Q: I have an idea for a product I developed more than three years ago. I've done some market research, and I've asked others what they think of my idea. Everyone says it's an amazing idea. My problem is I have no idea how to market this, how to sell it or how to price it. I know I want to sell to small stores and get feedback before I dive into larger retailers. I have no business background-I'm an artist by trade, and I want to do this as a side business. Do you have any suggestions for me?

A: Looking for money? Entrepreneur's Rule: First run to friends and family.

Looking for professional, qualified new product idea assessments? Inventor's Rule: DON'T rely on friends and family!

Have you ever heard anyone tell a mother of a newborn she has an ugly baby? Of course not. Similarly, friends and family are far too inclined to avoid hurting your feelings to tell you what they actually think about your brainchild. Of course, the assumption is they're qualified to make that assessment in the first place, which most are not. So to start out, let's make sure you're talking with qualified customers or distributors, or preferably, invention marketability assessment professionals.

Asking people on the street about your idea might be a little better than asking friends and family, but use caution. If you publicly disclose a patentable idea, you may lose your ability to protect it later with a patent. If you happen to run across those with the credentials to give you a realistic evaluation, they may give you a thumbs-down just to discourage you, then they'll run back to their studio to make and market the product themselves.

You'll also have to decide how you want to profit from your idea. Do you want to manufacture (or have it manufactured for you) and sell it yourself? Whether you want to sell to large or small stores is insignificant. It's important to understand the purchasing dynamics and distribution channel margins that need to occur before a product in your industry will hit the store shelves. Study the particular market you want to address, talk with buyers, distributors and manufacturer representatives, and if you can, get preliminary commitments from them to purchase your product before spending money to produce a large amount.

However, since you want to do this business on the side, you won't want to invest in production or heavy marketing and promotion. Instead, you should probably look at licensing your idea (actually, licensing rights to your trademark, copyright and patent rights for this product) to a company that already has an established manufacturing and sales channel for your type of product. Even this will require some serious time to close, but at least getting a company with many products to also develop and sell yours through its channel will help your product idea quickly make it to the store shelves.

Spend some time researching invention licensing. Companies don't license inventions but, in reality, license the ability to make money from your invention. The financial, marketing and sales information you developed for your business plan will go a long way towards your efforts to license rights to your product.

Andy Gibbs is president and CEO of PatentCafe.com Inc, a leading intellectual property information and resource Internet portal. He is an inventor with seven issued and pending patents, and an entrepreneur who has started seven companies ranging from product development to low- and high- technology product manufacturing. He speaks to inventors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on intellectual property, marketing research, competitive strategy and sales development. Visit http://www.patentcafe.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.