Inventor, Entrepreneur, Salesperson, Spy...
Yes, I absolutely recommend that every inventor who's decided to go out on his own with his invention spy on other companies. Spy on all the businesses that have great products, great service and great reputations, and figure out what they're doing right. Put your detective hat on, smoke a pipe, do whatever it is that gets your own product and ego out of the way while you discover what makes other companies successful.
There's the financial planning and the streamlined manufacturing... There's the marketing and distribution planning... And there are the policies.
When you see the word "policies," you probably think about return policies or employee policies, but policies set out expectations for a variety of businesses practices. They have to do with nearly every aspect of your business, from manufacturing specifications to accounting practices to employee expectations and customer satisfaction.
Policies, or standards of a company, set the tone for success. They reflect the company's ethics as well. So make sure you write them and keep them in a prominent place. Write them down for the purpose of a) remembering them, b) sharing them, and c) changing them, as necessary.
Your product is the first place you need to start creating policies. What are the performance standards for your product? If your product is supposed to operate 100 percent of the time for a minimum of one year (because that's the warrantee you will issue), then deconstruct your product to identify everything that must be tested to insure that your product will operate 100 percent of the time. What are the moving parts? How must they be made? Must they match up seamlessly to one another? What about the battery or the motor that makes your part run? Your expectations or desired results are your quality controls.
The quality of the parts going into your product will determine the quality of the end product. You need to establish with your vendors the limits of your expectations, particularly the lower limits. Quality control is one reason why I have manufacturing done nearby; it's much easier to sit down with the manufacturer and agree on the acceptability limits. (It's also a kick to watch your invention being made!)
There's a dearth of quality in all kinds of manufactured products in this disposable society, and it's hard not to notice how fast quality is declining. To protect yourself as a consumer, try to find customer reviews on-line (not the ones on the product packaging) or referrals from friends before purchasing.
But to protect yourself as a manufacturer from having to replace or fix an indefinite number of your own products, "spy" on companies that make quality products before you charge into manufacturing, and learn about how they insure quality control. Check out the companies whose products you use and like. Or try contacting some of the companies that sell products through Hammacher Schlemmer . (They must be doing something right if Hammacher stands behind the products for their lifetimes!) Find out how they do it, as many of those products are made overseas.
And then, communicate with your prospective vendors to learn about their expectations for the quality of your parts. Can they meet your own? Write down your quality control policies and make sure your manufacturers adhere to them, even if you have to inspect all those first parts yourself.
And to protect yourself from liability, make sure you've incorporated your business or formed a limited liability company (LLC), so you don't lose your shirt and pants if someone sues you. LegalZoom is affordable and quite efficient at getting your "business entity" set up.
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