I sat on the fence about starting my business for a long time – too long, it seems. Now that I’ve finally gotten started, every idea I have has already been done by somebody else. Every product idea I have has several existing products like it already on the market. Every service I think of is already saturated. Now that I finally got off my indecisive butt, literally everything I think of has been done by somebody else.
What do I do when it’s all been done before? How do I find something actually new? And if I can ask a related question, what do I do if I can’t find something new and unique? I don’t want to quit before I really start, but I don’t want to be a copycat either.
Late to the party
Hey Fashionably Late!
I’ve decided to change your name because I find my version much more empowering.
This is a great question – thanks for writing in. This comes up a lot and I am delighted to put this tenacious issue to bed, once and for all. I will do so through the power of allegory.
(OK, maybe they’re not allegories. Maybe they’re just metaphors with big dreams.)
First, let’s talk about my annual treasure hunting party.
Imagine that I was hosting my annual treasure hunting party. Each year, I hide a bunch of stuff throughout my property, Easter egg style, and I invite all of my friends and lovers over to drink Pimm’s and tromp through my gardens. I get them good and tipsy and unleash them into the back with the stern instruction to “find cool stuff”. I always hide a few treasures in obvious locations to get the ball rolling, but most of them are much harder to find.
You arrive to my party a little late. You stop in my kitchen on your way out into the garden, and you see all the treasures that have already been found, nicely and neatly laid out on my table. An antique magnifying glass! A thimble! A piece of selenite! All very pretty, and nicely arranged.
(Note: Never put selenite out in the garden unless you live in a desert. It dissolves in moisture. I just said that to see if the woowoo among you were paying attention.)
You are distressed.
You come to me, distraught.
You say to me, “Naomi, whatever shall I do? I am late to the party, and everything has already been found!” You gesture to the table and all of its sparkly wares to prove your point. See? It’s all been found.
This is a trick of the brain. It’s lying to you, because it’s an asshat sometimes.
See, you are late and, quite understandably, you are feeling somewhat insecure about it. You look at the wares spread out on the table. There are a lot of them. They are all the wares you see, and thus you conclude that all you see is all there is.
There could be 152 other treasures strewn about my palatial estate and you won’t know because you see 20, and that seems like a lot. Brains (being asshats) like to take shortcuts and protect you from difficult things, so “a lot” is simplistically filed as “all” and your brain decides the case is closed. Clearly, all the treasures have been found. May as well get drunk instead.
Now let’s talk about trashy romance novels, because they are my favorite thing.
In commercial fiction, there are plot and character elements known as tropes – beloved, genre-specific components that almost all authors incorporate at one time or another. Friends to lovers is a trope. Enemies to lovers is a trope. Aristocrats! Ill-timed pregnancies! Strong female protagonists! These are all tropes, and they’re the bread and butter of the romance industry.
Every industry has its bread and butter. Every industry has its tropes. If you’re new and thinking of making something, the odds are very high that it’s a trope of some kind. (We don’t usually start getting creative until we’ve been doing this for a while.)
An idea being done before means nothing. It doesn’t mean your thing won’t sell. It doesn’t mean you’re a copycat. Nobody’s going to think you’re pathetic. In fact, if your idea hasn’t been done before, you may want to consider worrying, because “nobody has ever done anything like this” tends to be a very bad sign.
You’re in health and wellness, and you want to make a book of healthy breakfast recipes. But there are already books about healthy breakfast recipes. What should you do?
You should make a book about healthy breakfast recipes. I, for one, thank God that there are more than one of them on earth, and I welcome more.
You’re a tarot card reader and you want to make your own tarot cards. But there are already tarot card decks in existence… many of them created by tarot card readers! What should you do?
You should make a tarot card deck. Notice how we just said there are many of them in existence? Yes, there are. Now go make another one. The more the merrier, darling.
I’m a marketing coach, and I want to make a book of marketing templates. But there are already marketing templates in existence! Whatever shall I do?
I should make a book of marketing templates. (Incidentally, I did make a book of marketing templates, which you are welcome to purchase for the low, low price of $25. Despite the fact that marketing templates is about the tropiest thing I can fathom, it’s very popular. Nobody has fired me from human existence because I made something that someone else already made.)
(Quick PSA: If you teach nearly anything at all, and it is in any way plausible that your people might want templates? For the love of God, make templates.)
- We all think it’s all been done. We’re all wrong.
- The thing you’re thinking of making probably has been done before. Make it anyway.
Oh, and one more thing? If you’re worried about uniqueness, go check out Naomi Explains USP. Uniqueness is NOT what you think it is.
Thanks for writing in, Fashionably. Please go forth, make stuff, and kick ass. YOU ARE NOT TOO LATE.
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