As a business owner, you've worked countless hours to develop a successful brand, an identity that your target market identifies with, and ideas that enable you to stand out in your industry. Whether your company is big or small, however, your brand and ideas might not be immune to theft even so. Since picking up the pieces and rebuilding your identity after it has been copied, weakened, or stolen can prove to be an insurmountable challenge, it's best to put safeguards in place from the start. Discover six effective steps to protect your brand and ideas from copycats.

Establish Your Brand

When it comes to branding, being first is key. Whether you're developing a product or creating a brand, there's typically little room for error. It's important to develop a marketing plan from the outset and move as quickly as possible once your plan is in place. Marketing plans will vary among industries, markets, and product types, so be sure you understand the best marketing, advertising, and public relations practices for your particular niche.

As you put your brand or ideas out there, don't underestimate the power of partnerships. Forging strategic relationships with influencers, suppliers, or other partners can further establish your brand while simultaneously blocking potential copycats from the market.

Give Your Business a Face

While it isn't impossible for an established business to steal your ideas or brand, many copycats remain anonymous entities that exist solely to profit off of your hard work. In either case, it's important for you to put a face to your business to create a personal connection with your customers and fans.

This can involve anything from developing a memorable about page or other highly personalized media to making your unique story the center of your identity. No matter which strategy your business adopts, you can create ample opportunity to connect with your market and forge a sense of loyalty.

Understand What Brand Theft Looks Like

How to Protect your Brand and Ideas from Copycats

Image via Flickr by pellesten

As you're establishing your company in the marketplace, it's important to remember that just because another company has a related brand or develops a similar product doesn't mean that your hard work has been copied. In general, you can probably consider an identical idea or brand to be counterfeit, but a product that takes what appears to be your company's basic ideas and builds on them can be a much more complicated issue.

As a business owner, you likely understand that varying degrees of inspiration and intent typically go into any branding decision. It may be in your best interest to contact experienced legal counsel to differentiate between coincidental inspiration and outright brand theft.

Put Basic Safeguards in Place

From tech startups to creative agencies to business services providers, no company is safe from potential copycats. That's why it's so important to take a proactive approach to your brand identity and your moneymaking ideas.

Putting necessary safeguards in place is easy as long as you're thinking ahead. As a software or hardware developer, for instance, consider coding your product in such a way as to limit the chances of theft or unintended usage. As a creative or an analyst, defend your online content against plagiarism by using monitoring tools to search the web for unauthorized copies.

Add a Layer of Legal Protection

When it comes to adding legal protection for your business, being proactive is almost always in your best interest. That means you should understand how to protect your business and establish your legal grounds before launching your brand.

To establish ownership over your company's identity, trademark your name. Apply for a patent to protect technical products and innovations, and be sure to copyright all of your creative work. Ask potential partners to sign nondisclosure agreements to ensure that no one leaks details about your ideas before you're ready. Keep in mind that some of these processes take time and require advanced knowledge, so having an experienced legal team at your disposal can be critical.

Keep Careful Documentation

No matter what kind of legal protection you add, keeping careful documentation is essential. After all, if you need to prove ownership of an idea or brand elements, you won't make much progress without a paper trail.

This can be as simple as preserving records of logo use or legal filings related to brand protection. With this type of documentation in hand, you can build a solid case that your business has developed a unique brand and launched specific ideas over a well-established timeline, clearly differentiating your business from the copycat competition.

Recovering a compromised business image isn't always easy. Follow these six steps to prevent copycats from stealing your brand, identity, and ideas from the outset.