How to Legally Steal Great Ideas


Crackers (Photo credit: elhombredenegro)

Even creative people get stumped occasionally.  Somehow, your brain just runs dry.  There are days when you think you may never have another great idea again.

It happens.  However, if you’re prepared, you’ll never run out of ideas again.

In fact, there are great ideas lying all around you. Other people’s ideas.  Even your  own ideas that you’ve completely forgotten about.

All you have to do is look around for them, and then steal them.  Here are six of my favorite completely legal ways to do that.

Keep a swipe file

A swipe file is an old copywriter’s trick.  When an article, a blog post, a an email promotion, an ad, or a headline catches your eye, put in in its own folder (virtual or real).  When you’re stuck, pull the folder out and look through it.

Steal from yourself

When you produce something yourself, keep a copy of it in its own folder, binder, or box (I have stacks of these).  When you need inspiration, pull them off the shelf and sort through them.  With some tweaking, that promotion you used for client A might just work for client B too.

Rearrange existing ideas

If you can’t get a headline or a tagline to work, write each word down on separate slips of paper.  Then move them around on your desk. That’s how GE came up with “we bring good things to life.”  Take the ideas, words, or concepts you already have (that don’t work on their own) and mix them up.  Move the pieces around.  The red bar at the top might look better on the bottom.  I find this works best with actual paper (physically holding it my hands, rather than moving it around digitally.

This works with both design and words, even longer pieces of copy.  Sometimes the best idea in your sales letter or your blog post is buried in the second paragraph.


Scratching is what Twyla Tharp calls germs of ideas.  A few moves or steps that she files away for future use.  Since it’s hard to write down dance moves, she records herself on video.  When she needs an idea, she pulls out the file, runs through her ideas, and builds on them.

If you have a thought, an inspiration, or something catches  your eye, write it down, record it, send yourself a voice mail, or type it into a note file (I use Evernote for this).  When you need an idea, pull one out.


Take two seemingly unrelated ideas and put them together.  People ate meat and baked bread for years, but it wasn’t until 1762 that someone thought to put them together and create the sandwich. Write down a random bunch of words or concepts, don’t think, just write. Then move them around and put them together (cats and space, aliens and cheeseburgers, movies and the internet).

Institutional memory

Your long-term staff is full of ideas; they’ve been around long enough to see the good, the bad, and the really hard.  Go ask them for their input, rather than trying to figure out everything yourself.

Try these out.  You may never feel stuck again.

27 Free Marketing Ideas You Can Use Right Away

free marketing tools

Free beer is  a great way to attract attention.  If you give away free samples, you’re showing  proof of your skills, establishing trust, and building authority.

You don’t have to be in the beer business (or a bar owner), to do this.

Here are 27 free marketing ideas you can use to get more leads, build your reputation, and spread the word about your services.

Offer Free Information

1. A free newsletter – use it, and a how-to guide, to build up your email list. Put sign-up forms throughout your web site.

2. How-to guides – take something your customers find difficult, and break it down into easy-to-follow steps (like setting up a blog).

3. Checklists – following a list always makes things easier. Create them for video production, printing a brochure, or producing a Web site. Share them with your clients.

4. Tutorials – video demos, printed instructions, or a series of free lessons.

5. Software demos.

6. Mini-reports – Combine several blog posts on a related topic, post the report, and allow it to spread virally.

7. Run a survey on a topic important to your industry, gather the results, and report the results to your customers, your newsletter readers, or your blog readers.

8. Free trial (or a free, limited version of a paid product).

9. Free special report with a snappy title (little known ways to cut design costs)

Social Marketing

10. Start a blog (if you don’t already have one).

11. Answer questions on industry forums like or LinkedIn’s Advertising and Creatives Groups.

12. Join with other bloggers in your niche and share comments and guest posts. Take turns commenting on each others’ blogs and spreading the word (with cross-links and tweets).

13. Subscribe to other blogs in a feed reader (that’s the big orange button on the upper right of this blog).

14. Create a series of podcasts (you can talk yourself, or interview someone else).

Online Marketing

15. Hold a webinar. Make it informative, not a sales pitch. Even better, have a series of them.

16.  Have a regular series of tips that help your clients and businesses like them.  Gather together information from industry experts, as well as your own input, and curate it each week.

17. Free gifts. Add extra free bonuses to your paid products (receive $247 in free bonuses with your purchase). This works offline too.

18. Write a press release and release it through PR Web.

19. Track your promotions, both online and offline (yes, it’s my direct marketing genie coming out of its bottle). You’ll know which of them worked.

Offline Marketing

20. Band together with other people. Exhibit designers can work with companies that create videos for conferences.

21. Show appreciation with a thank you. It’s a small human touch your clients will appreciate.

22. Keep in touch. Send notes on silly occasions (National Ice Cream Cone Day!).

23. Freemiums – nonprofits have been sending trinkets for years (light catchers, stickers, address labels). Add a small gift to your invoices. Or, throw in some “free soup” as an extra treat when you do a project.

24. Offer your services for free to a non-profit in a bind (the publicity can lead to paying contracts).

Viral Marketing

25. Make a funny video.

26. Enter that funny video in a viral video contest.

27. Run a contest. Offer a service for free to a few lucky winners. Spread your name (and build your list; make sure you get permission).