Blog Friday Q&A

Friday Q & A: How to Deal With People Copying You, How to Compensate Startup Advisors, and the Book That Changed My Life

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Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.

Happy Friday!

In our Groove Friday Q & A segment, we’re answering any questions that you have about, well, anything.

A huge thank you to Cherlyn, SS and Linh N. for this week’s questions.

Check out this week’s answers below, and jump in with your own thoughts in the comments!

How do you deal with people copying you?

A mentor once told me that if you do anything noteworthy in your life, people will copy you.

And if nobody ever tries to copy you, then what you’re doing probably isn’t all that successful.

I’ve found that to be true, as I seem to get an email every couple of weeks about people using our copy or design somewhere around the internet.

First, I’ll address this specific scenario, as it comes up often: in Neil’s case, he actually went about it really well: he credited us for the copy on his blog, and says plainly that the reason he’s using it is because he likes it so much.

I don’t begrudge Neil at all for doing this, and in fact hope that our approach is really successful for him, as he’s delivered plenty of value to us. We’ve read his blog for years, have gotten a lot from it, and also got tons of valuable insights (and traffic) in our interview with Neil on our blog.

But to go beyond this example, I think it’s important to understand something about people copying you: it will happen, and if you’re a small business, there’s no point in you trying to stop it.

It’s alarmingly easy to waste huge amounts of time and money trying to get people to stop copying you. And ultimately, in almost all cases as it pertains to readers of this blog, it won’t matter.

People that copy our blog aren’t taking any money out of our hands. They’re not decreasing the size of the slice of the pie that we get. It simply doesn’t matter enough to worry about.

If you focus on doing the very best job you possibly can at growing your business and building an amazing experience for your customers, people will see your success (especially if you’re transparent about it) and they’ll copy the things that you do. It will absolutely happen.

Personally, I’d rather give them my blessing and wish them success than waste time, money and attention trying to stop them.

How do you compensate startup advisors?

I’ve written about finding the right advisors and maintaining great relationships with them, but compensation isn’t something we’ve addressed yet.

And that’s because there’s no blanket advice here that’s going to work for everybody.

First of all, we’re not talking about cash compensation here. For advisors that you actually want, you won’t be able to offer enough cash to make things interesting for them (that is, they’re already financially successful). Anyone you pay for advice without having them invested in your success is simply a consultant.

Good advisors might not even ask for compensation at all, though it’s good practice, if they’ve consistently been delivering value for your company, to formalize the relationship with equity shares.

The two most important factors are:

  1. Value: How involved will they be? How will their expertise and advice translate into value for your business? What, exactly, do you imagine that value will be?
  2. Leverage: Who’s getting more out of the relationship? Are you a fast-growing company with traction that many people want to help in exchange for equity? Or are you unproven, pre-launch and desperate for an expert to come in and help you get things off of the ground? The latter company should be compensating the right advisors far more heavily than the former one.

I’ve seen equity compensation ranging anywhere from .25% to 1% for very valuable advisors.

But my personal preference—and again, this doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone—is to have them invest in your company, as we did, to take the relationship even further.

I wish I could give a better answer here, but I hope that this at least helps you think about the question in a more productive way.

What book has changed your life?

There are a lot of books that have been transformative for me, but whenever I’m asked this question, the first one that always comes to mind is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

While the laws themselves are incredibly valuable, the most powerful lesson that the book taught me was how to think about marketing. Primarily, not to do what everyone else was doing, simply because others were doing it.

The laws teach you a framework that I think Rick Perrault described very well in his interview on our blog: when others zig, you zag. I refer to this book nearly every time we have important discussions about marketing.

I recommend it often because a lot of people haven’t read it, dismissing it as being old (it was written in the early 90’s).

The conversation about "the best resources" is so dominated by the latest books and blogs that have come out in the past few years, that we tend to forget that many people solved the same business problems we’re solving now a long time ago. The principles have not changed, and this book, while more than 20 years old, is still just as applicable as the best advice posted online yesterday (if not moreso).

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From “aha” to “oh shit”, we’re sharing everything on our journey to $10M in annual revenue. We’re learning a lot and so will you.

About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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