Imitation, as the clich goes, may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is a major pain in the butt if you own a business or are a marketer who has come up with a truly great idea.

Unfortunately, it is also a fact of (business) life.

If you come up with a good idea for a new product for service, you are going to be copied.

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.

How?

Let me give you six ideas that have worked for your peers.

1. Start with acceptance. 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 first is not the way to go. They are, and will remain, an annoying--or worse--fact of life.

3. You never want to compete on price. It's a loser's game. Someone can always offer 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. What should you do instead? That brings us to point 4.

4. Keep innovating as fast you can, to improve your existing product or service and to add new ones to your line. There are two "easy" ways to do that as we will discuss in points 5 and 6.

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 take away from all this is something you already knew: You can never be complacent; you can never stand still.

Constant improvement is the only way you can keep the copy cats at bay.

###

Published on: Mar 24, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.