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Keeping an Inventor's Notebook

Describe Your Product's Features
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a feature is "a prominent or distinctive aspect, quality or characteristic." If you were describing a home's features, for instance, you might say three bedrooms, a master bath, an updated kitchen and hardwood floors. Use this as a guide when determining your own product's proposed features. The TP Saver has the following product features:

  • No assembly required
  • Simple to use
  • No need to remove toilet paper for insertion
  • Fits most standard toilet paper holders

Now List Your Product's Benefits
According the American Heritage Dictionary, a benefit is "something that promotes or enhances well-being; an advantage." In other words, what does this product solve? How can it help someone in his or her daily life? The TP Saver packaging states the following benefits:

  • Prevents your child or pet from unrolling toilet paper
  • Reduces the risk of paper ingestion
  • Saves paper, money and the environment

What Makes Your Product Unique to the Market?
Your idea may be brand new to the market--nothing similar already exists. Or, it may be an improvement on something that already does exist--with unique features and benefits to differentiate it. It can be helpful to include similar products in your list. When I performed my initial research, for instance, there was nothing like the TP Saver on the market, though one major manufacturer, Safety 1st, offered a kit filled with other types of gadgets to lock down the bathroom. I jotted this fact down in my notebook.

Who Will Buy It? Who's Your Target Customer?
It's important to fully understand who'll need or want your product. This will help you during every aspect of the process as you move forward--design, market research, advertising and sales. It's also valuable to figure out the approximate number this audience represents. For the TP Saver, I determined that my initial target market was parents with children of approximately 10 months to 2 years old, who pull the family toilet paper. My research indicated there were 11.8-million households with children 0-3 years old, 4-million new births per year, and 69-million grandparents--a significant market. (For tips on gathering this type of info, read " Market Research 101 .")

How Might Your Product Be Expanded for Other Customers to Use?
Create a list of possible markets. When I first developed the TP Saver, I assumed my only market would be parents with small children, based on my own experience. However, as time went on, I heard from consumers whose cats and dogs also got into the toilet paper, and often pulled it all over the house. I quickly realized that this was an entirely new market, and I began researching to determine how many more potential customers this would mean. I discovered there were 77.7-million households with cats and 65-million households with dogs in America--not too shabby!

Record Discussions Pertaining to Your Invention
You'll be amazed at the number of people you'll speak to as you go through the inventing process. Be sure to keep a brief record of all conversations you think are relevant. For example, when you speak with an engineer, graphic artist, prototype developer or patent attorney, write down the date and time of your call. Then, in two or three sentences, summarize your conversation. Not only will this provide a record of details you can easily refer back to (relying on memory can be risky!), you'll also have written documentation to help protect your interests.

Here's a sample of a notation I made after speaking with the machinist:

"December 15, 2002--met with Art Westman of Accurate Manufacturing. He gave me a copy of the signed non-disclosure agreement that I had faxed to him. We discussed the prototype for the toilet paper saving device. I showed him my sketch and the hair permanent rod, and he seemed to understand what I was trying to achieve. He said that he would be glad to hand-make a prototype out of Delrin(r) plastic. He said that it would be ready in about two weeks and that it would cost about $100. I told him to go ahead and make it."

Continue to Update Your Notebook Throughout the Product-Development Process
Record meetings, new developments and personal stories (if you wish). In addition to having a legal record, remember that this notebook is a measure of your progress. Enjoy it. But also, don't feel intimidated by it. In other words, don't feel that you have to write an essay or long detailed accounts. If you forget to make an entry, that's OK. Share stories and write enough to make sense to any sensible person. You may also wish to jot down personal stories to track your progress and provide future reminders about the process.

Remember: Tthere are no rules about your notebook--it can be anything you want it to be. Get creative and make it your very own!

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Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss Tamara Monosoff is the author of Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss and The Mom Inventors Handbook, Secrets of Millionaire Moms, and co-author of The One Page Business Plan for Women in Business. She is also the and CEO of www.MomInvented.com. Connect on Twitter: @mominventors and on Facebook: facebook.com/MomInvented.

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