As a business grows, pitching becomes increasingly important. As the business seeks investors, new clients, or even new employees, a business owner must repeatedly reveal details about the company to others.
Idea theft is an ongoing concern for many of these business owners, who see themselves as having an advantage by being at the forefront of the market. A competitor could snatch the idea and put it to use themselves, leaving the business with little recourse.
Interestingly, however, the top response to this concern is that most people have no interest in taking someone else’s idea and turning it into a multimillion-dollar business. This is especially true of investors, whose reputations could be severely damaged by such behavior. Those who want to start their own businesses generally have ideas in spades and are seeking funding to get those ideas off the ground, just as you are.
Still, while the vast majority of people aren’t out to steal your idea, it is a possibility. There are a few steps businesses can take to help prevent theft as they begin to share their ideas with others.
Avoid Revealing Too Much
One of the best ways to secure your idea is to only reveal what is absolutely necessary. If you’re pitching an idea to a potential client, give only the details necessary to convey the idea. It’s not necessary to share every detail of how your product works, for instance, when you can get the same information across by revealing the need your product or service fulfills. One exception to this may be when you’re pitching to investors or lenders, who will likely want to know everything about your product before taking a financial risk on it.
Use Non-Disclosure Agreements
A non-disclosure agreement can help protect your idea before revealing it to workers or other associates. However, it’s important to note that many investors will balk at signing an NDA before you speak with them. Since the balance of power is in their favor, this may be something you’ll have to give up if you want investors. The same holds true for potential clients. Instead of requiring a signature, consider simply printing a confidentiality statement on your business plan.
Trademark Your Name
A trademark can provide an additional layer of protection, since a company’s name is often tied closely with its idea. Also, by establishing a trademark, you also have added protection in the event a legal issue should arise. The documentation required to register a trademark can serve as written proof that your business idea was in the works at a specified time. These dates will be crucial in establishing the exact date your idea was in the works in the event someone else tries to dispute this fact.
Research the Recipients
Whether you’re revealing an idea to a potential investor, a possible client, or a contractor, do your part in researching that person or company prior to your appointment. Information is so easily available now, a business owner can determine someone’s reputation before deciding to do business with that person. Look for any disputes with previous business partners and make sure the person has established a positive reputation in his or her chosen field.
Follow Your Instincts
Coupled with the research you can conduct are your own natural instincts. Often alarm bells go off when you’re in a situation that could present some danger. If someone has taken a particular interest in hearing every possible facet of your creation, ask yourself what that person’s motive could be. Is it to invest? Is it mere curiosity? Or is it possible that the person has money burning a hole in his pocket and all he needs is a good idea to get moving? This is where experience comes in. If you’re interacting with someone who has logged years of experience in the business world and has a portfolio of great companies of his or her own, that person likely has no need to steal anyone else’s idea. If you’re speaking to a newcomer, though, you may want to reveal as little about your business as possible until you can determine that person’s motive.
Document, Document, Document
Put as much in writing as possible and save that documentation. By creating a paper trail, you’ll have proof of your concept if it does go to court. Keep a log of every discussion you have where details of your business are disclosed. This log could come in handy if you find one of those conversations go somewhere.
In truth, the odds that your idea will be stolen are very small. By living in fear of that theft, you’re actually inhibiting your ability to sell that idea. An investor or client who declines to work with you may actually know someone else in the industry who is looking to work with someone who is offering exactly what you’re offering. If you prevent that interaction from occurring, you could be missing a great opportunity.
Another way your fears hurt your business is that they keep you from getting feedback from others. When you bring your idea up with someone new, they give you their own thoughts, which in turn help you grow your concept. By never discussing your business with others, you miss that chance.
If you’re truly concerned about your idea being stolen, by taking a couple of the above-mentioned steps, you can give yourself a little peace of mind. But chances are, your idea is safe. Few people have an interest in stealing other people’s business concepts and putting them into action. In fact, there seem to be far more people with ideas that they’ll never see to fruition. Be proud of your invention but share it only with those who can help you in your dream of making your vision a reality.