It’s possible to simply invent things as a hobby for the pleasure of it. No one says you have to try to get other people interested in your new invention idea. But for most people, the goal is to see your invention on store shelves. That means inventing is a business. And like any other business, success requires patience, planning, and persistence. Bringing a new invention to market involves quite a bit more than product design. With that in mind, here’s a few business tips for inventors to help you reach your goals.
1. Make a Realistic Budget
Creating and observing a realistic budget is central to running any business successfully. As an inventor, you often wear many hats, and at least in the early days you’re likely to be working as your own accountant. You’re also very likely going to be spending your own money to get your invention off the ground. It’s important that you have a good idea of how much money you are comfortable and able to invest in your invention, and on what kind of timeframe.
Keep records of your monthly expenses, and compare them to the amount that you’ve budgeted for yourself. If you’re spending below your budget, consider where you could use that money to maximize the development of your product. If you’re burning through money faster than you thought, consider how to slow yourself down. Remember that you don’t need to do everything at once, but try to come up with a plan that will allow you to consistently work on the project. You don’t want to let it sit on a back burner while you lose interest and inspiration.
Of course, the amount that you’re willing to budget on your invention should be considered relative to the future profits you think might reasonably be coming your way down the line. And in order to do that, you’ve got to do your homework.
2. Do the Market Research
One of the first things you need to do after you’ve come up with your awesome invention idea is to investigate what kind of market demand there is for the kind of product you want to create. For some inventors, this step actually starts before there even is an invention idea. Sometimes the best way to come up with a new idea is to look at what people want or need that isn’t currently available, and introducing a solution.
Quite often, though, the idea comes first. Sometimes you don’t get to choose when inspiration strikes. Before you start investing all your time and money into developing this project, though, you need to do some serious examination of the market. This involves analyzing the size of the potential customer base. One of the hardest things for new inventors to come to terms with is the distinction between a good idea and a good product. Just because your invention is really cool or clever, you can’t assume that it will succeed on the market as a product.
There are many factors you need to look into. Aside from the size of the market you’re trying to break into, you need to come up with as accurate an estimate as possible as to what it will eventually cost for you to produce and sell your product. Some inventions never make it on to store shelves simply because it would cost more to produce them than customers will realistically be willing to spend.
You’ll also want to look closely at who the other players are in the field. Who will you be competing with? How competitive is the market? Are there trends in your favor? All of these things will help you determine whether and how much you should invest into developing your idea.
This is also a good time for you to make sure that your invention really is novel. Eventually, you’ll want to get a patent professional to perform a patent search for you, but you can do your own preliminary search now to see whether anyone else is already selling the same idea.
3. Familiarize Yourself With the Invention Industry
The invention industry is an industry. While you may be breaking new ground with your specific project, the art of inventing has been around for a while and, as they say, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. While you certainly don’t need to become an expert on the invention industry, it’s always helpful to familiarize yourself with whatever field you are trying to get into.
There are plenty of books and resources by and for inventors to help with everything from the creative process to tips and tricks to trends. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re already doing this! So congratulations. You can also find information at your local library, or by reading articles about inventing in the major business magazines. Getting yourself familiar with standard practices and basic facts about the industry will help you as you get yourself established, and maybe save you from some common avoidable mistakes.
Invention Ideas is an online community for inventors that includes information on local meetups and hackathons in cities across North America. It’s not a bad place to start.
4. Create a Brand
In order to sell your invention, you need to create a brand identity that will help customers connect with what you’re offering. The way you design your brand image should be heavily informed by the information you gain through market research. A product aimed at retirees will probably see better results with different branding than one aimed at new parents. Consider who your audience is, and come up with a strategy for communicating with them effectively.
Your brand is your reputation, and you are building it every time you communicate with the public about your invention. Your logo, your packaging, the actual physical design and coloring of the invention, your social media posts, the kinds of websites you advertise on — all of these things contribute towards the kind of personality people will associate with your invention. You should have a plan for your brand: a goal of how you want the product to be perceived, and a strategy for getting there. Once you’ve settled on a brand image that you feel works, try to stick to it and be consistent.
5. Make a Business Plan
You always want to work with a plan. Developing a business plan early on is a major contributor to success with any business, and inventing is no exception. Business plans are important for giving yourself a sense of direction and setting achievable goals, and they are also more or less mandatory when it comes to acquiring investor support. So, whether or not you’re planning on bringing out outside investors, you should write up a business plan.
Your business plan should consist of your business strategy, your marketing strategy, and your operational plan.
The business strategy should outline where you are and where you’re headed. It should include information such as:
- The history and purpose of your business/invention
- The current state of your business (where you stand in the business cycle)
- Information on your industry (is it stable, growing, in decline?)
- Your competitive advantage and state of competition
- Growth plan/timeline.
Your marketing strategy will outline how you will promote your product. The four main things to think about here are:
- Product: what real world problem does your invention solve, and how?
- Price: what will the product cost? Why will it cost that much? What are the profit margins?
- Place: where and how will you sell the product?
- Promotion: how will you communicate with potential customers about your product?
The operational plan should outline your current and projected operation requirements for at least the next three years. This includes things like:
- Day-to-day operations
- Facility/infrastructure needs
- Information systems (filing, accounts, customer information, etc)
- Technology and IT (what systems will you be using? Will you need IT support?)
6. Always Be Discrete
You don’t have to be paranoid, but when dealing with a new invention, you do have to be discrete. Don’t share too much information about what it is that you’re working on. Not only does this open you up to having your idea poached by others, but you run the risk of undermining later efforts at obtaining a patent — particularly if you publish anything about your invention online or in print. The best thing to do is to keep your invention on a need-to-know basis until you’re ready for release.
Of course, along the development path, there is likely to be few people who do need to know. This might include any designers you hire to help you, engineers, manufacturers, attorneys… All these people should be comfortable signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before being brought on board (at Cad Crowd, all of our contracts are protected by NDAs).
7. Document Everything
Good record keeping helps with everything above, whether it be receipts for keeping track of your budget, or notes on the development of your invention. It’s important to stay organized. It is not uncommon for inventors to keep a notebook in which to document the progress of their project. Include dates, and make note of any changes you make to the invention in case you have to retrace your steps later. Document everything!
A last great business tip for inventors is to work with the talented designers and engineers at Cad Crowd. We love helping inventors realize their visions, and are ready to connect you with world-class product design and development talent with customized services that fit your budget. From packaging design to patenting services, we’re ready to help you wherever you are in the development cycle. Tell us about your project, and get a free estimate today.