Imitate, don’t copy. (9 Tips for Borrowing Ideas)

It’s tempting to just copy what other accountants or doing.

Or to copy what anyone is doing, when it comes to marketing.


“Clearly that is working for them,” you think.  “Why should I bother going to all the effort of creating a new idea when they’re doing it so well?”

There are a few reasons.  The most important one, of course, is that it’s just plain wrong to carbon-copy someone else’s idea.  But as we all know there’s nothing wrong with copying their idea, and then adapting it for your own firm, style, niche market, colours, content.


Kind of.

Here are a few tips as you consider launching out with a new idea that you borrowed from someone else:

1. Don’t steal the layout and change the words.

Simply changing the title from “10 Tips for Fast-Growing Architectural Firms” to “10 Tips for Architects” is not enough.  Building a website that has the same layout as another firm’s site that you like could land you in hot water. Make sure that yours is different enough that it actually is yours, not theirs.

2. Think more about your clients than about the clever idea.

Just because someone else published an ebook doesn’t mean that’s what your clients want.  Or if another firm ran a hugely successful webinar or Xero event or product launch, that may not be a fit for your prospects.  Spend more time thinking about your clients’ expressed needs, and make sure your campaign or your solution addresses those needs.

3. Don’t steal images.

Taking an image from Google images and using it for your own could land you in court with thousands (or hundreds of thousands) to pay.  Literally.  Please don’t do it.  Invest the grand sum of a few dollars per image and buy them from a legit site, like istock or Shutterstock or 123rf.

4. Generic content doesn’t work.

It’s fine to buy in generic content, as long as you edit it, adapt it, and customise it for your audience.  Again, remember point 2 – what do your clients and prospects actually care about? Get specific, so when they read it they are thinking, “That’s exactly right! This is so helpful!”

5. Follow the trends.

It’s absolutely okay to follow the general trend, because that’s where the attention and focus is going.  If everyone seems to be on Twitter and are using the ads to build their database, feel free to do the same.  Don’t use their ad wording or call to action exactly, but following in the wake of what seems to be successful is just smart marketing.

6. Make your idea even better.

Don’t just copy the concept – go a step further.  Adjust. Tweak. Add more pages, different calls to action.  Use five social media engines instead of one.  Get a custom CRM system built instead of just using a standard one.  Start with the idea, and then go one better.

7. Build strategic partnerships.

Sometimes, what someone else has created is just so good that you’d be better off contacting them and asking if you could work together. Or license their product. Or share leads somehow.  Obviously you need to have or build a trusted relationship, but I’m amazed at how often we think we have to recreate the wheel, instead of asking if we can hire out the wheel.

8. Make sure the style is all your own.

Even when you borrow a general idea or concept, it’s critical that it matches with your firm identity.  So few accountancy firms even have brand identity guidelines (how can your logo be used? Placement? Colours? Fonts?), much less Firm Identity Guidelines (wording, concepts, imagery, ideas, phraseology, etc).  At the Profitable Firm, we do outsourced marketing for so many firms that we have a “Style Sheet” for every firm we work with, so that all our team members know what to use and not use, what style works and doesn’t, for each different client. Make sure you’re aware of your own style, and that your ideas match it.

9. Combine ideas from multiple sources.

When you borrow an idea from one source, it takes a lot of effort to make it yours.  If you are constantly gathering ideas from multiple sources – different companies, countries, people, styles – it’s less likely that it will be a rip off because you’re simply gleaning bits and pieces, and the ultimate idea is actually your own.

Oddly enough I’ve actually recommended to many accountants (and even other companies as well) that they do something similar to my Marketing Tips. They’re extremely successful for us, and our readers love them – because they’re crafted uniquely for accountants and hit on areas you’re already considering. I have no problem at all with you deciding to send out a certain kind of tip once a week, or once a month.  Matter of fact I think it’s a great idea.  Just make sure you choose a topic and audience that fits you and your firm, write the content yourself, deliver them on a day that suits your audience – and stick with it.

And have a great Friday!