Look Like a Winner – Developing Business Savvy

Many inventors that fall by the wayside have great ideas but they fail to gain the trust of the people they need to help them. One major factor in why they lose that trust is that they don’t show they have enough business savvy for others to trust them to deliver.

This is not because the inventor’s intentions are bad, but because they don’t show they have the experience to understand the task in front of them or to execute the tasks once they understand what to do. But that doesn’t mean inventors are doomed, it just means that they need to take a little bit of time to bring themselves up to speed on the market and the process of introducing a product so they look like a winner. You will make a much better presentation if you follow these steps before going out to talk to people in the market.

Important Tip : Don’t ever say that you have a “can’t miss” idea, a “blockbuster” idea, or that you have a product that is sure to be taken by Wal-Mart. Instead just say that you have an interesting idea that you believe has market potential. Telling people you have a “can’t miss” idea will only convince new product experts that you are a rookie with no idea of what you’re doing. All ideas can miss and most new product experts talk to five to 20 people a month with a “can’t miss” concept, 99 percent of which do miss.

Step 1: Do a professional information sheet on your product.

Include these items and a picture of your prototype or a drawing if possible.

Brief product description. Why you developed the idea. Target customer: be specific about the target customer, don’t say everyone. For example if you have a kitchen item, you might be tempted to say everyone, but that is not nearly as effective as stating people who buy three to five new kitchen utensils per year, and buy new pots every five years. People want to know that you have narrowed your market.

Main product benefits. The products people are buying now to achieve the same purpose your product fills. (It is extremely helpful to have brochures, or print outs from web pages.) Be sure to check out an industry directory for products and not just rely on your local stores. You can typically find the directory at trade magazine web sites. You can find the trade magazines by checking Gale Research’s Directory of Magazines and Broadcast Media which is available at larger libraries.

Target price. Sales outlets, where the products will be sold. Distribution outlets, what type of distributors or manufacturers representatives can be used to sell the product. If you don’t know this information you can get help with your specific product from SCORE, which are retired business executives who offer free help. Another good source is your local Small Business Development Center. Both of these organizations can help you define your distribution channel and also the sales outlets where you will sell your product.

You should put all this information on no more than two pages of paper. Then whenever you talk about your interesting idea you can show someone that you have in fact done your homework. The brochures about other products can be attachments.

Step 2: Show why you are knowledgeable about your product idea.

People always will take more interest in your idea if there is a reason that you have specialized knowledge about the product area that will convince people you might have a unique innovative product. People will take notice if an operating room nurse creates an idea for removing the fluids that are used to cleanse body cavities during surgery. That’s because the person really understands the needs of the users. They will also take notice if the inventor is an avowed hobbyist, with tremendous passion for his or her hobby. Another are where people take notice is if you are in the distribution channel for the product. People will listen to a mom who is also a baby products manufacturing representative who has a new baby product.

You can still adjust if you don’t have a background that suggests you really understand your product. You just need to get the support of someone who does have the background. For example a mom with a baby product just needs to find a baby store owner or a baby product’s manufactures’ representative to support the product. You can even give the person a 5 percent stake in the product so you can call them a partner. How do you find people who can support your product? First, you can network with the people you know. Ask your family and friends if they know anyone who works for a baby stores, a baby products manufacturer, or is a baby products representative. Networking works much more often than you might think because your family and friends together often have contacts with a relatively large group of people.

If networking doesn’t work attend local trade shows appropriate to your product and visit stores to see if you can meet a contact. A last method is to subscribe to the industry trade magazine look for new product announcements. Typically you can request literature from the companies and often literature comes with the name of the local sales person. Then all you have to do is call people up and tell them you are looking for an advisor on your new product. Tell them you are willing to give an advisor 5 percent ownership in your idea and ask them if you can take them to lunch to discuss your idea.

Step 3: Pick a distribution channel you can penetrate and have a plan.

You just can’t tell people you are going to sell your product at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart rarely buys from a small one product company, especially one without commercial success. You need to instead focus on a distribution channel you can penetrate and have a specific plan to do that. You almost always are better off starting with a specialized distribution outlet. If you have a baby item, start at specialized baby stores. With a kitchen item, start selling at small kitchen stores to build up success that will help you get into bigger stores. If you have a faux painting sponge that does specialized prints, you might start selling first to painters, then to paint stores, and then finally to Home Depot.

You need a plan on how you are going to sell to the distribution outlets, through distributors or manufacturers representatives, or direct sales to some small regional chains. To learn more about your distribution outlets read industry trade magazines that will talk often about distribution, or use the contacts you’ve met networking or by attending small shows trade in your areas. You can also get help from the SCORE or SBDC organizations mentioned earlier in the article. The One Stop Invention Shop also provides a service that creates a marketing plan for new product introductions.

Step 4: Create a Target Customer Profile Chart.

One of the final steps that shows you’ve done your homework is to create a customer profile chart that details the market opportunity that is available for your product.

Target Market Profile — Faux Painting Supplies

Market Segment: High end wallpaper and paint contractors

Needs: Patterned Look

How Needs Are Met: Use sea sponges and then make their own designs

Products Purchased: Sea sponges

Market Segment: Midrange paint contractors

Needs: Patterned and standard look

How Needs Are Met: Use sea sponges for standard looks, unable to do complex patterns.

Products Purchased: Sea sponges

Market Segment: New users wanting a sponge look

Needs: Standard sponge look with simple pattern

How Needs Are Met: Sea sponges

Products Purchased: Sea sponges

Market Segment: New users wanting pattern wallpaper-type look

Needs: Advanced patterns

How Needs Are Met: Products not available

Products Purchased: None available

This chart shows there is a market opening of advanced pattern sponges that can be used for new users wanting complex patterns. You can also make a case that an advanced pattern sponge would sell to the mid to small-size painting contractors who are unable to create their own advanced patterns.

Step 5: Have a great name, slogan and packaging concept.

People in the new product business consider a great name, slogan and packaging just as important as having a great product. Sometimes it is more important. But be sure to do a trademark search for the name you want to use. Many times inventors use names that are already associated with products in the industry and this turns out to be a major negative. IP associate, Eric Hanscom, can help you search and apply for a trademark.

Slogans and a drawing of what your package will look like also show two important facts to the people you talk to. First, it shows that you have worked hard on your invention and are preparing realistically to bring your product to market. This is a big advance over many inventors who quickly sketch up a drawing and then expect to make millions. Second, it shows you are concerned about selling your product and that you know that sales is the toughest part of introducing any new product. Again this shows you are aware of the work that lies before you, and that you have enough business savvy to possibly launch your product. For help with packaging, contact Josh Wallace, our graphic design associate.

Many inventors fail with great ideas because they don’t do their homework, which makes them look unprofessional. If you look unprofessional, people won’t even give your idea a serious look. Do your homework so your idea has a chance to succeed. If you believe in your idea, don’t just expect instant wealth, but instead make a commitment to do the work to turn yourself and your product into a winner.