As a small business owner, you can probably remember the first time a competitor copied your hard-earned success. It was maddening, right? “Street Tacos and Margarita Tuesday” was your idea. And they ripped it off!

On the other side of the coin, perhaps you’ve been the business owner who “borrows” from a competitor. Perhaps you saw the hot orange-cinnamon buns flying off the shelves at the cafe down the street and added them to your coffee house menu, even making sure to feature them on your Facebook page.

It can be tempting to follow someone else’s triumph and it might even work for a while. But when you imitate, you are a follower. And followers just poke along. They don’t lead.

It’s better to back up and consider the competition and use their success as a launching pad for your next Big Idea. Let’s say you run a local car wash that attracts people who will pay a little extra for your team to swarm their car and detail it in under thirty minutes.

Your competitor offers free wi-fi for waiting customers. Easy enough. Who doesn’t? You’ve been thinking of giving away free wi-fi, too.

Now, take that idea. What does free wi-fi really mean to customers?

After looking at something as simple as free wi-fi for your car wash, your mind should be spinning with new ideas such as:

> Other things people need: food. I could team up with the bakery across the street to offer coffee and croissants to go.

> Parents need a break from kids. I could stock a low table with high-quality art supplies and maybe even hire a teenager to lead crafts at certain times.

> Everyone loves magazines. Instead of the free local newspaper, I could survey my customers and start subscriptions to popular and informative  magazines.

Maybe you do one of these ideas, maybe none of them. But the main lesson is: you’ve considered something your competitor does and taken off on a creative exploration of how your business could do something that surprises and delights the customer. And that is leading.

Olga Traskova is a Senior Manager in Marketing and Sales Operations at Connectivity.