Wise Up!

Lessons Learned

1. Past success helps. Companies often worry when dealing with inventors. It matters how you behave during contract negotiations, product documentation handoffs, new product promotion, product changes, etc. Companies find it frustrating to deal with what they consider to be an unreasonable inventor. While first-time inventors struggle to overcome this, it's less of a problem for inventors with prior successes who can offer references from former clients.

2. There are no shortcuts. Learn what the customer wants, and design knowing customers have high expectations. Keep working until the product is right. There's rarely a rush to market for most successful inventors. Take the same care with your 10th idea as with your first.

3. Control what matters most. Inventing is an expensive process, and most inventors can't take on all the financial commitments to get a product to market. Outsource manufacturing-and, if possible, sales and marketing-to people who know how to get the job done. Concentrate on developing the product, the "wow" factor, the ease of manufacturing and the ease of use.

4. Prepare for the worst. A lot can go wrong in the inventing process, from a sudden market change to a new competitor jumping into the market. Vendors can go out of business, you can get stiffed on a big receivable, or your design may not work. Plan for trouble, and conserve cash in as many ways as possible. If you're prepared, it's more likely you'll overcome the sudden adversity.

5. Anticipation plus preparation equals success. Being first to market with the right product at the right price is typically the best way for an inventor to enter a market. That calls for correctly anticipating where the market is going. So follow the market trends to see where the big boys will play and where there's room for the little guy. Peripherals are a good spot for inventors since big companies tend to go after big product categories. If you predict correctly, you can cash in big.

Underfinanced inventors hoping to sell their products often turn to independent sales agents, who work on a commission-only basis. RepSource (www.vmwinc.com/repsourcehome.htm) allows you to search for agents by product, industry or geographic location and includes postings for reps looking for new products, as well as companies looking for new reps. Another helpful site is the Manufacturers' Agents National Association (www.manaonline.org), which also provides a listing of agents looking for new lines. Log on, and you'll also find articles on topics like how to select an agent, types of payment arrangements and how to develop a successful agent network.

Don Debelak is the author of Entrepreneur magazine's Start-Up Guide #1813, Bringing Your Product to Market. Write to him at dondebelak34@msn.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wise Up!.

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