For most of us, inventing a new product or starting a new business is foreign territory. And unless you have a crystal ball (and you know how to use it) it's impossible to expect to make all the right decisions, all the time. Yet certain mistakes in the invention process are very common--I see them repeated among countless individuals who are developing and/or trying to launch their products. Fortunately, they're mistakes that can easily be avoided if you know what to look out for.
While you can expect to make mistakes along your journey--"healthy" mistakes that you'll learn from in the process--there are those mistakes that can completely sabotage your efforts, deplete your life savings, or cripple your confidence. These are the mistakes that can and should be avoided. Here are some of the whoppers I've seen along the way:
Mistake #1: Expecting unrealistic results
There are those who believe that inventing is a get-rich-quick scheme. This is usually little more than wishful thinking. That's because a successful invention involves building a business around a new product idea, or selling your idea to another company. That takes hard work--and very few inventors make a million dollars on their first invention. The good news is that you can make money, and as you become familiar with the process, your second, third or fourth effort will bring you even more financial success, more efficiently. The new inventor, though, needs to evaluate her resources, measure her motivation and assess the time she's willing to put into her effort--then develop a plan with realistic timelines and financial goals. The riches seldom come quick--but they can come!
Mistake #2: Failing to search the market early on
You have a big idea. You're sure the masses will clamor for it. So you begin sinking lots of money into building your prototype, developing a business plan, hiring a patent attorney, and more. Little do you know there's an identical product that's already out there on the market.
Yes, it can be heartbreaking to learn that someone else came up with your big idea first. But it's even more heartbreaking when you've lost a significant amount of money because of it. Advice: be sure to research stores, the internet, catalogs, etc., before moving along in the invention process. I've seen people who've invested their life savings only to discover--too late--that their idea isn't original. And it often takes a 10-minute search to find what you are looking for. How can you be sure your product doesn't already exist? Spend enough time to ensure you've exhausted every angle. Search relevant stores wherever you go. Search the internet with multiple key words. In other words, don't develop your product in a vacuum.
Of course, if your product is similar--but not identical--there may still be room for it in the marketplace. Maybe it has different features or a novel design. The key is knowing what's out there, and taking an honest look at both products to decide if there's enough differentiation to justify further investment and product development. If you decide to develop a product that's similar to another already on the market, make sure that you don't infringe on the competitor's patent.
Mistake #3: Assuming everyone will want your invention
Even if you've done your research--and you've determined nothing like your idea already exists--you still need to decide if your product is something that people will actually want, and more importantly: buy. And that takes market research.
Your first step in market research is to determine if there's a viable market out there for your product--a market large enough and receptive enough to make producing your product worthwhile. For example, if it's a product for all children 2-3 years old, it's pretty obvious you've got a built-in market. But if it's a product for, say, senior citizens who snowboard, you've got a much more narrow audience, and you should determine their numbers, their habits and where they live before moving forward. (Note: That's not to say a bigger market is always better--in fact, smaller specialty markets can mean less competition, more targeted communications and higher demand. The point here is to determine whether any market--big or small--is a receptive one.)
Also, be sure to go beyond asking your friends and family, who are a) biased and b) may not give you honest feedback. Many times I've seen inventors' family and friends tell them their idea is terrific because they want to support them and avoid hurting their feelings. So recruit objective parties to give you their frank responses to your product idea and/or prototype. Also, if you plan to sell your invention through retailers in a specific industry, speak to them and see if they would actually carry your product.
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.