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Congratulations, You’ve Invented Something… Now What?

What do you do next?

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Necessity may be the mother of invention but invention is the mother or innovation… And where would we be without innovation? Every day we make liberal use of products, services and technologies that didn’t even exist a scant two decades ago. The very essence of success in the ultra-competitive marketplace of the 21st century is to identify a gap in the market, create something to fill it and unleash it upon the world, using your invention to spearhead a business that will ensure your success. But of course if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Having a great idea for a product or service that doesn’t exist but should is one thing. Translating that spark of inspiration into a tangible product, much less a full fledged business can be an uphill struggle even for the most dogged would be entrepreneur.

Whether we’d like to believe it or not, the 21st century business climate tips the scales in favor of big multinational corporations and while entrepreneurship makes a great contribution to the economy, getting a startup of any sort off the ground can be a grueling and unforgiving ordeal for those with little or no business experience. Funding applications can be denied repeatedly, online custom can stall and even applying for European Union trademark registration can be prohibitively expensive for those who don’t have sizeable amounts of their own capital to invest in their business. Though it can be an uphill struggle, it is by no means impossible. After all, everything on the market today began life as a synaptic spark in someone’s mind years ago. If you have an idea but aren’t sure how to shape it into a marketable product here are some things to know that will help you get started.

Early stages

In a perfect world, you’d simply hand your ideas to a manufacturer and sip iced lattes while you wait for the money to roll in. Unfortunately, there are far more practicalities when it comes to bringing your idea to prototype stage.

Market Research

If you’re going to prostrate yourself before a bank or business lender, one thing that will be expected is that you’ll have done extensive market research. You’ll be expected to have a working understanding of the landscape in which your intended product exists. You should know what similar products are out there, where they are sold, who’s buying them, how regularly and in what sort of volume. You should have a specific target market and have ideas for a marketing strategy designed to engage them. The best products are designed to service the needs of a sizeable group of people and your product will be expected to find a similar niche.

Patent / Trademark research

How sure are you that your intended product doesn’t already exist? The last thing you’d want is to see your product through to prototype stage only to find that it infringes upon someone else’s copyright. However comprehensive your research may be, it might be worth enlisting the aid of a patent lawyer to ensure that your product is truly and completely original.

Developing your prototype

You’ve done your market research, can demonstrate quantifiable interest and can say with your hand of your heart that you won’t be violating copyright law. Now it’s time to develop a working prototype. Many assume that a prototype has to be completely reflect the design and function of the finished product. Often developing a working prototype is the last in a series of development stages. Some manufacturers will be able to work from a detailed diagram, some will expect you to have developed a non-working prototype from which they will extrapolate how to make all the working parts, well, work. Click here for advice on how to develop a prototype.

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Manufacture vs licensing

When they have a working prototype, entrepreneurs face a choice. Do they manufacture or license the product? Manufacturing means that you create the product yourself and pay a third party manufacturer to make it. Licensing is where you sell the rights to make, manufacture, distribute and sell your product in exchange for a royalty fee. The former allows you greater control and ownership of your product while the latter insulates you from the initial costs and potential pitfalls.

The importance of timing

Timing is crucial when launching a product. Jump the gun and your launch could go with a whimper rather than a bang because the market isn’t quite ready for it yet. The first mp3 player, for example, the MPMan was released in 1998 but the market didn’t boom until Apple refined and perfected the formula with the iPod. Dilly dally for too long, however and you may be undercut by another company who releases a product that is too similar to yours and takes the wind out of your sails.

That said, neither outcome need be disastrous to your business. If you’re a shade too early, it may take a while for the market to catch up, but you’ll be ideally placed to adapt and develop your product to make it superior to your competitor’s imitations. Of course, your product will also have the USP of being the first of its kind. If you wind up on the late side, you will have the benefit of learning from your predecessor’s mistakes and you will be afforded the time to refine and perfect your product.

The magic of marketing

Invention and innovation are huge drivers of progress, but in the 21st century, where information is everything, they amount to little if consumers aren’t aware of your product. For licensees marketing is not so much of a problem, but if you’re in charge of manufacturing and the product’s fate is entirely in your hands, it’s your marketing strategy that will make or break you. It may not be what you want to hear, but no product is so great that it markets itself. Here’s where knowing your target market inside out will help you. Knowing what they want and how to appeal to this sense of want will be instrumental in your success when it comes to marketing your product.

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