Most individual innovators – inventors, authors, software developers, artists, etc. — assume there is a logical, sequential process involved in getting their products to market. So, most of their initial activities usually focus on getting the invention from the brain to the drawing board to prototype.
Unfortunately, once the prototype is complete, a very large percentage of inventors “hit the wall” and are stymied by how to market their product.
This situation doesn’t need to happen! In fact, many marketing steps can – and should – be taken concurrently, or even prior to, the product taking shape and form.
So, where should you start?
Here are 5 key steps that will help you build a strong foundation for marketing:
1.Begin networking early.
Well-known Minnesota businessman and author, Harvey McKay, says it all in the title of his networking book: Dig Your Well Before You Need It. If you have not cultivated key contacts in your area of expertise by the time your product is ready to market, you will waste precious months, even years, knocking on doors that probably would have swung open to you if you had developed key relationships while working on perfecting your invention.
2.Conduct initial market research before you approach the drawing board.
While some innovations don’t seem to make any sense at all, most are designed to solve some sort of problem. As the innnovator, your problem is to be sure that there are enough other people who are seeking your solution. If there are not enough potential consumers, do you really want to spend your time and money for things like prototypes and patents or editors and copyrights? So, head for the library or retail outlets or any other place that will give you a sense (a) if something similar already exists or (b) if retail buyers or customers are looking for what you can create.
3.Protect your product as soon as it is feasible to do so.
Just recently I talked with an inventor who had some interest in coaching. What I soon discovered was that a major magazine was about to feature his invention in depth (Great for marketing, right?), but he had not yet secured a patent! At the end of our conversation, I referred him to a patent attorney and suggested we discuss coaching at a later time. Of course, not every product carries a patent, copyright or trademark, but if your idea has strong market potential, as this man’s did, you will want to be sure that you have retained an intellectual property attorney and that all of your legal protections are in place.
4.Discover a wide variety of vendor resources.
While innovation can be a lonely process, it’s not something you can do successfully by yourself. As soon as your idea takes shape in your mind is the time to connect with prototype providers, raw materials vendors, manufacturers, publishers, art dealers, marketing consultants, a coach, accountants, and other professionals you will need along the way. If you don’t know anyone in these fields, start asking questions and attending meetings of local professional groups, the Small Business Administration and tradeshows. Then, start talking to the vendors you meet, so when your product is ready, you will already have these key relationships in place.
5.Planning to self-market? Educate yourself now, reserve your domain name and find ways to connect with your potential market.
We’ve all heard the stories about internet marketers who make $500,000 “overnight”. While some may actually happen that way, there is almost always a “story behind the story” in these situations. Usually, you will find that the Internet entrepreneur has spent months or years learning the secrets of Internet copywriting; works with a technical assistant to produce the marketing website; supports the website with product “pre-launch” communications; and has a loyal following of 1,000 or more customers already in place. So, what appears to be an “overnight success story” is frequently the culmination of becoming computer and Internet savvy over a long period of time. In short, just as with networking, you need to “dig your internet well before you need it”, and the time to start digging is while you are creating your product.
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