Don’t be a *flippin* copycat

By October 16, 2012Branding, Design & Your Site
Grodon Ramsey

A standard has emerged with the popularization of online courses like Marie Forleo’s B-School (I went through it in 2011), that has had a side-effect many of you have probably seen: people’s sites start to look alike.

This is normal. People with a low budget and lack of design background look for the easiest way to start a site, which is to buy a WordPress theme and copy what works.

It makes sense, but it’s not a long term brand solution and one that will cause major headaches down the line.

Short term impact is that you look like a copycat to others – and no one wants to be laughed at. You also feel like a bit of a confused liar. You didn’t do it intentionally, but you also didn’t put in the time and work to get your own brand down, so you know you’re selling yourself short by taking poor shortcuts.

And long term you really don’t know how to keep up a successful brand because your brand is a copy of someone else’s. So next steps are not obvious. I see this again and again.

So what are you doing?

When you copy someone else, your true brand identity never emerges; you continue to waffle trying to figure out how to say what to your prospective clients and how to put together that one-sheet.

When I started out on my own, my original design was very much influenced by the design firms of the time. My site was clean, neat-edged, full of gradients and moving things. But it wasn’t ME.

How did I know this?

It wasn’t bringing in the type of client I wanted to be working with, and it didn’t feel good when I looked at it. Something was off.

1. Do you feel good when you look at your site?

2. Is there a nagging voice that says: “Is that really you?”

3. Are you getting the type of client you want? Or is it more about getting any client at all?

You know what I’m going to say.

You’ve got to discover your own voice.

You’ve got to stop the mad-dashing and piecemealing your site and branding materials and instead do the work that will allow you to discover your own voice, your own art and your own approach.

That voice may be funny. Or not.

It may be candid. Or not.

It may be friendly. Or not.

And I’ll tell you, I’ve seen many a brand do really really well without trying to be the neighborhood sweetheart.

Ever heard of Gordon Ramsay? He’s extremely successful and good at what he does, and he’s not in the business of being a sweet heart to those he works with (although my sources say he’s quite sweet to friends.)

His brand is consistent: he takes no $hit from anyone, demands excellence and fills restaurants consistently.

But how do I find my brand voice?

I am working on a free home-study course to help you begin to get clear on your own voice, and if you have any specific questions, as they relate to your brand, your site design, etc., pop your question in below, and I’ll incorporate it in.

I’d love to see your big idea thrive, but we’ve gotta get you out of the copycap zone and into your own. It works a whole lot better!

  • Thomas Keen

    I’d love to learn how to say what I want to say without sounding lame. I’m not funny or quirky or anything like that. How can I be effective without pretending I’m exciting?

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Awesome question. Thank you.

      I would say don’t be fake-peppy. This almost always comes off as fake. People are much more intuitive than we’d like to admit, even when reading.

      I’ll address this in the course. Thank you.

  • Kat, as always your stuff is amazing… Really looking forward to the course. 🙂

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Thank you Rob! It will be fun! 🙂

  • Kat this really drew me in because I build websites as one part of my business (people show up with the content and the vision and I do the coding, etc) and it makes me nuts when people say, “Just make the header like Marie Forleo’s” or “I want an opt-in box like Marie’s” or “Marie said I needed three resource boxes on the sidebar”. I’m like…GIIIIIIIRRRLLLLL please! Can we not have some free thought here? I’m excited for your free course and will definitely send my clients your way when I see they’re needing help with finding their own voice. 🙂

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Oh girl! I get it. It’s been painful to watch…

      But the good news is that everyone has it in them to be uniquely awesome! That’s sort of the point of all this, aint it? 🙂

      I’ll let you know when the course is up.

  • I am vibing with you over here. I feel not-so-great about my website. But that’s because I put it together myself and don’t know how to make the little adjustments to make it look like I really want. I’ve been slowly implementing changes based on the tech support for my WP theme (which is minimal since the theme is free – but the theme is free because I liked it better than the paid ones. Promise.)

    So I think I need to invest in a web person who frequently produces sites I also vibe with, so that I know the person “gets” my niche and my personality and all that and can show that in a website. And I think I need to get down and dirty specific about what I want from my website, how I want it to flow for customers, and what I want it to look like. If I’m not certain of that, of course I can’t build a good website for myself – but a designer can’t either.

    Kat, I would also love to hear in your course any tips on sifting through the noise of our impressionable nature as humans. I mean, I want to be my own woman and I want my site to reflect that, of course. But I don’t know what parts of what I want are things I want because I like how they look on so-and-so’s website, or because it dialogues with my personality and brand. How do I figure out which is which so I can listen to what pulls on the soul of my brand and trash the rest?

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Hi Laura, thank you for your genuine questions/comments!

      Most of us start backwards with sites. Namely, designing things, before we’re super clear on the most important factors of our brand and our voice. I’m going to address all that in the course.

      And yes, we’re drawn to things we like and are often tempted to recreate for ourselves. But we need to ask ourselves whether what we like is the same as what our audience likes. If you are your audience, chances are they will be similar. If you aren’t, you will have to do something else. How to determine that will also be addressed.


  • I don’t got no kat. *meow*

    Looking forward to hearing more about how you’ve made your course.

    • Kat Tepelyan


  • Great article Kat. Really gets you thinking. I have been working on launching my own signature site for what feels like forever. Meanwhile, I have an existing site that I customized from my Nutrition School which was great for a start but doesn’t really provide a way to stand out. Here is my problem in creating my WordPress Site. (I have tech person creating it). I feel I have too much too say. When I try to edit it I feel it is all essential but it just seems too verbose. Wondering what tips you can offer to a wordy soul. I look forward to your program.

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Hi Judy, Wordiness is usually a sign that we have more work to do in synthesizing our message.

      Of course it depends on the type of content you mean here, but generally, we should be able to explain what we do in a sentence or two.

      In terms of writing articles, I always find that less is more and having a technical background, fellow tech folk never read much, so you learn to get concise.

      Sift and select the gold; the rest can often detract from the msg.

  • Janelle

    Hey Kat,

    Great post! I’m unclear as to even what exactly the concept of “my voice” means, as a whole….(a little embarrassing to admit!)- is it how much personal info I include, how emotionally connected I am to my readers, how funny I am??? I think it’s important to clarify exactly what you mean when you talk about “my voice” because its a phrase thrown around a lot that is often given very different depictions!! I’d love to hear your thoughts…Thanks, Kat!!

    • Kat Tepelyan

      Great question, Janelle!

      When I use the term, I usually imply tone, but a tone bigger than the written tone alone. It’s really you, translated into visuals and headlines, layout, etc. This then becomes the brand voice, infusing your work with a certain je ne c’est quoi energy: YOU.

      When I go to your site I want to know without a shadow of a doubt whether you feel good to me, whether you and I are two peas in a pod. We are inherently intuitive creatures and react in the first few seconds. “This is good” “This is bad.”

      So your voice is the collection of tangible (albeit digital) elements that go into your brand, noted above, which are infused with your personality and all the woo woo stuff we can’t really explain. 🙂

      This then sets the brand feeling and the brand experience for the audience.

      That’s your brand voice, as I see it.

      Does that make sense?

      • Janelle

        Thanks, Kat! Yes, this totally makes sense!! I appreciate the clarification and am definitely interested in your program when you’re ready to release it! Cheers!

        • Kat Tepelyan

          Awesome! (great pic btw 🙂 )

  • LOVED that article! I thought that it is just me that so many sites seem to kinda look very similar. 😉

    Your home study course sounds VERY interesting!!! Can not wait. A question I would have ….

    How do you kinda narrow all your ideas down so that your brand looks like something cohesive and clear. Not like a cluttered mess of everything “pretty” you come along. I hope that makes kinda sense?
    I am trying to find my brand and my “voice” but I often feel that I am getting distracted by things I feel drawn too … but that would not really “go” with my brand or would just be too much or just seem kinda “cluttered” or not focused to an outsider. (Not to me 😉 )
    For example at the beginning I wanted my site to be all handmade, with doodely frames and icons, water colours, stitching, masking tape, fun frames, paper and fabric textures, old photos …. and on it goes. I think there are probably people (designer) out there that can pull all of this together to make it look cohesive but for an amateur – like me – to get this right with everything added it seems to get harder and more impossible to look professional. So how do you figure out WHAT are the KEY elements to incorporate and where to draw the line?

    Sorry, got a bit lenghty. Hope it is a question though that others have as well.

    Thanks for all your great articles and your work!


    • Kat Tepelyan

      That’s the trick. isn’t it? Being able to imbue a smart, strategically designed machine (my sweet word for “site”) with your spirit and uniqueness without making it all about you…

      I’ll deal with that in the course. Thank you for the great question. This is a common issue I see with clients.

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