience with your own branded POS and display. You can even get car/van magnetic signs to promote your business wherever you go!
Don’t forget to also concentrate on your online presence; is your website’s content up to scratch? Are you making the most of social media? Again, these are all cost-effective ways of boosting your brand quickly and efficiently.
5. Stay Innovative
The reason innovation is so important in pushing your business to the forefront of the industry? The more innovative your startup is, the harder it is to imitate.
So how do you stay ahead of the game? We’d recommend starting with your customers. Create a handout for your store or an email asking for feedback – why do they choose you? What do they want to see in the future? And offer them an incentive for filling it in – such as the chance to win a voucher.
6. Don’t Lose Sleep Over It
Plagiarism is pretty common, and there are a few important things to note before you start spending money – that could be spent better – hiring a solicitor. If someone’s copying and pasting your content, Google will know about this. And they will remove any duplicated copy.
Assess your own situation before taking legal action. Think: is the price worth the outcome? A lot of the time, minor copycats are nothing to be worried about. And remember – they’re only copying the good stuff, so it’s really a compliment!
We hope this advice comes in handy if you’re currently facing copycats or for if you end up facing them in the future. For the latest startup and small business advice, keep up to date with our Think Big blog. Here, you’ll find:
• How to Compete with the Major Chain Down the Road
• How to Give Your Business a Boost When It’s in a Slump
• How Your Biggest Flaw is Affecting Your Business’ Success