Honest Politics: Three Steps to Protecting Your Small Business

corporate espionage
How to avoid getting eavesdropped by your competitors

Small Business can take notes from grass roots political operatives this past year and take steps to limit the risk that rivals will be eating their lunch by mid-year by literally taking their lunch. So how do you keep the competition from copying your good methods and concepts or co-opting them for their own, taking part in corporate theft? You should grease the signs.

Small Business Politics

The political season is heating up, and with this year being an election year in the US, prepare yourself for more deceptive, below the belt tricks than you ever thought you’d see. Candidates will work years to form the one element they can run on– their reputation– only to see it wiped out by discovery of the skeletons in their closets, or, if those closets turn out to be vacant, an abhorrent accusation that sticks regardless of its reliability.

Typically politically dormant, the status of the country is concerning me and I found myself recently at a the house of a local businessman for a political meeting, and got to know a man named David from a national organization called Freedomworks, and his job was to assist that groups selected candidates to get elected. His politics for this instance are unimportant. What stayed with me was one of the methods he said they typically used to decrease dishonest politicking (stop laughing, really!). Once they’ve chosen to support a candidate in a local race, they make up signs and select locations to legally put them in the ground 30 days before the election day (evidently to do so sooner than 30 days is not legal in my state).

David informed us that in many circumstances, within 4-5 hours after they put down a huge collection of political signs, they watch the other side come by in a van and pull them up, leaving of course the signs for their candidate. Dirty tricks indeed. What David told us next made me laugh and get the idea for this article. He said that they spray Pam (cooking spray) or swipe Vaseline petroleum jelly on the surface of the signs so that when the other guys try to get rid of them, it makes it difficult. When you’re stealing signs at a busy crosswalk, I learned that speed and discretion are vital, and if you have to wrestle with it, the target sign will often sit tight.

How to Protect Your Business

So how do you protect against the bad guys from messing with your business and practicing commercial espionage? Here are some of the most efficient ways to prevent rivals from stealing from you:

The Legal Route

This is the most obvious one, people. For everything that constitutes intellectual property that you truly care about, safeguard it with a patent, copyright ( ©), trademark (TM or ®), or a patent pending application. Patents generally apply to things that do stuff for us, typically known as inventions, or things that may someday do something for us. Copyrights are used to guard the originality of a work of art like a book or a song. Trademarks can be petitioned for phrases, names, symbols or devices connected with trade and to differentiate those goods from the goods of others. A Servicemark (SM) is akin to a trademark for unique services. Donald Trump unsuccessfully tried to trademark his Apprentice catch-phrase, “You’re fired”, but lost, not because he couldn’t do it, but because another existing company that made pottery got there first.

Keep Track of Your Track Record

In some cases the bad guys just try to steal your reputation. This has gotten simpler with the development of Google, Twitter and a variety of other forms of online communication. Considering that most open-forum sites do not fact check before publishing, it isn’t difficult for someone to fill the Internet with make believe unhappy customers complaining about your company on RipOffReport.com or a comparable outlet. I once had a client asking for assistance because someone with a chip on their shoulder literally took the time to make complaint videos and upload them to YouTube.

The problem here is that, in an effort to get as much honest, social information about stuff online in people’s hands, most search engines give a nice high rank to everything that smacks of an evaluation, comparison, or personal experience about a product or business. That means that a couple unhappy clients or dishonest competitors can clutter up Google p. 1 about your business and be hard to delete.

What does one do? Take charge to the level you can.

First find out what is being said about you by monitoring your online track record.

Put as much affirmative press and information about your company out there as possible in the form of press releases, awards, articles, testimonials and case studies. False accusations online work best in a vacuum. If you fill cyberspace with great, honest and fresh content about your company and do it consistently, it becomes much more difficult for the other guy to make inroads. This is SEO chapter 1.

Approach the issue head on. Contact the accuser and, if it really is an unsatisfied customer, see if you can resolve the situation and get a solution. Even if that is impossible, most of these forums offer a possibility to at least respond to the complaint. If the bad press is from a rival trying to demolish your reputation, he’ll generally run like a cockroach when you turn the lights on when he understands you’re on to him.

Hire a company to do # 1 and 2 for you if you don’t have the time and resources to do it yourself. Smart Company Growth does this as an unadvertised service. There are other services out there as well you can find by Google.

Stay One Step Ahead

There are some things that are hard to safeguard legally from the imitator syndrome. Software capability is a key example, where you literally have to prove someone stole your code. It could be more expensive to protect, if you can get a patent, than the sales lost to the clone. Instead, develop a company culture of continual reinvention or product development. 3M turns over a large portion of their product line every few years on purpose because of this. It takes time to reverse engineer your products. By the time the competition have their lower-priced rip off on the market; you’ve come out with the next best thing. We see this with businesses like Apple everyday.

This technique is not easy but I can tell you usually proves more profitable, provided you have a well-tuned process for developing new material, products and services that doesn’t take years to amortize the development costs for. To the victor go the spoils, and generally speaking the business that gets their first takes the lion’s share of the loot.

This doesn’t just apply to inventions and copyrights. What about new, cool ways to advertise yourself. I tell my clients, take attorneys for example, it’s great that you’re the first lawyer in your area to have a video interview on your website. Well done! What are you going to do when everyone else follows suit? That’s where the better mousetrap ideas start to do well: a Vlog series monthly and involved community, etc.

So the next time you think that all politics is ineffective, filled with a lot of crooks who care more about power and greed than they do their constituents (and in most cases you’d be correct), keep in mind this article and learn from the easy yet effective little in-the-trenches techniques used to grease the signs for your business. So what are you doing to Grease the Signs for your business? Share your comments.

About the Author:
Karl WalinskasKarl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.