From the March 2008 issue of Startups

You've got a great product idea. Now, how do you find a manufacturer? For leads, first go to your industry's manufacturing association, says Joe Rodriguez, senior managing partner of Global Innovation Leadership Inc., a manufacturing consulting company. "Those associations usually have good lists of who does contract manufacturing," he says. "That's a good [way] to find out who's who in a particular industry."

For Pamela Barsky, manufacturing has mostly been a learn-as-she-goes proposition. When she started out, the Los Angeles entrepreneur made her eponymous line of funky luggage tags, journals, buttons and stationery from home. Today she does business with manufacturers--both domestic and in Asia--to create her bevy of products.

Barsky, 48, scours the internet for leads and asks questions of prospective manufacturers, but her research doesn't end there. "Often I'll give someone a really small project or ask them to send samples of what they do," says Barsky, whose company earned about $500,000 in 2007 sales. "Find people who need your business as much as you need them."

When starting out, look into smaller manufacturers, says Rodriguez. Or, if you're searching for overseas manufacturers, contact a country's commerce attache (through the U.S. Embassy) or its American Chamber of Commerce abroad. Also, many U.S. cities have dual chambers with foreign contacts. In any case, you'll need to investigate not only a manufacturer's technical prowess and pricing parameters, but also its communication style. Research its reputation by asking business candidates, bankers, and suppliers for references and contact information. Narrow your list to two or three potential manufacturers, and if possible, visit them in person. "Many manufacturers have a lot of experience in their industry and can offer good ideas about how to make [your process] easier, cheaper and better," says Rodriguez. "You can gauge the interest of the manufacturer in that sense."