Here are some of the questions you need answered:
- Who will benefit most from your product? Males? Females? What are their ages? What is their income level? Where do they shop? What is going to make them buy your product? (Hint: You can't say "everyone, everywhere, all ages, all incomes..." etc. Narrow your audience to the most likely categories.) How much will they pay for your product?
- What is your competition? What does it have in its favor? What are its weaknesses?
- What are the ways you can market your product? What are the relative costs of each method?
- What would be the most effective way to market your product? How will you sell your product? For example, though distributors, direct via sales letter, internet advertising, stores, infomercial, etc.
Some great resources to help answer your market questions can be found at Bizstats.com , the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. If you have access to the LexisNexis database through your work or university library, that would be great. If not, visit the main branch of your city or county library (when was the last time you went there?), to obtain access to this database and to volumes of business, trade, and professional data that will be immensely useful to you. The public library is still one of the best resources for specific business and statistics information.
While you are conducting marketing research, you will need to rely on a variety of professionals in different fields. In most cases, you will not have to disclose your invention fully in order to get the information you need. You can disclose the category or type of product, for example, without showing a prototype of it. Or you can prototype a package, for example, and have it "cost out," without disclosing the product. Essentially, you share a piece of the puzzle with each professional, telling them only as much as they need to know.
Once you have some basic marketing information together, you will need to get more specific numbers about manufacturing the product itself. Before doing this, I advise you to:
- Prepare a non-disclosure (aka "confidentiality") agreement with the assistance of an attorney. I don't like prepared blanket forms because you might miss something by being too narrow or too broad in your treatment. If you can't afford an attorney, then go to Bitlaw.com and download its sample confidentiality agreement. Also review the site's list of important elements of this agreement. Make your revisions and then have it reviewed by a counselor with related experience at your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office .
- Consider filing a provisional patent application for a) additional protection, and b) you never know! A patent attorney review is highly recommended. (And maybe he will throw in a confidentiality agreement for you!)
With the protection of the confidentiality agreement and a patent pending status, you can now disclose your product selectively to prospective manufacturers. Then you can start researching questions like these:
- How will your product be produced? Materials? Methods? What are your startup costs? (e.g., is a mold required?)
- How much will it cost to manufacture a small run? Medium size run? Large run. How many processes are required in manufacturing?
- What is the price of manufacture, packaging, shipping in your home country vs. a foreign country with similar abilities to produce? Can these operations be turn keyed? (i.e., can manufacture, packaging, and shipping all be done at the same plant?)
The SBA website has some great resources for putting a business plan together. Right now, you are doing this plan for yourself, so how you put it together is not as important as gathering and including all the hard data you can. If you are going to share the plan with prospective investors, partners or licensees, you can always spruce it up later! And later is when we'll get back to this... Stay tuned!
If you wish to read additional articles in our Invention Process series, visit My Blog Page . The series begins at the bottom of that page.Myra Per-Lee