Do you want to be a copy or an original?

Today’s topic was inspired by a long conversation with a like-minded colleague of mine. The idea that in business – and in life! – we have originals and we have copies. Video below or scroll for the text version.


  • The spectrum of business from copy to original
  • Examples of each type
  • The hard truth for those of us who identify as originals

The spectrum from copy to original

There’s a spectrum of approaches for designing your business: copy on one side, original on the other – with a wide range of possibilities between the two poles.

We have a tendency to prefer one side or the other. We’re either copiers or creators. Both are valid, but different choices.


Hey buddy – are you wearing the exact socks they specify in the manual?

Clone businesses live on the far extreme of the “copy” side.

Franchises, licensed programs, multi-level marketing and direct sales business opportunities are clone businesses.

The operators get specific detailed instructions and training to create a business exactly like the others in the franchise.

They get “done for you” marketing materials, service offers or products and step-by-step instructions.

Everything is provided for you, you simply follow the directions.

McDonald’s built a clone empire through conformity.

Every restaurant exactly the same. Procedures outlined to the nth degree. Decision fatigue reduced to near zero.


Copy businesses aren’t complete clones.

They call them “best practices” for a reason

They operate under their own business name and vary from other similar businesses in some ways, but they mostly do what everyone else in their industry does.

They open the same sort of chiropractic office, counselling practice or coaching/consulting/freelance biz as everyone else .

When you copy, you follow “best practices” for your industry.

You have similar policies and procedures.

You offer similar services in similar ways.

This is where things like the standard “50 minute hour” come from.

Copy businesses have the same sorts of websites that their competitors have, with the same sort of language. It all looks and sounds “professional” – and there’s not a huge amount of variation.


There must be a way to innovate innovation…

When you cross the line from “copy” to “original” you enter the land of innovation.

Innovators put their own spin on things.

While they may also have a chiropractic office, a counselling practice or a coaching/consulting/freelance business – they do it in a unique way.

They add their voice, their personality.

They come up with new ways of delivering a service.

Maybe they combine their skills or modalities or create their very own methodology.

They may take a stand AGAINST what everyone else is doing. They’ve found a better way!

Innovators improve and tweak and make things their own.


My remote controlled beer fetcher is going to disrupt the pub industry!

On the far side of the “original” end of the spectrum are the inventors.

Inventors start with a blank page and create something completely new.

Something the world has never seen before!

Inventors created the professions of chiropractic or counselling or coaching.

The very first life coach was an inventor.

An inventor came up with the idea of multi-level marketing.

Inventors disrupt entire industries and bring us new ideas, new products and businesses that have never been seen before.

We have the iphone, micro-lending and Air BnB because of inventors.

Are you going to copy? Or try to be original? (Both are valid options!)

Heads I buy a franchise, tails I invent a better way to make decisions

As a small business owner, you get to choose your place on the spectrum.

If your personality tends strongly towards the “copy” side, you might be happiest with a franchise or becoming a licensee of someone else’s program.

Follow the rules, adhere to the manual, and do what you’re told.

While there’s always risk in business – it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a sure thing.

If you need more wriggle room than that, you could opt to follow someone’s blueprint, system or proven formula.

Or look to what everyone else is doing and do that.

Alternately, you can make your own way as an original.

You can come up with a new spin on how things are typically done in your industry – or come up with something completely new and groundbreaking.

Choosing the original path is harder and riskier – but if you’re wired to be an original – you’ll never be happy as a copy.

(If you’re here reading this…there’s a good chance you’re an original. “Read Patty K’s blog” is not a step in any manual!)

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Are you going to copy everyone else? Or try to be original? Both are valid options! Choosing the path of the Original is harder and riskier – but if you’re wired that way – you’ll never be happy as a copy.” quote=”Choosing the path of the Original is harder and riskier – but if you’re wired that way – you’ll never be happy as a copy.”]

Here are a couple things to know about copies vs. originals.

Copies are more popular

Create your own unique business by being exactly like everyone else

Most of the world tends towards the copy side of the spectrum.

The vast majority of people choose to get a job instead of starting a business.

They want a prescribed path and someone telling them what to do and how to do it.

Even for those who choose self-employment, most fall somewhere on the copy side.

Listen to popular business advice and you’ll hear the “copy” side well-represented:

Copying is easier.

It’s also less risky and more likely to succeed.

This is why “everyone” in your field is doing things the same way

Originals are lauded when they succeed, and mocked when they don’t.

It’s why most websites look the same.

It’s why you hear the same tired old phrases over and over again.

It’s why people are making tons of money selling their formulas, blueprints and done-for-you systems.

Because most of the world is happy to be a copy.

Copying works.

Things get copied because they work.

If that’s you – go do it!

Buy a franchise or a proven blueprint system and follow the bouncing ball.

There’s no shame in being a copy. You’ll even be part of the “in” crowd because most of the world prefers to copy.

Some of us, though, are born to be Originals.

If that’s you, you’re in good company.

Originals create YOU-Shaped Businesses

YOU-Shaped Businesses are unique and original. YOU-Shaped Business owners are innovators and inventors.

I called my book the YOU-Shaped Business for a reason!

If you tend towards originality – if you want to tweak the recipe, change the system, do new things – then those copy programs won’t work for you.

Done-for-you won’t work because it won’t sound like you – so you’ll refuse to send the emails or publish the “written for you” blog posts.

You won’t actually follow the proven blueprint formula system.

In the words of my colleague: “I could never bring myself to SAY those things or charge those prices or offer those services in those ways!”

Darren LaCroix – in his Toastmasters world championship speech – made a joke about doing things his way and turning a Subway sandwich shop (a franchise) into a non-profit.

This is what an Original does.

They’re not content to stick to the status quo, follow the script and do things the way they’re told.

They want to create their own programs, find their unique voice and do things their way.

It’s not easy to be an original

Look! I re-invented the wheel!

It’s riskier. It’s more vulnerable. It’s more prone to rejection.

When you do things differently, when you speak up and speak out, when you express new ideas and ways of thinking – you’ll meet a lot of resistance from the majority of the population who prefer to follow the crowd and do things the way they’ve always done them.

This can easily lead to feelings of self-doubt or feeling like a fraud or imposter.

There’s also a good chance that your re-invented wheel won’t work as well as the tried and true. We originals tend to create a lot of wonky wheels!

Then again, you may end up creating bulldozer tracks or a hover craft.

There is no proven step-by-step formula to creating a YOU-Shaped Business.

While you can follow some general guiding principles and develop business skills – you need to find your own voice, your own process, your own way.

No one can do YOU the way you can!

For originals, this challenge is part of the joy, part of the creative process – it’s what makes self-employment such a powerful personal growth program.

While it’s the harder path to follow, it offers us a high level of the things that make us happy with our work: autonomy, purpose and mastery.

While you may feel like a bit of an outsider as an original, there is a place in the puzzle for you!

We take the risks, we create the new things and we change the world.