This article has been excerpted from Selling Your Products, available from SmallBizBooks.com.
I've worked with entrepreneurs for more than 25 years, and most of the successful ones have created and developed their products on their own and love being independent. "Being my own boss" is the answer I usually get when I ask them what they like best about being an entrepreneur.
But in fact, successful entrepreneurs are not Lone Rangers--which, for inexperienced entrepreneurs, should be regarded as a good thing. I've talked to more than 100 successful entrepreneurs over the past 10 years, and they frequently don't have a lot of business management experience, don't have any more money than the average person and typically have never tried to introduce a product before.
The key moment in their entrepreneurial process has been when they recognized their shortcomings and sought help from other people. That help is exactly what they need to succeed, and it can come in hundreds of forms, such as these:
- A manufacturer willing to extend dating on orders
- An independent sales agent or industry insider who offers tips on getting a product out into the market
- A retailer who heavily promotes your product at its expense
- A manufacturer who funds your research and development for the option on a private label contract
- A marketer who shares a booth with you at a major convention or provides an introduction to key industry buyers
- An industry connection who helps you fund your initial production run
- Another entrepreneur who tells you the best fairs and events to attend, and helps you price your product
- A manufacturer who lets you use his or her model shop to produce your products in return for help filling backorders on Saturday
- An industry insider who first invests in your company and then comes to work with you to make the product a success
- A retailer who gives you a provisional order--they'll buy when and if you can deliver--so you can get a manufacturer to fund an initial production run
You should think about the kind of help you will need right at the start, before you even begin to introduce a product to market. If you can prototype and make your product at home, you can probably survive on your own until you're ready to sell. But most entrepreneurs have products that require a little more investment upfront, and they could go broke if they wait too long to get experienced advice. Not only that, but getting help early will prevent a lot of mistakes in creating your product, and this will help you save money for the crucial tasks that lie ahead.
The Lone Ranger Is Dead
The product life cycle today is short--very short. Products can come and go in just two to three years, and this dramatic change presents both problems and opportunities for entrepreneurs. On one hand, entrepreneurs can't afford to work alone and follow the normal two- to five-year process to get their product to market since in that time the market may pass them by. This means entrepreneurs can't be independent, can't control everything that happens with their product and may have just a few short years of successful selling.
The good news is that established marketers and manufacturers have an even harder time getting to market quickly, so nimble entrepreneurs can beat them to the punch. The big manufacturers are responding to this challenge by working with an increasing number of outside companies, including entrepreneurs, to keep on the leading edge of their markets. This also means that manufacturers, marketers, distributors and retailers are generally willing to help entrepreneurs. All you have to do is ask.
The simple fact is that teamwork equals success. In today's crowded market, individual entrepreneurs have a hard time standing out and getting noticed. To build the necessary size and momentum, you need resources, and if you don't have them, you must team up with someone who does--someone who has the money, the manufacturing prowess, or the distribution reach required to turn a new product into a success.