You have a creative mind and consistently are thinking of new ideas, new products, and new ways of doing things. I know this about you, because you’re obviously doing some online research about how you would go about turning one of those ideas into a reality; a product that you can actually sell-to people who don’t know you.
Congratulations on your decision, I wish you much success with your new idea, and would love to see it on the shelves of Wal-Mart someday! I’ve been down the road that you’re embarking upon, and have written this article to help you bring your idea to market easier, faster, and cheaper than what anyone else will tell you is possible.
With the a recent product that I launched, I went from a napkin sketch to final product, online and selling, within two months and for under $5,000; all without skipping a single critical step. According to many of the other online articles out there, this process should have taken me at least a year, and $50,000… don’t believe it! Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to making a fortune!
Ask Yourself these Questions:
Is it new, or improved? Whatever your product, you must first start with the basics. While it is possible, it isn’t very likely that your product is a completely new concept. That’s completely okay. There are many different variations of products out there, and it’s up to you to determine whether or not yours is new, or simply a better solution to whatever problem others have tried to solve before you. This will help you down the road when you start your market research, which will include a competitive market analysis. I’ll cover that in a minute.
Does is solve a common problem, or a niche problem? How many people have the problem that your product solves? E.g. Almost everyone has a floor that will need to be cleaned at some point, so a mop would solve a very common problem-a dirty floor. An example of a niche problem would be a pacifier holder which attaches a pacifier to a child’s car seat. Since the market here would only consist of parents with children under two years old, this would far more limited than the mop. You may still sell a million pacifier holders, but again, it’s good to really evaluate who will be buying your product.
Is it technically feasible? Determine if your product is something that can actually be created based on current technology, manufacturing techniques, materials, etc. If your idea consists of building a box that is stronger than steel, yet lighter than air, you’re probably not going to be successful. Keep things simple here and you’ll get to market faster.
Is it price supportive? Based on the complexity of your product manufacturing may be very expensive. If it costs you $50 to manufacture it, and the market (customers) are only likely to pay $25, then some revisions are in order. You’ll either need to find a way to build the value of the product itself, or lower the cost of production. Ideally you’ll do both.
What do I bring to the table? Take an inventory of your skill set. Have you ever fabricated anything, worked with tools, set up a website, sold anything, or marketed anything? Perhaps you just have a passion for helping people, or you are a strong negotiator. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself and determine what skills you currently have, which skills you’re willing to develop through trial and error, and which things you’ll need to hire someone else to do. The more you can offer to your new business, the less you’ll have to spend in hiring outside sources. I encourage you to stretch on this point in particular-talk to friends and family, co-workers, anyone who may be able to teach you something that could potentially help you further your idea.
Do Some Basic Research:
Is it already out there? You may have covered this in your research during the first step, but I would suggest spending an additional 10-15 minutes searching a few websites with search terms that relate to your product. I recommend Google, About.com, Amazon, and eBay. These each serve different functions, meaning that someone may have a product listed on eBay that isn’t showing up on Google.
Conduct a patent search. There are many ads online from companies that would like you to pay them for a patent search. Don’t fall for this without first considering the following! Patent searches are completely free from the government by going to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, (uspto.gov). From the home page, click ‘Patents’ on the left menu, then ‘Search Patents’, then I used ‘Advanced Search’. At the top of the page there is a very specific format that you’ll need to use, but just take your time and figure it out. Return to the home page and read the instructions and how-to if needed. I started by searching the “abstract” of the patent for keywords, and spent several hours on this. Don’t short change yourself here… settle in and do it right.
As a secondary method, you can also use Google Patent Search. This will seem to be faster since you are scanning through images quickly. However, I am a bit suspect of how current Google is with its listings, so don’t skip searching the actual patent office site. Use Google as a secondary search to put your mind at ease. Please note that I am in no means suggesting that you don’t hire an attorney to conduct the searches for you. I am merely writing and editorial of what I chose to do, and what worked best for my particular scenario. You’ll have to decide what is right for you.
Talk to friends and family. Tell them about your idea, and fill them in on all that you’ve completed so far in the way of research. This will likely be different than the other ideas you’ve presented to them, and they will recognize that you’re serious enough that you’ve invested some time into seeing if it’s worth pursuing further. It’s important that you specifically ask them for there honest opinion. Let them know that you’re in the “research phase” of the product and that accurate feedback will determine if you continue to pursue it, or move on to a different idea. If they blindly encourage you on everything you present to them, expand to co-workers or some people who aren’t as close to you. Really try to find reasons that this won’t work, as odd as that may sound. If after this phase you still haven’t come up with a good reason to not continue your project, then you know you’ve really got something worthwhile!
Start formulating actual marketing plans and defining your target audience. Who would want your product, how much would they pay for it, where do they live, how broad is the market? These are just a few of the things that I’m sure you’re already thinking about, but now do some actual research on it. Get online and start digging. If you know your target audience is mobile business professionals, then start thinking about which fields they work in, where do they live, how much do they earn, are they willing to spend money on this solution, etc. I liken this to being an investigator, keep digging and finding information until you have a clear picture of who you’ll be selling to. I would not have been successful if I just said “I’m going to sell to sales people.” I encourage you to spend several hours (or as long as it takes you) collecting data about your new potential clients. A great resource that I used was a non-profit fee based service from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater called “Wisconsin Innovation Service Center” or WISC for short. For $895 I received a tremendous amount of invaluable research, including another set of eyes doing a patent search. The fee is 1/5th of what you’d pay at a commercial for-profit market research company.
Build a Prototype:
Start simple, do-it-yourself! This is going to depend a lot on your product. Of course if you want to develop a revolutionary new cell holographic cell phone, you’ll need a dozen engineers and programmers working on it for you. (If that’s the case, you’re also going to need that multi-million dollar venture capital deal to get started.) I’m going to stick to what I know-simple consumer products. Be it a desk, a bike rack, a sonic mop, etc… These are all things that are reasonably built on your own. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on a prototype that you’re just going to end up changing over and over again before the process is over. Build, modify, attach, and otherwise fabricate in any way possible an actual working prototype. Don’t worry if it looks like it came from Frankenstein Labs, just make sure it’s at least partially functional.
Start using your product. Now that you have a prototype, start using it. Here is where you’ll need to spend at least a week or so just using your invention on a daily basis. This is going to reveal changes that need to be made, so go ahead and make those whenever possible. The whole idea here is to be refining and moving closer to a marketable product.
Keep asking people around you what they would do differently. Not just, “Do you think this is a good idea?” Let them know what you’ve discovered through use, show them how it works, and begin filling in the reality of what you’re creating. Eventually you’d like to get the next evolution of the prototype into their hands, which will lead to even more changes and tuning. Handle criticism enthusiastically, as every critic is making your product better. Be careful to not think that you need to please everyone, after all, is it your idea. You do, however, need to make something that the masses will want to own, so make every reasonable effort to create the best possible final product.
Talk to a Product Designer:
Describe problem and your proposed solution. Conduct an online search for product designers in your area. I suggest picking someone close since I feel it is important to actually meet with them in person. A product design firm is going to consist of mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, CAD drafters, graphic artists, or a combination of those disciplines. Research their experience, and call to speak with them over the phone to see if you get a good feeling. If you like what you hear, schedule a time to go in and talk to them in person. Remember, you are their potential customer; if they act as though they’re doing you a favor I’d find another firm. Your first meeting should be a free consultation where you discuss your idea with them and ask them to follow-up with a quote on how they can help you more your idea along, and how much they would charge you along the way. Most design firms will offer some type of “brainstorming” session where you’ll sit down with 2-4 individuals and talk for an hour. Use this time to get ideas on other (better) possible solutions, talk about manufacturing options, materials, and sourcing. Exhaust every opportunity for improvement. I paid $375 for a session like this to a local product development company and I was very happy with the service. As a side note, a product designer is an engineer and will likely want to charge you $125/hour for CAD design work. Just like you don’t hire the dentist to do your teeth cleanings (you hire a dental hygienist), there is often no need for an engineer to draft your plans. I used a great draftsman that I found online, and I couldn’t be happier with his work. Oh, did I mention that he charges $25/hour; you won’t find a better bargain anywhere!
The Business of Business:
Patents/ Trademarks: Since there is so information, from so many resources online for you to look at, I’m going to keep this brief. One thing that I’ve learned which I don’t think is very well explained online is this (again, I am not an attorney, or offering you any legal advice. This is an editorial article about my personal experiences and decisions): There are two types of U.S. Patents, a provisional and a non-provisional. A provisional patent is filed with the USPTO, but is never reviewed, and a patent will never be issued based on this application. What a provisional patent application does provide is 12 months of protection so that you may begin publicly announcing your idea and even begin selling your product. The fee is very minimal ($110 for independent inventors) and the application can be written on your own or by an attorney, and is far more informal than a non-provisional application. The USPTO has a resource page specifically for independent inventors which will offer you more information. I encourage you to spend plenty of time making the decision on how to protect your idea. Keep in mind that most attorneys offer free phone consultations-take full advantage of this service. I was very happy with the service I received from a local Patent Attorney.
Establishing a Business Entity type: There are several options here including; Sole Proprietor, LLC, Partnerships, and Incorporations. Based on advice from a CPA and attorney, I decided that an LLC was the right entity for my situation; however, you should seek out advice from your own CPA based on your individual circumstances. The advice I have for you on this is that in my state offered a very easy online form for creating an LLC. I did not pay someone to do this, and found that the entire process took less than 30 minutes. You should review your actual state resources online before deciding to hire someone.
Business plan: There are lots of free templates available online through the SBA, however this is an area that I spent a small amount of money. I’ve written several business plans over the years and have found that BusinessPlanPro, (bplans.com) software is well worth the $100 investment. It cut my plan writing time in half, and turned out a far superior looking product than what I could have done on my own. The software will walk you through every step of the process, so I’m not going to get into explaining too much about the plan writing.
Conclusion: I wish each of you much success with your project and I know you’ll learn a tremendous amount along the way. Stick with it, and you may be selling a million dollars worth or your new product to Wal-Mart, or I’ll be seeing you on an infomercial someday. Good luck!!