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Inventions Expert Don Debelak

Got an idea? Don Debelak tells you what it takes to get your product on the market.

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You can't help it. You're an inventor. You may not be some wacky mad professor working on concoctions in your basement at all hours of the night, but you do have an idea and you want to bring it to life.

Whether it's an improvement or spin-off of a current product, or something you're sure will be the next biggest craze, you've created something that you're yearning to get on store shelves. But how? We've asked Don Debelak, author of Think Big: Nine Ways to Make Millions From Your Ideas, for the inside scoop on how to get your invention from the idea stage to customers' hands. First, what qualities make a successful inventor?

Don Debelak: They have five characteristics: 1) They really know their target customers and what they want or need; 2) they can look at their invention objectively and keep improving it until it they get it right for the market; 3) they're willing to go out and get help from experts in the market; 4) they have bulldog determination and refuse to give up; and 5) they're just as innovative in finding ways to get the product on the market as they are in creating a new product.

"If inventors aren't willing to invest their time and energy in the project, they probably won't succeed." What's the most important way to launch an invention?

Don Debelak: There's no single right answer to that question. It really depends on your goals and the resources you have available. If an inventor just wants to make a modest part-time income with his or her idea, then selling at trade shows or conventions, locally in a small market, on the Internet, through catalogs or [through] home shopping networks works well.

If an inventor wants to launch his or her product in a big way but can't afford to launch it or doesn't want to run his or her own company, then that person might license the idea, sell the product in a joint venture, or sell the product on commission. If an inventor has capital to build his or her product but doesn't know how to market it, he or she could sell the product on a private-label basis. And for someone who thinks big, the best choice is to line up the required resources to create their own company.

The point isn't which is the best choice for everyone but that there's a best option available for everyone, no matter what their experience, resources or income expectations are. But isn't there one tactic that you'd recommend everyone do?

Don Debelak: The one I would recommend most is to sell locally. That tactic helps inventors get real market feedback and fine-tune their product and pricing before they have to spend a lot of money. Too many inventors are positive their idea will sell. A dose of reality from the market helps inventors ensure their product is right before they make a major investment. What's the first step for inventors who have an idea?

Don Debelak: Learn about the market and the industry before spending any money. The two best ways to do that are to read trade magazines and to find some contacts in the market. Inventors can find trade magazines for their market in Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, which is available at most libraries. Inventors should also attend meetings at inventors' clubs to meet other people who've already introduced products. They can find the clubs by going to the United Inventors of Americas' (UIAUSA) Web site. What are some other good resources for inventors?

Don Debelak: My book has a resource list for each tactic. Besides the UIAUSA, another good source of information is Inventor's Digest magazine. A good Web site for patent information is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site. For prototype information, [try] The Inventor's Bookstore. And two interesting commercial sites are Patent Café and From Patent to Profit. How important is it to have a good prototype?

Don Debelak: Typically, it's very important. Inventors usually look at a rough model or even a drawing and then envision what the product will finally look like, but everyone else will only see what they're shown. They won't imagine the final product.

But that doesn't mean that a prototype has to be expensive. The appendix on prototypes in my book is written by Jack Lander, who's an expert in creating prototypes for the lowest possible price. Inventors can also often get a potential manufacturer to make the prototype for a reduced price in return for an option on making the final product. Are there people or companies inventors can turn to make their product successful?

Don Debelak: I tell people to look in the mirror if they want to see who will be responsible for introducing their product. Only a small percentage of inventors are successful, and I feel their chances are always best when they handle their product themselves. Using other people to introduce a product is expensive and the chances of success are still small. If inventors aren't willing to invest their time and energy in the project, they probably won't succeed.

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