Thomas Edison famously quipped that invention was one-percent inspiration and 99-percent perspiration. That sentiment still holds true a century later, but today, it seems that much of the sweat ends up getting devoted to the work of delivering your idea to the public that wants it.
Every minute, innovative products and services, big and small, swim into the overflowing ocean that is the marketplace—a daunting prospect for those of us who favor pure invention over the nuts and bolts of business. If you’d rather not spend your time in the trenches of commerce, but still have the drive to profit from your concepts, the best option is to license your intellectual property to an already existing business adept at the logistics of turning a vision into a successful product.
But how do you find the best fit to sell your idea to, while making sure that you’re fairly compensated for your brainchild? While there’s always a bit of unexplained magic to the marketplace, there’s also an incredible amount of science behind it as well. Here are some guidelines that take into account both time-tested truisms of selling and the brave new dynamics of e-commerce:
Survey the Product Horizon
Today’s budding Edisons have one clear advantage the Wizard of Menlo Park never had: the incomparable outreach of the internet. Even on your own, you can easily empower yourself with the rules of the game that apply to licensing. At the very least, you should do some diligent legwork in three sectors that come into play in approaching buyers:
● Production. Whether your idea is a tangible object or a patent-caliber service technique, anticipate whether costly materials or tailor-made manufacturing will enter the picture. Arming yourself with ballpark figures will prevent you from getting caught off-guard at your first proposal meeting.
● Legalities. Has someone already patented your concept? Could you be held responsible for possible copyright infringement? And are there ways to protect your intellectual property before you test out the waters? (In the case of a screenplay, for example, this can be as simple as mailing a copy to yourself through U.S. mail.)
● Marketing. With a little creativity, you can do your own preliminary market research by doing some online trendspotting among products in the same vein. Is the product next door a runaway hit with twenty-something hipsters or baby boomers? Is there even anything remotely like your idea out there?
Create an Impressive, Arresting Business Plan
If your end product is something tangible, it’s almost essential that you produce a prototype of your idea. Equally important, however, is a concise, easy-to-digest sell sheet that summarizes the answers to the questions you’ve pursued in your research. As prospective buyers are inundated with sundry concepts on a daily basis, make sure your sell sheet will catch the viewer with succinct facts and figures.
Additionally, make sure to draft a pro forma letter with which to pursue buyers. This should include a personal introduction, a mission statement and a projected timeframe for follow-up.
Close in On Potential Buyers
As you ready to court buyers, you should be prepared for a slew of rejections…and even worse, silence. Just as with getting a job, however, remember it’s a matter of finding the perfect needle in a haystack. This means you’ll want to start off with at least 50 to 100 initial contacts.
Who should you focus on? It might be as simple as finding vendors who cater to the kind of demographic your initial research has suggested you appeal to. While this requires more energy and possibly travel and registration expenses, hunting down product-inclusive trade shows are a great way to rack up contacts already on the lookout for new clients. Finally,online databases are a convenient resource to round up larger buyers at the tip of your fingertips.
Even if you do opt to outsource the production and distribution of your great idea, you should still be prepared for a heavy load of work that may seem fruitless at first. Be persistent, however– truly great ideas will hit home eventually, and with today’s user-friendly resources, even the little guy has a fair shot of striking it rich.
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