What’s the expiration date on ‘Fake it until you make it’?

copying others

We’ve all heard the advice to “Fake it until you make it,” haven’t we?

It’s usually not bad advice as far as it goes, but that little word “until” puts a time limit on it. In other words, how long is it okay to fake it?

If you ask some people, they will candidly tell you that they’ve been faking it all their lives. And sometimes it feels that way for almost everyone. It brings to mind an old George Burns one-liner: “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

But let’s go a little deeper. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are often pursuing projects and doing tasks in which they have little or no experience. They are learning as they go along and I think it’s fair to say that when you’re still in the learning mode, much of what you’re doing is faking it.

And, the best way to fake it is to copy what others are doing or have done. When you see something that’s working for someone else, it’s worth trying yourself. This is one important path to learning; instead of learning from a text book, you can learn from observing and replicating the actions of others.

This is a time-honored practice and nothing to feel bad about. We all know Pablo Picasso’s artwork. When you consider it today, you probably think about its shocking originality. He was at the bleeding edge of several new styles of painting in the last century, including, of course, cubism.

first-communion-1896.jpg!LargeBut in his youth, Picasso produced paintings in which he copied the masters who went before him. Works like Portrait of Aunt Pepa, First Communion, and The Altar Boy, could have been created in the studios of any number of old masters.

At some point, however, to achieve true greatness, Picasso had to start producing original art, paintings that would be immediately identifiable as having come from the hand of Pablo Picasso. Failing to do that would have severely limited his success.

The same principles apply to your career as a small business owner. It is perfectly normal and expected to copy what other people have done or are even doing right now. I would point out the fact that there aren’t very many commercial products or services that are truly new. After all, we had social networks before Facebook – Remember Friendster and MySpace? – and we had MP3 players before the iPod.


Here’s the danger: Many small business owners become content with copying what others are doing and never venture beyond those boundaries. Therefore, they impose a limit on their ability to succeed.

If you are going to copy others, you must be aware of what you are doing and always be working toward finding your own voice, finding your own twist on your product or service, and finding your own way to run your company.

Where are you at in your evolution from being a clone of others to being your own person? Has your faking it gone beyond its expiration date?

If you’ve seen your sales flatten, maybe you don’t need to pull new prospects into your sales funnel as much as you need to inject some originality into your small business. Make your brand stand out. Now that you know what everyone else is doing in their marketing – do the opposite. Change up your offering to make it revolutionary in its commercial space.