I recently read an older article about a worrying business situation: “Community in the Yarn Biz,” by Carrie Sundra of Alpenglow Yarn, describes how major yarn manufacturer Brooklyn Tweed (BT) took advantage of three smaller yarn manufacturers.
BT was interested in producing naturally dyed, single-origin yarns in small batches. It contacted three boutique yarn manufacturers that specialize in the process and asked for information and advice on how to do this.
BT took what it learned and copied one of the boutique manufacturer’s yarns. The yarn industry is small and communal, much like the editing industry. Because of this intimacy and usual collaboration throughout communities like these, situations such as this can be frustrating.
Unquestioningly, BT took advantage of the smaller companies. It has a much bigger customer base. Straight-up copying the yarn could easily kill the boutique manufacturer’s demand for its own product. That wasn’t what was asked for—or offered.
It appears the smaller companies gave away this information without any legal protections in place and with a belief that the big company would not directly compete with them. They trusted BT to use the information without stealing their products.
It is important for business owners to determine what information should be treated as proprietary, no matter what the business is. What information about your business is unique to you? What details would allow someone to precisely reproduce your unique product, service, or business?
Consider food labels: all the ingredients are listed in order of volume used. Consumers, of course, should know what’s in the food they consume. But the exact amounts and the precise steps for creating the item are considered proprietary. A soft-drink manufacturer might want to compete with Coca-Cola, but it’s going to have to figure out its own formula and process.
Editors share a lot of information with one another, such as editing techniques, software recommendations, and business tips. Says fiction editor Amy Schneider, “I see nothing wrong with sharing a concept or an abbreviated version. But you’ve got to do the legwork yourself.”
Yet spend time on any editing forum and you’ll eventually see someone ask for something that’s out of line, such as your client list. (Many times, these are folks new to business who don’t understand the boundaries.) Sharing your client list in full or too publicly can lead to unethical editors poaching your clients. When a fellow editor asks for deep information about your business, you should be cautious.
It should be both parties’ responsibility to protect trade secrets. The requester, no matter how big or little they are, should be clear in their intentions and not take something they haven’t been given permission to have. The respondent, no matter how big or little they are, should exercise caution when sharing information.
What information is critical to an editing business?
“The hard-won stuff it took me a long time to develop,” says freelance editor Lori Paximadis. These are the things you put your energy into and that have paid off in your business. Maybe it’s the details of how you edit so precisely or so quickly. Maybe it’s the contact who has generated a lot of work for you, either directly or through referrals. It could be anything that gives you a competitive edge.
A few items you should consider keeping proprietary:
- Your client list and contact information
- Detailed checklists and procedures you’ve developed
- Rates that you don’t publicize and how you calculate them
- Your editing speeds
- A detailed or specialized macro you wrote
You don’t have to share any details you don’t want to. But editors are a friendly bunch and like to help out other editors. If sharing certain information about your business makes you feel uncomfortable or seems like it gives up a competitive edge, you don’t need to share it. You can suggest resources where the requester could find their own answers or advice on how they can determine their own solution.
It’s your business. It’s up to you to protect it.
A version of this article originally published on July 20, 2018, on Copyediting.com.