Once you get your prototype or samples in hand, go to a tradeshow. Find out which trade association serves your target market. The best way to get this information is to search the internet and to ask retailers which trade associations they are affiliated with and which trade magazines they read. It's not uncommon for new companies to show up at a trade show with nothing more than a prototype--dressed up to look retail ready. In addition to getting product feedback at the show and some potential orders, you'll meet other manufacturers in the same industry. Use this opportunity to find people with non-competing products and ask for their factory representatives. In addition, factory representatives often troll these shows for new customers. Those who think they can make your product will likely introduce themselves.
Communicate clearly when speaking to reps and realize that price is just one of the many elements to discuss. Other important issues are tooling or pattern fees, ownership of molds and patterns, how they handle production flaws, payment terms and minimum runs. Don't accept too large of an initial run. For example, an overseas manufacturer may say that their minimum run is 50,000 units. In a case like this, see if you can start with 1,000 samples first and if not, find another manufacturer.
Finally, as you go through the process of finding a manufacturer, recognize that while you're looking for the best partner for you, factories are looking for the best partners for themselves. These are serious business people who have invested thousands--maybe millions--of dollars in their companies. They usually specialize in certain areas of production. So be sure to present yourself as a professional and sell your strengths and why you would be an asset to them.
Keep in mind that overseas manufacturers may have been "burned" by many budding inventors; therefore, do your best to be a good partner. If they sense that you are less than serious, difficult to work with, unfocused or you don't have a well-developed business and marketing plan, they'll make it difficult to deal with them.
Remember that overseas cultures are quite different than your own. Rather than simply saying, "No, I won't give you a quote as I don't think your plan will succeed," they may say, "Yes, I will do a run for you; the minimum volume is 100,000 units." On the other hand, since they are business people, if they see merit in your plan and trust that you'll be loyal after your product begins to take off, they can also be incredibly flexible.
Think of finding a manufacturer as a networking process-- not a single event. Start your treasure hunt through research and making as many contacts as possible, then watch your "thingamajig" take off.
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.