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Making Contact

Like any sales call, approaching a target company can be intimidating. You must, however, take this step if you are ever to sell your idea. There are a couple of ways to do it. You can send a letter or proposal to a high-ranking executive to introduce yourself and your idea. You can call the company and try to set up a meeting with an executive directly. You can use contacts your friends, family and business associates might have. Or, you can have your attorney act as your agent and contact the company on your behalf.

There is no one right way to contact a company. Creativity and persistence definitely pay off. However you choose to do it, be prepared to describe your idea in a way that grabs the prospect's interest, without telling him or her exactly what you have. (You don't want to give too much away prior to the in-person meeting.)

If you have a patent on your idea, you can feel a lot more comfortable divulging information about it to a prospect. Prior research on the company should give you some level of assurance that the company will not rip you off. Remember, if you're afraid the company will steal your idea, you probably shouldn't contact it.

When you do get through to the company, try a classic sales hook to get the prospect's attention. If, for example, your idea can reduce the company's manufacturing costs, say something like this: "Are you interested in reducing your manufacturing costs by XX percent? I have developed a process that will do just that, and I would like to offer it to you and your company. . . ."

Many companies will not sign con-fidentiality, nondisclosure or noncompete agreements before reviewing an invention. I don't, for the simple reason that I don't want to back myself into a corner. Many people contact me with ideas for hair accessories. I may have already thought of the same idea and be in the process of bringing it to market. If I signed their agreement, I would be unable to continue with my plans.

This position is not uncommon. Many companies have research and development departments with full-time employees thinking up new ideas. They would not sign such an agreement for fear of losing their investment. It's best to have patents filed or some kind of protection for your idea before sharing it with companies that have such a policy.

Some companies have a policy of refusing to look at ideas from individuals, whether you call, write or visit. To get through to these companies, you'll probably have to use your network of contacts to find someone who has an "in" with a company executive. Other companies simply do not want to be approached by individual inventors. You'll soon recognize who they are, and if you choose to approach them anyway, know when you've outworn your welcome.

I suggest contacting more than one company at a time. That way, you have several poles in the water, so to speak. If you're lucky, you may be able to choose between two or more attractive offers.

Think of this process as you would any sale. You may not receive any positive responses at first, but don't get discouraged. Be persistent, and your efforts will pay off.

Tomima Edmark is the inventor of the TopsyTail, the Kissing Machine and several other products, and is author of The American Dream Fact Pack ($49.95), available by calling (800) 558-6779. Write to her with any questions you may have regarding inventions and patents in care of "Bright Ideas," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Now Presenting....

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