With all the false starts and do-overs that come with inventing something, it is easy to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of inventing: like you get “no respect” from credible figures in your field. If investors are turning you down, business partners are flaking out, and you can’t even seem to get your calls returned, it may be time for a change of priorities. Believe it or not, there is actually a tried-and-true formula for establishing yourself as a respected inventor. It begins be creating credibility for your invention.
Priority # 1 – Creating a Prototype
If anything separates players from spectators, it is this. Having a prototype – a real, working version of your invention – says unequivocally that you are for real and have serious intentions of entering your field. It takes your idea from, as Entrepreneur says, “your mind’s eye to the palm of your hand.”
Their article on prototyping offers some helpful guidance on how to approach the process:
“So what exactly should a prototype look like? First, it depends on your idea. Second, it depends on your budget and your goals. If possible, it’s great to start with a handmade prototype, no matter how rudimentary. For example, I’ve seen prototypes made from the simplest of household items: socks, diaper tabs, household glue, empty milk containers–you name it. If it works for your initial demonstration purposes, it’s as good as the most expensive materials.”
The number one thing to keep in mind is getting your prototype to solve the problem it aims to. Early on, it is not important whether it looks glamorous. It does not need to exactly mirror the ultimate vision you have for it. Get something up and running – something that works – and you will have taken a bold and important step toward gaining credibility for your invention.
Priority # 2 – Secure a patent for your invention.
Once you have a working prototype, you should file a provisional patent application for your invention. This will protect any new formulas, equations, processes, technologies, or methods you employed in creating your invention. Having patent protection is an invaluable asset in establishing your credibility.
For one, it enables you to approach retailers or business partners with a tangible asset. Not only do you have a working invention, but you also have the exclusive, legal right to commercialize it. This portrays you as a legitimate player with something to bring to the bargaining table.
In addition, a patent gives you some peace of mind that a sleazy ripoff artist can’t clone your operation overnight. It won’t stop all of them from trying, but it will give you the right to sue them for damages and legally compel them to stop.
Above all, being a patent holder puts you in a position to capitalize on your invention by conferring on you the status and rights you have earned.
Priority # 3 – Set some initial sales targets – and meet them!
This step is where the rubber meets the road: that fateful day when the market decides whether your invention will fly. It is a day inventors anticipate with both excitement and fear; excitement driven by hope of success, and fear driven by worries about what could go wrong. However, you can increase your odds of hitting your sales goals with some rational planning and foresight.
The first thing to do is some market research. You cannot just concoct sales goals on a whim, based on fantasies of what you would like to earn. Instead, you must research the market and determine what similar companies have sold. While this in and of itself does not determine your fate, it will give you a realistic idea of what to expect. Reliable sources of market research include industry trade journals, periodicals, and library/academic databases that include access to market data.
Another good step is to avoid overextending yourself. There is a temptation among many inventors to hit the market in a huge way. They want to get their product in as many stores as possible right up front. While the excitement is understandable, this is not always the smartest choice. A better idea is to start off by selling in one or two stores and use that to test the response. How did people respond to your invention? Were sales high? Are you maybe pricing your invention too high, or low? These questions are easier to answer on a small scale. There is an old piece of marketing advice that applies here: fail early, and fail cheap. If you can learn from mistakes at smaller stores, you can apply that wisdom and approach the bigger retailers with the most important thing of all – a track record.
It would be dishonest to say that gaining credibility is easy. However, if you are diligent and smart in your approach, it is eminently possible. Don’t give up.
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