What happens when someone copies your business?

What happens when someone copies your business
I've recently come across some horror stories about businesses copying other businesses. If you've built a strong reputation in your industry, you want to protect this very important asset. This inspired this week's Enterprise post.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but what happens when another business starts copying your name, products or processes?

This happened to Nicole Kersh, founder of 4Cabling.com.au, a wholesaler, manufacturer and distributor of cables. She founded the business seven years ago and says it is now turning over about $8 million a year. At only 28, she's built the business is a male-dominated industry and says she has developed her reputation in the industry.

Cashing in on your name "It's something we've worked hard to grow and we're very proud of it," she says. "Like most entrepreneurs, my company's brand is intimately tied to my own personal brand. People know Virgin for Richard Branson, they know Aussie Home Loans for John Symond, Janine Allis for Boost Juice. And in my industry, my customers know me as the young female founder of 4Cabling.

"That's why we stood up and took notice when, a few years ago, a guy started up a competing business, using a company name that made it sound like he was a woman. It seemed a little strange at the time but it wasn't until he started using our trademarked name 4Cabling as a Google AdWord, in what seemed like an obvious attempt to direct traffic to his website, that we began to guess at his motivations. The company appeared to be using our good name and my own hard-fought reputation in order to steal our customers."

Where in the world is Valerie Khoo?

acagamic (Lennart Nacke) via photopin cc
When I was little, I used to play a game called "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?" (Did anyone else used to play this?). You had to follow Carmen around the world as she pulled off clever heists and other crimes in exotic locations. It was a great way to learn geography!

These days, I feel a little bit like Carmen (minus the crime). I've been away from Sydney so much that it's a case of "Where in the world is Valerie Khoo?"

Regular readers will know that I've been doing a lot of work in Melbourne as the Australian Writers' Centre has launched there. I've been loving every minute of it and I can't wait to meet everyone who has enrolled in our upcoming February courses.

So here's a peek into what's coming up. If you're going to the same events, come say HI and connect.

MELBOURNE WellbeingWeb event - Sunday 3 February

WelbeingWeb is the brainchild of the talented Rhiannon Colarossi. When I first met Rhiannon, her business hadn't even started yet. So I'm thrilled that her passion for empowering women has become a reality. One of her first events is detailed below and features bespoke stationery creator Christina Re. (And you know that I'm a sucker for stationery!)

The underbelly of entrepreneurship – what they don’t tell you when you sign up

The underbelly of entrepreneurship POST
So you've come back from holidays and you're wondering what to do with 2013. You may have even succumbed to an entrepreneurial seizure and think that you want to start your own business.

Before you chuck in your job and sell your first born to fund the new idea that's going to make you richer than Mark Zuckerberg, here's my guide to the underbelly of entrepreneurship.

1. You'll work harder than you ever did in your "regular" job If you think that being your own boss means you can swan around having long lunches and leading the good life, think again. You'll probably work longer hours than ever before. But the long hours aren't even the tough part. The most challenging thing you need to deal with is the stress. Your livelihood is on the line. So is your reputation. And that kind of pressure can cause more than a few sleepless nights.

When you work for someone else, you can be assured that you're getting that paycheque every single week. You don't have to worry that a team of employees, suppliers and customers are all relying on you. But when you run your own business, the buck stops with you. If business isn't going well, it's YOUR mortgage that's at stake.

On the plus side, while you may work darn hard, this also means that you're creating your own destiny. The stress might be palpable at times but the sky is also the limit. Focus on moving forward and growing your business.

2. You'll meet people who will try to take advantage of you

It sometimes amazes me when people want my products – but simply don't want to pay for them. Some have actually said: "Well, I don't expect to pay for it." I kid you not.

And I'm not referring to some tiny little promotional product that costs next to nothing to produce. I mean real products where each unit can only be created with considerable time, effort and significant costs involved.

I have no explanation for the logic behind this kind of thinking and I find it utterly confounding. But it happens. More often than you think.

Fortunately, you also come across wonderful people in business who are a pleasure to deal with. When I started my business seven years ago I didn't expect to become such good friends with so many of my customers and suppliers. I feel truly blessed that my business brought them into my life.

What I did in a fit of new year delusion

VK Boxing - Fri 18 January 2013
Some of you know that around 1 January last year, I decided to write a book. That became Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business. This year, for something completely different (and in a fit of new year delusion), I decided to wanted to train in kickboxing with a national champion. Yes, you read that correctly. It's safe to say that when you meet me for the first time, chances are that you won't immediately think "cage fighting machine" or even "kickboxing demon". Even I can't quite explain the attraction to this activity. But possibly the names of my pets provide some hints to my penchant … Kitty Rocky secured his name because he came into my life the year Rocky Balboa (the sixth in the series) was released, and little doggie Rambo was named the year Rambo (fourth in the series) hit the big screens. But kickboxing? Perhaps the heatwave that was passing through the Yarra Valley around the new year touched my brain (in all the wrong ways) as I'm still not entirely sure what possessed me … But somehow I found myself placing a call with the aforementioned champ and, before I knew it, I was booked into a session with her (yes, her). I've had several one-on-one sessions with the trainer now – set against a visually appropriate backdrop of a well-used fighting ring in a tin shed that sometimes feels like its 30 degrees – and the conversations have gone something like this:

Finalist in Smarter Business Ideas Top Blogger competition

Smarter business ideas logo
This week, I received the news that I'm a finalist in the Smarter Business Ideas Top Blogger competition. Needless to say, I'm thrilled at being included as one of the top 25 small business bloggers in Australia. I've been reading the blogs of some of the finalists for years - is it's wonderful to be in such great company. There are 2 categories: 1. People's Choice (determined by votes) and 2. Overall Winner (as nominated by the magazine and online editors). I just love blogging about small business and startup life. It's an area I've been passionate about forever. I know this may be hard to believe - but it's the truth. And I know that this may reveal unparalleled levels of geekdom but ... I guess that's just me! When I was little, my mother used to bring The Daily Mirror (a Sydney newspaper that was around at the time) home on the train.

And my theme for 2013 is …

VK Post Power Stories Rambo
I've decided on my theme for 2013. And it can be summarised in one word: kaizen. No I haven't decided to learn a new language. I'm not about to move to a new country. In fact, I'm actually not going to do a lot that's "new". This might sound a tad boring, considering that the new year is usually filled in new resolutions, new visions – and bold statements about achieving them. I should know. That was what happened to be exactly one year ago. In the first week of 2012, I made big plans for the year ahead. I decided that it was time to: * writing and publish a book * expand my business nationally * rebrand the entire company * invest in a technology startup The consequences of dreaming big On the plus side, these goals were achieved. However, getting there took an effort of epic proportions. I'm talking the kind of effort that means:

My life in a minute: It’s been a big year!

Life in a Minute Christmas
Well, 2012 has been a big year and it looks like next year will be even bigger. So what are the highlights? SXSW: South by South West in Austin, Texas is always a mind trip and this year was no different. It's five days of ideas, ideas and then some more ideas. If you want to go somewhere with great speakers, lots of food trucks, HEAPS of parties, and the opportunity to make connections with some amazing people, this is the place to be. Let's Talk Business seminar series: I love working with the City of Sydney on the Let's Talk Business seminar series for entrepreneurs. The City of Sydney and the team from The Events Agency are a pleasure to deal with and I get the chance to help so many innovative entrepreneurs tell their stories to the crowd. I'm thrilled to say that I'm coming back next year for another round. See you there! Inspired by: Our students at the Australian Writers' Centre. They continue to kick goals, get book deals, and make huge strides in their writing goals. One of the biggest wins this year was Jessica Shirvington's news that Steven Spielberg's production company is turning her books into a TV series next year. When I get news like this, it's makes all the hard work we put into the Centre and our students worthwhile. But Jessica is just one of our success stories. Thank you to all our students in the community – you truly inspire me every day!

The four biggest challenges in business

Four biggest challenges POST
This year has been one of highs, lows, challenges and triumphs. I've spoken to A LOT of business owners throughout the year and have heard stories ranging from heartbreak to victory. While some aspects of business never change, the world is evolving at a fast pace. That includes customer expectations, technology and so on. That inspired this week's Enterprise post. It's that time of year again - the silly season. The time when everything cranks up because every man and their respective dogs need to have all their projects "done before Christmas". Where your team is tired, hanging for the holidays and your customers freely tell you they're not going to purchase right now because they're waiting until your products go on sale in the new year. 'Tis the season when you close your doors on Christmas Eve, brave the crowds for some last minute gift shopping, and head home to eat too much ham and turkey. Then you collapse for a short break and attempt to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You swear that you're not going to work so hard next year and decide to use the break to get on top of your ever-growing "to do" list. And you commit to never letting your cash flow get to a state where you're forced to cut your salary to the point where you are the lowest paid person in the business. Sound familiar? Every year, I have the same conversations with small business owners. And I expect that these themes are still going to be prevalent this year. While many businesses have thrived in 2012, I've also been speaking to many business owners who have found the year nothing short of challenging. What have been the biggest challenges I've seen this year and how can you overcome them?

3 business books that changed my life: Collis Ta’eed, co-founder and CEO of Envato

Collis Ta'eed POST
Establishing and successfully running a business takes a great deal of effort, and in the early years at least, doesn't leave a whole lot of time for much else. But Collis Ta'eed, co-founder (along with his wife Cyan) and CEO of Envato, which is one of the world's most successful digital marketplaces and creative educational networks, firmly believes it's important to devote some of that leftover time to learning from other entrepreneurs who have gone before you. He credits reading these business books as being instrumental, at least in part, in his business success, and we're delighted he's chosen to share the three business books that changed his life with us. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink As Envato has grown over the years from a couple of people working from home, to an office stacked with people, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand how people work. Before Envato I'd only ever worked in very small businesses. So learning about people stuff has been one of the biggest learning curves I've had as an entrepreneur. I originally came across Dan Pink through an amazing TED talk (are there any other kind?) he had given in 2009. So when one of my team handed me a copy of Drive, my curiosity was already piqued. Pink's main thesis is that businesses should pay attention to, and encourage basic motivators for people to succeed at their jobs such as the need to achieve mastery over their roles, to have work that has purpose and to be given as much autonomy as possible. These ideas are intuitive in many ways, but contrary to a lot of conventional thinking. The book has been very influential for me, particularly as we've worked to create a great work culture at Envato.

Are you playing The Email Game?

Email Game POST
So I've been playing a little game with myself. It's been going on for a while and I thought it was time I shared it with you. It's called The Email Game. This isn't a euphemism for anything. It's an actual game. About email. That you play with yourself. If you have an inbox of exploding proportions like mine, any help to slay it is most welcome. Until now, I've tried a range of strategies ranging from setting rules, only checking at certain times of day, being ruthless about deleting and so on. But none of these have ever left me feeling anything less than overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails I receive. I'll admit, I don't answer them all. That would be impossible. Within those gazillion emails are legitimate queries that require legitimate responses. But trying to conquer them can sometimes feel like trying to climb Everest. Until The Email Game came along.

Big goals, big numbers, Bigcommerce

Enterprise 13 December 2012 POST
As you know, I love hearing about (and telling) stories about the challenges and triumphs faced by entrepreneurs. Whether you're starting a business from your shed, or trying to conquer the universe with a team of 200 people, I find it fascinating to hear about these journeys. This week, I chatted to Eddie Machaalani and Mitch Harper, who first met in an internet chat room before launching their business Bigcommerce. They inspired this week's post on Enterprise. A chance meeting in an online chat room may lead to what Eddie Machaalani and Mitchell Harper both hope will one day become a billion dollar company. The pair are co-founders and co-CEOs of Bigcommerce, an online platform that helps small businesses create online stores. It was 2002 when Machaalani and Harper met in a chat room about computer programming. Ten years later they are business partners of an organisation that powers nearly 30,000 online stores and has processed more than $1.2 billion worth of sales in its first two-and-a-half years. For Machaalani, 34 and Harper, 30, the chat room meeting was serendipitous. Discovering they had common interests and similar desires to be their own boss, the pair founded Interspire in 2003. It offered different products for small businesses to create an online presence. According to Machaalani, they were able to double their revenue every year. By 2009, they had 15 staff. But this success came at a price. Both co-founders were working 14 to 15-hour days, often seven days a week. They achieved this growth not only through sheer hard work but also by bootstrapping the business. However, they knew they wanted to grow bigger. Much bigger.

New name, new look – welcome to the Australian Writers’ Centre

Welcome to the Australian Writers' Centre POST VK
Changing your name is no easy task. But that's exactly what we did this week. And let me tell you … it's freaking exhausting. In case you missed it, we changed our name to Australian Writers' Centre. For the past seven years, we've been building the Sydney Writers' Centre brand and business. Through lots of hard work and, yes, some sleepless nights, it's a brand that has gained recognition, established a good reputation and become a favourite among many students who learn with us. So the decision to evolve our name hasn't been easy. Over the past couple of years I've wrestled with the idea of changing our name. Canvassing the possibility resulted in a range of responses: "But you'll lose your SEO." "Oh I like the word 'Sydney'." "That's a really bad idea." "Go for it!" "Have you bought your new URL yet?" For some time, I almost convinced myself that keeping the word "Sydney" could work. We could run the "Sydney Writers' Centre" in Melbourne, right? Ummmm, no. Well, not without a great deal of difficulty and ensuing confusion anyway. I knew in my heart that the name had to change. And once I made the decision to rebrand to the Australian Writers' Centre, I just knew it was the the right thing to do.

Naked ambition: baring all for small business

Work in the Nude Day POST
When my friend Robert Gerrish told me that he was going to work in the nude as a celebration of the freedom he has thanks to his life as a solopreneur, I thought … "Good Lord. Robert's gone nuts." Well, it turns out he won't be the only one in the nuddy.Many other members of the Flying Solo community have also pledged to follow suit in their respective birthday suits. "Work in the Nude Day" inspired this week's Enterprise post.

My life in a minute: Breakfast with Twitter, Power Stories to launch in Brazil, Join our Summer School

Adorable Rocky patiently waits to be let in
I'm usually a hermit. I love nothing more than being cocooned at home with my furry babies.

However, my diary had other plans for me this week. So what's been on the agenda?

Power Stories to launch in Brazil Big news this week is that my book Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business will be launched in Brazil. The publishers are busy translating it into Portuguese as you read this.

I can't wait to see the version they sell in Brazil. I won't be able to read a word of it – but I'm sure I'll be excited anyway!

Breakfast with Twitter Sean Callanan at @SportsGeek organised breakfast at the SCG with Mike Brown, Twitter's head of international growth, this week. Twitter is expanding its reach here. My friends know that getting me to an early breakfast appointment is nothing short of a miracle. Getting me to the SCG is an even bigger one.

Nevertheless, it was worthwhile to hear from the likes of Mike, Wendell Sailor (yes, he's massive), Scott Dools (yes, he's funny) and Shaynna Blaze (yes, she's gorgeous).

Are you getting the basics right?

Are you getting the basics right POST
This week I had to drive to a restaurant I've never been to before. When I'm driving to unfamiliar places I use my car's GPS system. So I looked up the address of the restaurant. Its website simply stated the street name but no street number.

I don't know about your car's GPS system, but mine insists on me typing in a street number before it will even allow me to progress to typing in the street name. In the past, when I haven't known the street number, I've typed in a random number in the hope that I would spot my destination (if it's a store, cafe, or place with signage) by driving up and down the street. Tip: this is not productive. Especially if you're on something like Epping Road or Pacific Highway.

A cheeky approach to business growth

Mike Larsen POST
You gotta love someone who is prepare to put themselves out there. That's why I like this YouTube video so much. Mike Larsen is normally a pretty straight-laced, serious corporate guy who recently jumped ship to found his own startup, InsideTrak.com.au. In order to spread the word about his new business, he's done his very own Ricky Gervais impression in this online video.

His antics – which included taking out an advertisement on his competitor's website – inspired this week's Enterprise post.

What’s on your entrepreneurial bookshelf?

What's on your entrepreneurial bookshelf? POST
This week I popped into the Lululemon store in Balmain. Now, if you're familiar with Lululemon you'll know that it's the sort of place that sells workout gear, sports bras and yoga clothes. As I'm currently on a health kick, I picked out some pieces to inspire me and headed to the checkout.

An odd collection of books
When I got there I spied a row of books that looked like they were for sale. I was expecting to find books on meditation, health, fitness and mung beans. But instead (as you can see from the picture), the books included:

From bricks-and-mortar failure to online success

From bricks and mortar failure to online success
I love stories about entrepreneurs. I've sure you've figured that out by now. It always amazes me how much some entrepreneurs will put it all on the line to turn their business dreams into reality. It's not just the financial commitment, it's the stress and sleepless nights that go with it. So when I heard John Allen and Mitch Fraser's story, I wanted to share it.

John Allen and Mitch Fraser know what it's like to fail. Three years ago, their entrepreneurial dreams were dashed and they almost walked away from what has now become successful home loan comparison site, Tomorrow Finance.

Allen, 28 and Fraser, 29, learnt a hard lesson after investing a combined $80,000 into a business that they thought would disrupt the home loan industry.

Tomorrow Finance works in a similar way to a mortgage broker. But while mortgage brokers often receive trailing commissions (which they receive for the life of the loan), Fraser and Allen negotiate one-off fees with the banks. Because the banks don't have to pay ongoing fees for the life of the loan, Allen says this results in a cheaper home loan for consumers.

Taking the plunge
The pair had so much faith in their new idea, they plunged headfirst into the business at the end of 2009 and spent the next four months negotiating arrangements with banks. Allen quit a job at professional services firm PwC and moved back home with his mum. Fraser scaled back his own web development business in order to focus on the new venture.

My life in a minute: Foamy peas, fancy limos and a great bulk order book deal.

Life in a minute 16 No 2012 POST
So many wonderful things going on - bulk orders of my book, foamy peas, limos, articles and reviews ... and a partridge in a pear tree. No, wait ... not just yet.

Do you need an advisory board?

Do you need an advisory board POST
Two heads are better than one. Even better when there are three heads or more. I’m talking about tapping into a brains trust of people who can give you advice about your business. That’s where an advisory board can help, particularly if you are a small to medium sized business. That inspired this week’s Enterprise post.

Last week, an up-and-coming entrepreneur asked me to be on her board of advisers. As she’s just starting out in business, it’s a smart move. She wants to tap into the brains of people who have had more experience than she has, and soak up their advice.

When I first started my business, I didn’t seek advice, mentoring or coaching of any kind. But I wish I had. It took me a few years before I had my first mentor and it transformed the way I approached my business.

Members of an advisory board to a small business often participate on a voluntary basis. However, depending on their level of involvement, payment (or an equity stake) may be involved. There are few formalised rules over how a board of advisers should be run, so it’s up to you to determine what will work for your business and what you need to do to get the right people on board (pardon the pun).