Bringing a Product to Market

Bringing a product to market can be a very frustrating process. It is one that does not happen mystically or by chance. Instead, successful entrepreneurs follow certain timeless principles that enable them to make their goals a reality. Fortunately, these principles can be broken down into specific steps that you can adapt to your own product launching efforts. In fact, there are 9 of them.

In this article, we will examine each of these 9 steps in detail. By understanding these steps inside and out, you will be better positioned to launch your product no matter where in the process you happen to be. Feel free to skip to the stage of product development or launch that you happen to be in.

Step 1: Thinking of an idea

Brainstorming invention ideas can feel like a strange, mystical process. Much of this stems from the way people tend to think about ideas. If you have ever heard someone say “You can’t think of great ideas. They just come to you”, you know what this means. We are taught that good ideas spontaneously pour into us, and we need the good sense to act on them if and when they do. Venture capitalist Paul Graham addresses this in his article “Ideas For Startups”

“If coming up with an idea for a startup equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.”

The problem with this line of thinking, as Paul later explains, is that ideas in and of themselves are not what generates millions of dollars. The reason we feel so much internal resistance to the prospect of actively generating ideas is that we figure “If there was a good idea, someone else would’ve had it already.” In fact, this is the wrong way to look at ideas. Generating ideas is an active (and active-minded) process. What really makes ideas pay is how they are executed, which is something you can control considerably. But it does, of course, start with the idea.

So if it is possible to generate ideas, how is it done? One good way to generate ideas is to limit your thinking to fields you like, or know exceptionally well. This limits the people you are competing against to those with your level of passion and expertise.

What you really want to do is turn off the self-censorship instinct that all of us have as human beings. When we come up with ideas or new thoughts, we tend to think “No, that’s stupid” just because we have not already heard it elsewhere. Instead, try submitting your idea to a few minutes of rational scrutiny before discarding it as worthless. Think it through from top to bottom. Would I buy this? If not, why? What might my objections be? Can they be overcome? How? The further you get into this process, the more value your idea probably has. Above all, just let the ideas flow. You will separate the wheat from the chaff in step two.

Step 2: Decide if your idea is worth pursuing.

There’s nothing like the enthusiasm one feels during a proverbial “I’ve got it!” moment. However, you still need to step back and reflect soberly on whether your idea is worth pursuing. Here are some things to consider in doing this.

Determine how well it will work.

How well will your idea work in practice? Will it work well enough to replace what people in this field already use? One easy way to determine this is to actively work in the field you envision your product being used for. This will give you a first hand glimpse into the current reality of what’s out there and let you tangibly see how your creation would improve it. If that’s not possible, find someone you trust in that field and bounce your idea off of them for feedback.

Who wants it?

There’s nothing worse than wasting weeks, months, or even years theorizing about a creation that’s “gonna be soooo great!” only to discover that no specific segment of customers truly wants it. To avoid this nightmare scenario, tell others about your idea. Ask them if and in what way it would truly improve their lives. The trick here is asking people who don’t know you very well. They are more likely to be honest instead of preoccupied with not hurting your feelings.

How can it be made?

Another common pitfall is glossing over the messy particulars of how something will be made. In the euphoria of brainstorming, your mind is naturally drawn to the sexy aspects of invention, such as the huge market waiting to be capitalized or your pitch to investors. Instead, force yourself to focus on exactly what it will take to bring your patent idea to life. How can it be made? What materials are needed? What types of skills are necessary to put it all together? Having firm answers to these questions turns you from dreamer into doer.

If your idea can withstand this type of analysis, you are ready for step three.

Step 3: Creating an inventor’s logbook.

Documenting new ideas is not just good practice. It may be absolutely critical if you intend on getting a patent for something and bringing it to market. So how do you go about keeping good records?

The answer is something called a logbook. A logbook is essentially an inventor’s journal. It is where the inventor keeps track of his progress and dates each step. A logbook proves that you came up with your idea at a certain date and displayed due diligence in pursuing it. However, there are some definite standards you should adhere to when keeping a logbook. This will help ensure that your documentation looks legitimate to patent examiners.

1. You should start your logbook as soon as you think of an idea. Write down detailed records of key concepts, test results, and anything else having to do with the creation of your idea. This is the type of material that belongs in a logbook.

2. While there are pre-made logbooks for sale, you can easily make your own. Be sure to use a bound notebook, however, and not a loose-leaf. The reason is that bound notebooks make it hard to conceal the fact that pages were added or taken out.

3. Number each page consecutively. This establishes that the progress you made on your idea took place in a sequential order that anyone with common sense can observe. When one notebook is full, begin a new one and specify that this notebook is a continuation of the last one. There should be no visible gaps in your record keeping.

4. Each entry you write should be signed and dated by you and anyone else who participated in that step of the invention process. If at all possible, get a notary public to sign as well.

5. Give each entry a header with information about what is contained in it. For example, the date, subject, number of participants, witnesses, etc.

6. Include records of everything you do. When in doubt, assume that it is best to include it. Do not just include successful test results, for example. If you exclude negative findings or tests, the patent examiner may decide that you “cherry-picked” only the good stuff and reject your application.

7. Any and all other participants in the invention process need to have their roles disclosed. The importance of this convention cannot be stressed enough. If you omit an inventor’s name from an invention he helped create, it is considered fraud.

8. Any loose materials like drawings, photos, or sketches should be signed, dated, and cross-referenced to the notebook entry they pertain to. It is best to tape or staple this material to the notebook entries in question.

Follow these tips, and your documentation will be airtight and at the ready, should a dispute ever arise.

Step 4: Identify a target market.

When you set out to bring a product to market, it’s essential to know which market you are targeting. Many new entrepreneurs make the mistake of shooting for a very broad segment of the population. Their logic is that the more people they target, the more chances they have to make sales. In reality, however, it rarely works this way. In fact, you want to target as narrow a segment as you possibly can. This makes the people you target more likely to buy, and enables you to do more specific market research in your efforts.

Who is your ideal customer? What are their buying behaviors? Is your product seasonal, or do people typically buy it each and every month? The importance of scoping out the market cannot be stressed enough, as it will determine your distribution plans, price structure, and other important factors.

Ultimately, you will craft a marketing plan based on your target market. That is somewhat beyond the scope of this article, but here is a sample marketing plan. Consult it for details on what types of forecasts you should be setting and how to set them.

SRC: http://www.morebusiness.com/templates_worksheets/bplans/printpre.brc

Once you have thought these questions through and come up with some plausible answers, proceed to step 5.

Step 5: Research that market.

Once you have identified your target market, the next step is to research it.

In this phase, you want to immerse yourself in trade journals, spec sheets, and periodicals about the industry your patent pertains to. You want to discover the prices of various commodities in the market that you will traffic in, the supply and demand patterns that determine the flow of the market. The goal of all this fact-finding is answering the following questions:

1. Who are my customers? (age, sex, income, etc.)

2. Where are they and how can I reach them? (what magazines/newspapers do they read?)

3. What quantity (and quality) do they want? (are there surveys that gather this data?)

4. What is the best time to sell? (Seasonal, yearly, etc.)

Many trade journals and industry sources can be accessed via the Internet. Yahoo, for example, offers an abundance of such material segmented by industry. Simply click the industry you want to research (law, jewelry, automotive, etc.) and you can browse a list of sources pertaining to them.

SRC: http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Business_to_Business/News_and_Media/Magazines/Trade_Magazines/

Step 6: Re-evaluate/improve your product based on that research.

To paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, “no product survives first contact with reality.” If you are like most entrepreneurs, picking a target market and researching it has given you some ideas to improve your product. Here are some things you can tinker with, based on what you learned?

* Product packaging

* Pricing

* Distribution (where you’ll sell it)

* The name

* Just about anything else open to your control

Once you have made the improvements you see fit, head to step 7 — the prototype!

Step 7: Create a prototype.

Creating a prototype is one of the most rewarding phases of the invention process. It is that fateful day when all your hopes, dreams, planning, and research culminate in a working model. By this point, you are ready to whip up that prototype for display to investors, business partners, or the patent office (see next step.) Keep in mind that your prototype does not have to use the same materials, or look exactly like your finished product ultimately will. It just has to approximate what you have in mind and demonstrate that you are in fact working on it.

Once you have a prototype up and running, you can proceed to step 8.

Step 8: Secure a patent.

In the understandable excitement and inspirational fire of creation, many inventors rush into the patent process without doing their homework. Unfortunately, their zeal to push forward often comes back to haunt them in the form of longer wait times, higher fees, and more work that could have been avoided with proper planning.

One of the biggest mistakes many inventors make is filing a non-provisional patent right away. A non-provisional patent is “the real patent.” To file for one, you need to fill out a bevy of legal forms, include sketches and drawings of your invention, and pay hefty fees. If your application is approved, you are granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

While many inventors will one day need to do this, few of them need to do it immediately. Instead, there is another equally safe but less expensive way to go: the $100 provisional patent application. In a provisional patent application, you do not file a formal patent claim, oath, or any disclosure statements about your invention. But what a provisional patent will do is lock in your application date and give you “patent pending” status.

If you have ever seen “patent pending” on product packaging or commercials, it is because the company in question filed a provisional patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office. It is actually unlawful to use “patent pending” unless you have done this.

What this means in layman’s terms is that you can begin to market your invention and gauge how much interest (if any) there is before deciding to file for a non-provisional patent. In the meantime, you can market your invention with the full rights and protections of a non-provisional patent. If you have ever seen “patent pending” on product packaging or commercials, it is because the company in question filed a provisional patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office.

If you are smart and work quickly, you can use that 12 month period to hustle your idea and generate interest in it. By the end of that time you should have a very good idea of whether it is worth applying for a non-provisional patent.

Step 9: Decide on your track

There are several “tracks” you can take to bring your product to the marketplace.

One track is to become an “outsource entrepreneur.” In this way, you essentially become a hired gun. You, the inventor, perform the tasks of researching and developing the product. Then, you “outsource” the manufacturing and marketing to partners with money. Those partners will develop, market, and fund the startup costs. In return for their greater efforts, they will receive a greater return. The benefit to you, however, is that this is one of the quickest ways to bring a product to market and exit with cash in hand. If you are a serial inventor, this can be a great way to build up some cash and move on from one idea to the next.

A second track open to you is licensing or selling your patent outright. Very simply, licensing is when another company takes over your new product idea and cuts you in on the sales via royalties. While selling a patent is fairly self explanatory on the surface, you should seek consultation from a lawyer prior to finalizing an agreement to ensure all legal documents are in place. Licensees can be manufacturers, marketers, or basically anyone who wants to carry your product into the market and pay you for the right to do so. Licensing arrangements are also flexible; some licensees take on all the risk, some take on less. However, most companies will only license a product if they are more or less sure it will succeed. Therefore, it is up to you to convince them of your product’s prospects.

The disadvantage of licensing is that the earning potential is a bit lower than outsourcing, but the tremendous upside is that once you license a product you basically have no more responsibility to the product.

The other track is the most risky, and thusly the most potentially rewarding: starting your own company. In this case, you assume full responsibility: you make the product, you price the product, you get the product online or on store shelves, you handle the accounting, you pay the taxes, you own the process from start to finish. For more information on the steps involved, including writing a business plan and finding a manufacturer, view our other articles.

This is by far the most difficult process and many people rightfully so decide before hand to opt for sales or licensing agreements. However, if you do decide to move forward and create a business (highest reward and most risk) around your intellectual property you want to ensure that you hire on top talent. Failing to do so can lead to years of problems and ongoing stress. It’s far better to invest in something you believe in and share some of the pie to increase your chances of building a successful company than to go it alone and take arrows.

By keeping these 9 steps in mind, you can increase the likelihood of success in bringing your product to market with confidence and profitability.

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Five Hot Ways to Make Money Online

With all the hype on the Internet today about how to make millions overnight and unrealistic claims of how to become wealthy, it’s no wonder newcomers are so confused. The net is so saturated with get-rich-quick gimmicks that anyone wanting honest information on how to make money is assaulted with misleading and downright fraudulent information! In an effort to correct this disinformation, the content in this article will discuss five of the best ways to make money on the Internet and cover such topics as Pay-Per-Click advertising, affiliate web sites, writing informational products, online auctions, and building email lists.

Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

PPC defined – Pay per click advertising means getting paid every time someone “clicks” on an advertisement. The amount paid varies according to the maximum bid placed for that topic. Bids are the dollar amount the advertisers are willing to pay for targeted traffic to their site.
How it works – say someone has a product to sell. They need customers, right? To get these customers, advertisers will pay for other people to advertise for them. An Internet entrepreneur with a website can place this advertisement on their site and earn money when someone sees this ad and clicks on it for more information. The advertiser is then charged for the click, but the person who owns the website on which the advertisement is placed is paid for that click. This is in effect selling advertising space on the website. This is a good way to generate revenue online. A good rule-of-thumb is, the more websites one has with this type of advertising, the more revenue one can generate.

Google AdSense is a top player in the pay-per-click market, but there are many others out there. Google AdSense also provides training and tutorials on “how to optimize” once an account has been set up.

Affiliate Websites

Selling other people’s products for profit is another great way to earn money on the Internet. By setting up an affiliate account, the savvy Internet entrepreneur doesn’t have to worry about web page development or creating any of his or her own products. The goal here is to get people to click the link and have them redirected to an affiliate web page. Usually an affiliate “link” is used to create the illusion the website is his or her own. The link is typically “embedded” into content on the site and, in this way, thousands of affiliate marketers can drive traffic to a specific web address. Once the product is purchased, the affiliate advertiser shares a portion of the profit with the original developer. Clickbank and Paydotcom are two of the more prominent affiliate sites offering affiliate-related products for marketing. Amazon.com is another site that offers affiliate advertising.

The benefits of this plan are that there is no need to have a website, no need to develop a sales page (landing page), and there is good money making potential for little investment. In other words, a good return on investment (ROI)

The E-book

Write your way to success! Writing for content on the Internet is one of the BEST ways of generating revenue. If a person has a good grasp of the English language and can construct sentences into paragraphs, this is a goldmine just waiting to be tapped. One of the best things about online writing is that anyone can write complete original content or purchase rights to other’s works and make them their own.

Private label rights (PLR), when purchased or obtained through other means, give the rights-holder certain liberties with that content. They can alter it, claim ownership, put their name on it, and do just about anything with it they want. On the flip side, master resale rights (MRR) gives the rights-holder the right to resell the content as well as resell rights to those being sold to. Just a note to those interested in diving into this type of venture; “rights” to the content should be transferred with the purchase and should be adhered to in order to be legally compliant. Any deviation set forth in the contract from the original rights-holder could possibly be a breech of copyright law and land a person in jail!

The great thing about writing original content is that the person who writes it becomes a type of “authority” on the subject in the eyes of the Internet community. Traditionally, the Internet is an informational medium and those who have the skills to write original content will fare better than those who do not.

Online Auctions

Another great way to earn money on the Internet is to buy and sell products
through online auction sites such as e-Bay, e-Bid, OnlineAuction, and others. These products can either be physical or digital. Physical products require maintaining an inventory and shipping costs. On the other hand, digital information media (e-books) require no inventory and can be downloaded instantly once the bidding has ended. (Note: Recently e-Bay has banned digital downloads and now requires all digital media to be shipped on a CD or DVD disc. Other online auction sites may follow suit if the number of fraudulent transactions continue to escalate.)

List Building (Mailing Lists)

List building is in effect obtaining names from visitors to a website with the intent to follow-up with subsequent mailings. The most common of these are the monthly e-zine article, newsletters, and the “5 week mini course”.

The goal behind these subscriptions is for the web-site owner to produce follow-up mailings to potential customers in the hopes of getting them to eventually buy the product or service. This ingenuity has the conceivable goal of gaining more revenue for the entrepreneur over time by being able to establish a rapport with the potential customer, gaining their confidence, and making even more sales over the course of the mailing. Many an Internet marketer has been told that “the money is in the list” and it holds true for those who can work the mailings successfully.

One point to remember with mailing lists is the use of an auto-responder. An auto-responder is a service that provides follow-up mailings to customers on an automated basis. These autoresponders can be set-up for multiple mailings with email addresses and can even generate the “squeeze page” that captures this information when the customer signs up for the e-zine or mini course.

Aweber is a great service that provides all the tools just described for a small monthly fee. Anyone serious about mailing lists needs an auto-responder otherwise all those emails will have to be sent individually. This may not seem like much for a few emails, but when the list grows into the hundreds and thousands, the need for the auto-responder becomes evident. With an auto-responder, one letter is written that can be sent to thousands of subscribers automatically.

In sum, the topics covered in this article are just a few of the ways one can make money on the Internet. PPC advertising, affiliate web sites, informational products, online auctions, and list building are legitimate ways to make money online, but they are not the only ones. (The niche market is another profitable area of an online business that should not be overlooked.) To make money on the Internet, one must develop a plan or approach on how they will accomplish their goals, put the plan in motion, and modify the plan as needed to obtain optimum results. The savvy Internet entrepreneur will incorporate all of these components into multiple income streams and add more when the time is right. In this way, revenue will grow as one’s knowledge base increases.

Five Critical Steps to Bring Your New Product Idea to Market – With a Small Budget!

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!!