Help for Inventors. Another post in a huge Series of articles to help inventors
By Jeffrey Dobkin
I have a passion for creative people, and inventors are certainly in this group.
Before becoming the President of the American Society of Inventors – a non-profit self-help group for Philadelphia inventors, I have served on the Board of Directors for the past 14 years. Each month the group has met and offered free invention evaluations and advice to area inventors. Here are some tips on the process of invention from the most commonly asked questions from inventors.
What’s the Best Way to See If Your Invention Will Sell?
There is only one way way to see if your invention will sell: sell one.
If you have a prototype, show it to an acquaintance or better yet, a stranger. Since you’re standing there with a big grin on your face saying how you are the inventor, everyone will tell you how great it is! After you’re finished your short under 3 minute presentation offer it for sale. Yes, ask they if they want to buy one. Tell them you have one in the car and give them a price. If they reach for their wallet, you have an invention that will sell. Congratulations. If they balk, hem or haw – it’s no sale. Either rethink your price — or invent something someone really wants to buy.
The price of your invention at retail will be 4 or 5 times your cost, at best. While you may sell some product yourself at a 2x markup, you’ll need help to move any big numbers. Retailers double their costs — so if you’re planning to sell through a retailer, kindly factor this in. Distributors mark-up everything 1/3rd. And you need to make money, too!
Here’s what it looks like: Your cost to manufacture: $5.00. You sell to a Distributor for $10. They sell to a Retailer for $13.00. Retailer lists it for $26.00. They then put it on sale for $24.95. So, yea — your $5 product sells for $ 25 bucks at a store.
Catalogers are distributors and retailers rolled into one. As such, they command more markup and generally like to make 4 to 5 times their cost. But most will settle for much less of a cut if they like your product. It pays to negotiate.
Have a great idea that will help other inventors? Send your tip in and get your name, company or inventor group published as the author. Thanks! Just write to me personally – Jeff at Dobkin.com. If you really want help with your invention, please see the whole section of invention articles I have posted on JeffreyDobkin.com or read the articles on the American Society of Inventors website.
The big dream of every inventor – sell it to QVC. Can you do this? Yes – they have open buying days once a month, just come in and pitch them! If they like your product – presto, they’ll offer it to their customers. Note I didn’t say they’ll buy it…
If accepted, they’ll offer your product — but… it must be packaged or boxed for shipping, and have their special UPC code on the box. And you’ve got to deliver it to their distribution facility in West Chester, PA. You’ll make 40% of the selling price — which is pretty darn good, but you’ve got to take back all the product you’ve delivered that doesn’t sell. In fairness, they’ll pick of the shipping on the way back. There will be returns.
Don’t forget, you’re not going to knock out Joan River’s Diamonique Jewelry line at the 8PM time slot. Your product will get the new host – with one lazy eye – and a limp – who may not be the best pitchman. And did I mention you’ll get insomniac airtime somewhere between midnight and 5AM. So be prepared for returns.
Do you need an acutal product to show catalogs? Yes. You will need to send a catalog house an actual product to photograph for their book. I say this because no catalog house buyer in his or her right mind will take a product on pure spec that “Customers might like it when it comes in!” and also chance, “If it comes in.” They even won’t go for “I hope it looks like this when they go into production.” They’ll need to see a real sample.
Would you want to print 500,000 Christmas catalogs hoping the product you’ve never seen will look like the drawing, and will be delivered on time and ready for you to ship to your customers in time for their Christmas orders? No, I think not. And would you want to hope it’s of good enough quality that you don’t get them all back. No way.
But, catalog houses love to boast about their new products. So pitch them to discover if you can generate some early interest and probable numbers of anticipated orders if the product is of good quality.
Types of Prototypes
What State is your Invention In?
Napkin drawing? — This means it looked pretty good last night at 2AM at the bar after a couple of beers.
Homemade Prototype, also call an early “Proof of Concept” prototype to see if the dang thing works. Made from materials you found around your house, your neighbor’s basement, Home Depot, CVS, and the Garden Center down the street to see if it’s feasible, and to show around. (Be careful not to disclose it publicly at this point.
Working Prototype. Delivers a real “proof of concept” that it works.
Professional Prototype. Looks good and works well. Polished, but may not look exactly like the final product.
Manufacturing Prototype. This is actually how the invention will be manufactured, and pretty much looks like the final product. All kinks have been worked out – so you think.
What is your Goal?
Do you want to market your invention? License it? Manufacture it? Market it? Get it on TV? Sell it to others, and let them market it? Do you want to do nothing commercial – and just say, “I invented this!” which is OK, too. Or just get a patent so you can say “I have a Patent!” Whatever you select here will reflect your path. Choose wisely, my son.
Everyone has that Eureka moment where the flashbulb goes off and the invention idea is created. Wow, good work. Now for the hard part – you have an idea that no one has heard about and no one has seen. Now comes the thousands of hours of work that you need to do afterwards that makes it a successful, commercial product that is accepted in the marketplace.
In the review process, our organization (The American Society of Inventors) sees lots of inventions that are great ideas. Unfortunately, many are not “commercially feasible”: they can’t be manufactured and sold at a profit. This doesn’t mean they aren’t great ideas.
There are many reasons you can’t sell your invention in the open marketplace. Here are a few:
· Your manufacturing costs are too high, driving the retail price too high and the retail pricing way over your competitors.
· No way to exclusively target the people who would be the MOST LIKELY buy it. You can’t advertise to everyone, it’s too expensive.
· You need to educate everyone about how to use it and why it’s better. You can’t educate a market, it’s too expensive.
· Your invention is too similar to another product. There’s no way to differentiate your product from the others.
· Other products in your market have tied up all the distributors and all the retail stores. No way in.
· Similar products are well entrenched in your market place.
· You have no budget. Yes, admit it – it’s expensive to bring a product to market.
Although you can give it a good shot with Jeffrey Dobkin’s cult-classic book, “How to Market a Product for Under $500!” Learn about marketing in a few nights of easy reading. More practical advertising and marketing advice than you’ll learn in 4 years in college. If you’re thinking about selling or marketing your invention, you need to buy this book – it’s awesome. In fact, you can order it here: “How to Market a Product for Under $500!”.
And Now a Word About Patents…
Getting a patent on your invention involves a substantial investment in both time and money. For a utility patent, probably $5,000 to start.
As with any investment, you would like to have a return greater than the mount of your spend.
Before initiating patent work, every inventor should search the internet (e.g. Google, Amazon) to see what solutions are already out there for the problems your invention resolves. If your invention is not much better than solutions already suggested; if your invention isn’t faster, better, cheaper, or more powerful — your chance of getting a good return on your investment is reduced.This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, it just may be more difficult to sell. And a patent may not help you – it may just be an expense that takes away from your marketing and manufacturing budget. I’ve seen lots of inventors who blow their whole budget on a patent, then come to me and whine, “They need to market their product at no cost because they spent all their marketing money on a patent…”
You don’t need a patent to market your product. It is at times wiser to invest in making a small inventory of your product and doing a market test. A market test does not prevent you from filing and obtaining a patent if you file within one year after your first commercial use or public disclosure.
If you have a patent search completed (either your own or a professional search), you may find a prior patent (called Prior Art) which addresses the same problem as your invention or resolves the problem in a way-too-similar fashion. If you can get ahold of the inventor of the prior patent, or the patent shows an licensed to a company and you are interested in selling the product to the industry it serves, I’d recommend you first contact the inventor or company and ask if the product is available. If not ask why.
If the patent is not assigned, call the inventor and ask whether he (or she) tried to sell the invention or sell the product. If he did try and wasn’t successful, tell him that you have a similar product and ask for his suggestions. Some people will be glad to help. Of course, some people are just jerks and won’t. If the product was licensed and not on the market there’s probably a reason, and it may be really helpful to you if you find out what that is.
To see more articles written on inventing and invention by Jeffrey Dobkin CLICK HERE.
While the American Society of Inventors now transitions itself to the internet, monthly meetings and free invention reviews have been suspended for the next several months — Jeffrey is still willing to speak with inventors and offer free advice – 610-642-1000 rings on his desk.
WARNING · WARNING · WARNING
There are “Invention promotion” firms and “Invention design” firms out there that make their money off inventors and provide little help in their success. According to the Inventor Protection Act of 1999, invention promotion companies must show “The number of consumers in the last five years who made more money in royalties than they paid to the company.”
Here’s information from the Davidson Design and Development, Inc. company, previously known as Davidson & Associates. 595 Alpha Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15238.
From the Davidson Website, you can find these figures:
Total number of consumers offered a Pre-Development agreement: 291,784
Total number who purchased this or a similar agreement: 60,690
Number who were offered a New Product Sample Agreement (Design services): 40,819
Number of people who signed this agreement: 18,335
The total number of consumers in the last five years who made more money in royalties than they paid, in total, under any and all agreements with Davison is 16.
The percentage of Davison’s income that came from royalties paid on licenses of consumers’ products is .001%. They make all but .001% of their money from fees they charge inventors.
Since the company’s beginning in 1989 – well over 20 years ago –
the number of people who received a net financial profit gain
as a direct result of their services is 31.
Fees from the Davidson Company to prepare design images or graphics for presentation of the idea are typically between $8,000.00 and $15,000.00
Fees for “Representation agreement” for clients who have quantities of professionally manufactured goods is typically $5,850.00; plus 10% of all money received by the client for sale of goods or licensing their product.
How successful are they at representing inventors who already have their products professionally manufactured? The percentage of Davison’s income that came from royalties paid on licenses of consumers’ products is .001%.
These numbers are current as of September 26, 2014
Find links to firms and people, hook up with invention-friendly resources. Find our own brand of honest evaluations of groups and companies. Here you’ll find people we know and trust, places that we don’t trust and warn you about. If you have links that will help inventors, send them to us for our personal evaluation. If you’ve had a great – or poor – experience with a firm, please let us know. Thanks.
2025 Washington Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19146
Here’s where you can learn to build your prototype. A full hands-on tool shop fully equipped with an array of woodworking, metal working, electrical, and fabrication equipment; and a staff that will help you learn to use it all. Take classes, meet other shop members and see what they’re making, learn to use tools, take classes. A wonderful experience, and a trusted friend of the American Society of Inventors. If you have any interested in making something, anything, you need to come here and see this shop – and learn how to do it or find people that will. Don’t worry, you’ll have a helpful staff to assist you.
Philadelphia Woodworks Members Woodshop
4901 Umbria St, Phila PA 19128
267-331-5880 (w) 215-869-8377 (m)
“Your Work – Your Projects – Our Shop”
Primarily woodworking. Learn from private instruction, take classes, or become a member and use the shop anytime. Full, well-equipped woodworking facilities with tools, tables, planers, routers, shapers, drills, and hundreds of tools that I don’t have any idea what they do – but their friendly staff does. They’ll help you make anything. A great woodworking shop and always an excellent experience.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Yes, the granddaddy of them all: http://www.uspto.gov/. Find references, links to everywhere, online services, How-To information and a plethora of invention and trademark information. While our American Society of Inventors rarely recommends patents to inventors who are not moving forward with commercialization or licensing of their inventions, if you are thinking about a patent this is the place to start.
An encouraging team from MIT that works with high-schools and non-profits to assist their inventor groups. Offers grants, prize competitions, and events honoring inventors.
USPTO Search Page
Search the Patent Office database of inventions directly from this start page.
Academy of Applied Science
24 Warren Street
Concord, New Hampshire 03301
For students, parents, and teachers. The Academy of Applied Science administers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) programs where students apply scientific knowledge to life, research and inventions. Find links and resources.
The American Society of Inventors –
Helping People Invent Tomorrow
Membership Benefits — Applications will reopen in 2015.
Connecting Inventors – A place to meet others who are inventors — to partner, to learn, to share ideas and to make valuable contacts.
- Programs and presentations by individuals and organizations providing advice and services to inventors. All our presenters have been screened and evaluated for their honesty and integrity.
- Free evaluation of your invention
Valuable advice provided by a team of experienced inventors and entrepreneurs on the ASI Board. Honest advice from people who have nothing to sell you.
- Membership certificate suitable for framing,
- Annual subscription to Inventors Digest Magazine, a $27 value
- Web Resources and Communities. Meet fellow inventors. Attend free events.
- Great people who will help you get started!
Click to Buy!
Jeff Dobkin is an all around good guy who helps inventors with product development, sourcing, product literature, PR, and of course an amazing marketing plan. After serving 14 years on the Board of Directors, he’s the President of the American Society of Inventors – a non-profit self-help inventors group in Philadelphia, PA who help inventors free of charge. He has written 5 books on marketing including the best friend an inventor ever had: How To Market A Product for Under $500. It’s also the best, most practical and useful small business marketing guide ever written, and an entrepreneur’s Bible of successful marketing methods. If you’re an inventor who’d like to market his or her invention – you’d be crazy not to read this book. Call 610-642-1000 to speak with Jeffrey personally. To order this title, inventor videos, or to order his other books please CLICK HERE!
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New – The American Society of Inventors welcomes your questions about invention. Please visit the Question and Answer page at the link just below – you’ll find questions we’ve posted… and answered.
Invention marketing companies rip off inventors on quite a regular basis.
Here’s the problem: Inventors are a scattered bunch. You can be an inventor in any industry – or no industry at all. You can be a stay-at-home “mom” inventor, or work at a bank, a butcher shop, or a library. You can be an astronaut, a chemical engineer, or a school secretary. When you get scammed by a phony invention marketer who do you complain to? There’s no one.
The government listens to complaints of inventors and doesn’t do much. But they do have this form you can fill out (after all, it is the government) and if they get enough forms they eventually go after the firm that was ripping off huge numbers of inventors.
They also post complaints online, and the letters they send to the phony firms.
The prudent inventor will guard himself or herself against these kinds of firm, but frankly it can be tough. Some firms have very smooth talking sales people, and principals who can talk the eyes off a potato – so when a new inventor shows up they can be easy pray. The firms have done it thousands of times, while each inventor is new to the game.
Here’s my advice: if you get stung by a sleazy firm, the rule is “He who makes the loudest noise wins.” Write a lot of letters to different government offices and government officials. Write to radio stations and newspapers. Post regularly online in review groups and complaint sites. Keep doing it until the group realizes you’re not going away quietly and it won’t be worth it to keep your money. Their path of least aggravation is not keeping your money.
Here’s one of the complaint forms you can fill out and send to the USPTO. Click HERE to download this PDF form.
The American Society of Inventors Evaluates Members Inventions
For members living in the area, the review is free. It’s held at our Board of Directors meetings, and evaluations generally run half an hour.
For members living out of the area we review their inventions but we charge $199 for this service. Reviews are performed by several of our board members and if the review is by mail, the results are mailed. If reviewed on the phone, members are welcome to record the conversation.
Here are some thoughts about evaluating your own inventions —
What state is your invention in?
Prototype, made from available material
Working Prototype, professionally made
Manufacturing Prototype, all standards and processes defined and refined as it will be manufactured
Finished and produced.
What is your personal ultimate goal for your invention?
Would you like to license it?
Manufacture it yourself?
Market it yourself?
Start your own business and manufacture and market it?
These first two questions determine how you will proceed with the rest of your marketing.
Remember, an idea is a snapshot – a single moment in time. You’ve had that EUREKA moment, now it’s over.
Now, there is a much different set of skills needed
1. to bring an idea to a working prototype,
2. to a manufacturing prototype, then
3. to a well designed commercial product.
Next, there is a whole other set of skills needed to
4. start and
5. successfully run a small business – or
6. license your product by selling your product concept in some fashion. These last two avenues – starting a business or licensing your invention are quite independent of the inventing moment. Different skills are necessary for each.
Kindly remember: A patent doesn’t protect you, it gives you the right to protect yourself. A patent doesn’t stop a thief from stealing your idea – and in fact, doesn’t even slow him (or her) down. There is no sheet of paper that stops a thief.
Are you planning to patent it?
Utility patents cost $4,000 to $5,000… and up. Consider 1. not only the cost to patent your invention, but also 2. if you would be willing to invest the money – and the time – to prosecute someone in a court of law – possibly in another city – who infringes on your patent.
Some large companies – if they like your idea – will move forward and bring the product to market even if it infringes on your patent. They’ll set aside a legal fund to tie you up in court. If the fund runs out of money before you do, they’ll give you back your idea or innovation and say “Sorry – we didn’t think our product infringed on your patent, we won’t do it again.” never even admitting they were wrong or even their real feelings of trying to steal your idea through the court system. If you run out of money before they do, well…
Do you think you can get a patent?
Here are the four qualities of patents:
1. A great patent is one that keeps others from manufacturing and marketing the same or similar products. This is a broad patent with broad yet enforceable claims that are readily apparent – so that no one even tries to knock you off.
2. A worthwhile patent is one where you can send a copy of the patent and a notice “To cease and desist” to a competitor and successfully keep him from making or selling your product. Your competitor recognizes he won’t easily be able to circumvent your patent claims.
3. A lousy patent is one you have to defend in court to prove your claims – your patent rights – have been infringed upon.
4. A terrible patent is one where you lose this suit, and the shirt off your back defending it.
The types of patents are
Utility patent. Protects the concepts. This is the usual patent people try to get. Based on the claims of originality. Each claim will be accepted or denied by the patent office. If accepted, these are the areas of protection you receive, a competitor who violates a claim can be prosecuted.
Design patent. Patent protection is limited to the product design or shape. Prevents others from using your design. Usually not nearly as strong as a utility patent, but in some cases all you can get. Sometimes better than utility patents, for example: the curve of a Coke bottle is protected by a design patent.
Patent pending. This is the status you get after you apply for a patent, which can take up to 2 years from initial filing. This status gives you a patent number, which has value in itself. Your patent claims and drawings are shrouded in secrecy which is a tremendous benefit in itself, especially if your patent is weak.
When a patent is issued, patent circumvention specialists will take a good look at your claims and try to figure a way around them. However, while your patent is pending, other companies won’t know where you have made your claims or what they are, so if they introduce their own product to market, they may find they have violated your claims if and when your patent issues: so they may have an exposure for an infringement suit.
Provisional Patent. This really isn’t a patent. You can file this provisional patent yourself with the USPTO for about $250. This offers you proof of an early date of filing, and can be used to prove the date of conception or invention. The patent is held in confidence, and not reviewed by the patent office – so it’s neither approved or denied.
After filing for this type of early patent procedure, you have one year to file a regular patent. If you don’t file a regular patent, after one year the provisional patent will expire – along with all your claims – and your rights, including right to file a real patent. This is important – because if you don’t file a patent within a year your right to file a patent based on your original claims is completely LOST. This, m’dear, stinks.
Document Disclosure program. You can send any drawings, writing, sketches – whatever – to the USPTO under their document disclosure program. They’ll hold your letter on file for a year – unopened, after which it’s trashed. This confidential disclosure is used to prove date of conception, and what your idea is. If there’s ever an argument of when you thought of something, this can be a savior. And at ten bucks, it can be worthwhile.
What makes your patent good?
A patent is only as good as its claims. What specific claims will your patent have that make your invention protectable?
Are your claims broad or narrow? Broad claims – which are better – offer a wide area of protection; narrow claims limit the parameters of infringement – what you can sue someone for to protect your invention. For example, if you patented a shower curtain rod that is bowed (or curved) outward to give you more room in the shower, this would be a utility patent with a broad claim – no one could make any shower curtain rod with a bow in it.
If your claim was for a shower curtain rod with a curve in it that was 3 to 4 inches in depth, this design patent would be easy for other shower curtain rod manufacturers to circumvent simply by making their curtain rod bow to a greater or lesser depth. This would be a poor patent, easy to circumvent.
Are your claims easy to get around?
Keep in mind there are patent circumvention specialists!
Here’s help for seeing what’s out there
Have you ever looked-up similar products on the Internet patent search sites? You should. Looking up similar patents serves three functions: 1) to see similar patents and designs – to see if there are any ideas you can incorporate into your product to make it better. 2) to make sure you are not infringing on someone else’s patent, and 3) to make sure your product is patentable – that there is not prior art that will prevent you from getting a patent.
A patent isn’t necessary to manufacture or sell your product; and sometimes is actually not desirable. However, it will make your invention more salable if you intend to license it.
MONEY – Budget
No matter what you want to do with your invention, it takes money. Maybe not a lot, but you should know what you are willing to spend, and what you want to get for it.
What is your total investment?
If it’s $500,000, $10,000, or ten bucks – you need to know what you are going to spend right now, in the next few months, and over the course of the next year. Write down a figure.
Is it realistic? Is it realistic for your goal? Even if it’s not realistic, you need to know what it is.
Of your budget, how much money do you have to spend on product development? On making a prototype? On getting a good design? How much for market research? How much for a patent – or protecting your patent? On manufacturing an initial test run? On marketing your product? Whatever your figures, you should have some kind of knowledge of what you are willing – or going to – spend.
Do you have a prototype?
How much time are you willing to spend creating a prototype?
How much money do you have to spend on a prototype?
How much money do you have to spend on corrections to your prototype
How much money do you have to spend on a “manufacturing prototype”?
What are your sales goals?
How much are you going to spend on marketing and promotion? Remember, you’ll need to research the market, ads in several sizes – made for several different markets, several versions of press releases, photos, brochures and literature, order forms, sales letters, direct mail packages (response to ads); and if you don’t have it letterhead, envelopes, mailing labels, and business cards.
Advertising: Magazine and Direct mail
What is your revenue goal per year?
If you say it’s $10,000, then you need to have a budget that can generate that target. If it’s $100,000 – your budget will increase to 10 times what it was for a $10,000 sales goal. If it’s one million dollars, let’s talk.
What is your manufacturing cost? Your markup? Keep in mind distributors mark up your price 28% to 35%, then retailers like to double their cost. So your product that costs you $6 and you sell for $10 to a distributor, he sells for $13.50 to a retailer, who sells it to the public for $27.
If licensing, is your goal:
What % do you want to get for yourself? Is this realistic?
What is your budget for finding a licenser? The value of your product will depend not only on the product, but what state it’s in. If it’s a napkin drawing it’ll be worth a lot less than if it’s in a finished and ready to go final production (with all the design issues and costs figured out)
If manufacturing your product yourself is your goal, how much will you make on each sale, at each different price point. What will it list for. What are competitors selling theirs for?
Does it go to a well-defined market?
Unlikely as it sounds, one of the most difficult marketing problems is to have a product everyone can use – like a telephone – unless you have exceptionally deep pockets. It’s just too expensive to reach everyone – you need to focus your marketing on a specific target – a select group of individuals who are the MOST LIKELY TO BUY RIGHT NOW. If you can’t figure out – and section out – that group of likely purchasers from the rest of everyone else in the world, you’ll have a tough time marketing.
Can it be sold through dealers and distributors?
When your product goes through traditional marketing channels it will sell for 4 to 5 times your manufacturing costs. To sell at wholesale means your manufacturing costs are low enough that you can have a distributor add 33% your price; then have the retailer double that price, and still be able to sell it to the consumer for a reasonable cost. So if your product costs you $6 to manufacture, and you sell it to a distributor for $10, he’ll sell it to a retailer for $13.50 – $14, and your list price will be around $25 to $28.
It’s very expensive to market directly to consumers, there is a cost associated with reaching each person to deliver your advertising message. It’s much cheaper – and more focused – to reach a limited number of distributors and let them sell to retailers who in turn sell to consumers. When selling to distributors or retailers your orders will be larger and for more units for each sale – but will be sold at less of a price.
Is your product different enough?
What makes your product unique? Can you actually differentiate your product from the field? Will the market perceive a big difference in your product from the rest?
For example, if you market a chocolate chip cookie with almonds – even though no one is doing so – it will still be categorized as a chocolate chip cookie. But, if you came out with a special chocolate chip cookie dough that didn’t need to be baked to rise and it still makes delicious cookies, it would be in its own category. It would be best to have a product so very different that it is recognized in its own different category.
Is your market hardened off to tales of wonder.
Let’s take our chocolate chip cookie example and expound: suppose you’ve created the world’s best tasting chocolate chip cookie – and the proof was: every single person who has ever tasted it has said the same thing, “This is the world’s best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever tasted, bar none!” Could you sell it easily? The answer is… no – because every time you told people that you’ve created the world’s best chocolate chip cookie, you’d have to get in the back of the line of all the other people that have made that same statement, which is pretty much every chocolate chip cookie maker. Every consumer has heard “We have the world’s best-tasting cookie!” hundreds of times, from every other person who has create a chocolate chip cookie, and from every firm that markets chocolate chip cookies. And don’t even think that you’ll give everyone a sample – it’s too expensive.
Another example. Supposed you’ve created a way to make money, and anyone could easily make $5,000 a month to start, with minimum work. Don’t you think this program would sell itself? Nope. If you’ve ever been involved in the MLM industry (multi-level-marketing industry), you know the stories about how much you can make. Stories abound – every program shouts “You can make $10,000 to $25,000 your first month with our program!” There’s no way to differentiate your program – that really does throw off that kind of cash – from the hundreds of other programs that don’t but say they do, too.
Are there high entrance barriers to the industries you are marketing to?
Is it a consumer product, or an industrial product?
Consumer products go to market segments of consumers. They’re expensive to reach, and most are tough to convince to purchase… most consumers have a few thousand advertisements thrown at them each day. High entrance Barrier: advertising to consumers is $$$.
Industrial markets are generally easier to reach, taking a more focused effort to reach each customer within that group = lower entrance barrier.
Is there a major player – or several – marketing a similar product to that market segment? = High entrance barrier.
Some markets are harder to penetrate than others. Some have bigger volume requirements, other industries are very price sensitive. Some markets are so competitive that smaller companies – with their accompanying smaller marketing budgets – can only get lost in the aftermath of the larger companies advertising backwash. It takes a very clever low-cost promotion to compete with large-budget campaigns. And always remember, while there may be low cost campaigns, nothing is free.
Did you create the “everyone will buy one” product?
They won’t. It will be a tough sell, and you’d better go into any marketplace realizing this. But – like most of my clients, you won’t. But you should.
What is the final retail price of the product?
Every product has a price range of what it will sell for. Under it, and you lose trust and the perception you have a quality product. Over it, and customers will buy your competitors brand.
What are your competitor’s price points? What prices are your competitors selling their products for? Their highest? Their lowest? Where does yours fit in? Their prices will determine – to a good degree – what you can charge.
Certain price points make different types of marketing mandatory. If your product sells for under $20, you’ll most likely need to sell through dealers – because even if your profit per sale is $10, this doesn’t leave a lot of room to sell by onesies and twosies. If you’ve got to talk to 100 people a week to sell 50 products at $20 each, you’ll burn out pretty quickly.
What are your costs? For labor? For material? Packaging? Shipping? What is your profit on each sale?
What are your costs?
What is your first production run (how many)? What will this cost? You need to cover this cost in your first sales. But to figure our your real costs, what will the price drop to when you make your product in larger quantity? If your product costs you $10 each when you make 1,000, what does it cost to make 20,000? 40,000. When you get quotes, eventually you’ll reach a cost just won’t get any lower no matter how many more you purchase. You need to find out that number – because once you start selling your product, someone will ask for a quote of 10,000 or 100,000 – and you better have an idea of your cost – and their price.
Will your product stand out on a shelf?
Will the product sell itself from a shelf.
I know a guy who created a great product, but it wasn’t readily apparent what it did unless he explained it to you. So the product just sat on a shelf at Home Depot… and didn’t sell. Do you need to explain to each person what your product does?
Do customers need a lengthy explanation of what your product is, what it does, or how it works? Remember, your product will sit on a shelf in a store… right in-between 2 other products, in the midst of hundreds of other products… on hundreds of other shelves. You won’t be there to describe it to anyone. Will they know what it is, what it does? Will it still sell?
Is there a “WOW” factor?
Do people look at your product and say, “Wow – I gotta have one of these?” Then, will they take out their wallets and buy one?
Is there a line extension?
Lots of products aren’t profitable as a single item sold to a particular industry. But if you offer several items to the same industry you have synergy — you can now cross sell products to customers, and to attract more buyers without significantly raising your marketing costs.
These are just a few of the thoughts on a product self-evaluation. Hope they are helpful.
Jeffrey Dobkin and the research and evaluation team at the American Society of Inventors.
Two long time inventors and Board Members were honored at a dinner and then given an award for their lifelong dedication to helping inventors. Images from the meeting appear below:
Jay Cohen, Past PresidentAmerican Society of Inventors
Marie Kraft, Inventor of the Year, joined in celebrating the Honorees Al Fonda and Henry Skillman, Esq. at the Philadelphia Inventor Hall of Fame Awards Dinner
Inventor Joe Volpe at the American Society of Inventors Awards Dinner
Philadelphia’s American Society of Inventors Awards Dinner, Board of Directors Honors Two for A Lifetime of Service to Inventors
Al Fonda, Henry Skillman receive American Society of Inventors Award for A Lifetime of Dedication to helping Inventors
Henry Skillman, ASI Board of Directors, Emeritus
Ruth Gaal, ASI Treasurer
American Society of Inventors Board of Directors Award Dinner Honors Al Fonda and Henry Skillman
The Inventor’s Initial 10-Step Marketing Plan
by Jeffrey Dobkin
One of my readers asked “How do I market a product?” Yea. It’s just that simple. And here’s your simple answer: Invest time, money or energy. Or just pick two. Or, maybe it is just that simple.
First, some questions: are you marketing a product or a service? Is it local (geographic marketing) or national; industrial, business to business; to a wide or narrow niche, or a retail product?.
Also – how much does your product cost; what is the sales buying cycle, and is it need-driven? Impulse? Seasonal? Is price important? Most importantly: What are your sales goals? How much do you want to sell? And what’s in the marketing budget? You do have a budget, don’t you? Sigh… Anyhow… All these different possibilities have different marketing campaign strategies – but they all start here. But here’s how every plan starts.
1. Identify your most likely prospects. The first step in any marketing plan. Go for the ones with waving money in their hands and are ready to buy, right now.
2. Create a coherent PR (press release) campaign for newspapers and magazines. This is a series of press releases: a campaign sustained over time that’s well thought out up front. Write each release headline for now. Find magazines in Bacon’s Magazine directory or Oxbridge Communications Periodical Directory found in major libraries.
3. Create “informational booklets” to give away for free and offer them in your press release. The booklet title is responsible for the quantity and quality of the response, so write a great title using the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 rule: write 100 titles, go back and pick out your best one.
By offering a FREE Booklet you give consumers a non-threatening reason to call and something to ask for in return for showing they’re interested.
4. Keep tight track of the response: where did it come from? Then plan on ads in the most successful PR media placements.
5. Start creating a mailing list of your top 250 prospects. That’s right – start digging for names and addresses. Yea, it’s hard work. Thankless, too. But your success depends on your mailing list.
6. Track every call, every inquiry. Have a sheet of paper by every phone and ask, “And how did you hear of our company?” Write it down and put that slip of paper in a drawer. At the end of a few months count the slips for each, you’ll know exactly what’s working.
7. Create quality literature and cover letters. Send cover letters with everything.
8. Mail to your Top 250. Mail to your best prospects frequently, every 4 to 6 weeks if you can. If you can’t identify your market tight enough and make this mailing work, you’re in trouble.
9. Test and retest small ads in various media. Don’t forget to look at low cost unusual advertising opportunities such as association newsletters and so forth.
10. Keep marketing to wherever the best prospects and most sales are coming from. Clone your best customers: Figure out where they came from, what they like, why they purchase – and look for more of the same.
Hope this is helpful. Don’t forget to buy my book, “Successful Low Cost Direct Marketing Methods.” Best $30 bucks you’ll ever spend on marketing. Besides, I need the money.
Jeffrey Dobkin Bio —
Jeffrey is a fun speaker, and an author who has written 5 books on marketing and two on humor. He is the President of the American Society of Inventors, a 501c3 organization that helps inventors free of charge. To speak with him or order is books call 610-642-1000. Visit www.jeffreydobkin.com. for more articles on invention, marketing, advertising, PR, direct mail and more…
15 Short tips for Independent Inventors
1. You may not need a patent.
A patent is $5,000 to $10,000! Wow! And keep this in mind: A patent does NOT protect you. That’s Right! A patent only gives you the right to protect yourself (meaning you can sue someone). BIG difference!
You do NOT need a patent to market or sell your product.
Consider a cheaper way – a special provisional patent: it offers no protection, but does establish your patent claims and date of invention. This provisional patent is good for 1 year, and costs only a few hundred dollars. If you feel you must get something, it’s simple enough to do yourself.
Simple fact of life: I recommend a patent to less than 2% of the inventors that have shown me their invention. Less than 2 people out of 100! For the more than 98%, in my opinion they either couldn’t get a patent, it wouldn’t make sense (they weren’t going to market or license their product), or the patent they would be able get would be so narrow in claims it would be worthless.
2. Don’t trust invention marketing companies.
Sadly, the industry is plagued by fraud. Most of these firms are really really very very bad guys who DO NOT want to steal your idea – but they WILL steal all of your money.
3. Don’t count on making money for 2 years.
Yes, it takes that long from when you are standing there holding a fairly well finished prototype in your hands to bringing a product to a marketplace and starting to sell it. You can shorten this time by having additional people work on it besides yourself, or by investing more money in it to make it happen quicker. But working out of your home, garage, or small office – everything takes way more time than you think it will.
4. The idea – the flashbulb going off, that Eureka moment – turns out that is the EASY PART.
It’s the time you invest after that moment that creates success, and that’s the hard part. The long hours in development, the prototypes, the hits and misses. Sweat and toil, making the best possible product that can be made and all the while keeping an eye on costs. The research, pricing parts, analyzing competitors, finding markets. That’s the hard part.
5. Find people that can help.
There are companies (and people) that can definitely help inventors, depending on where you are in the invention process and what help you are looking for. It’s best to join a local inventors club – some are just awesome.
6. Here are just a couple of people I trust —
Jack lander, the Inventor Mentor (and all around good guy) wrote a book on financing your invention (How to Finance Your Invention or Great Idea; $19.95, ISBN 0935722246-7, JackL359@AOL.com, 203-264-1130) Jack is great with early stage inventors, and helping inventors along in the process. He’s very trustworthy, and a great guy.
Paul Niemann is – or at least was – a product scout. www.MarketLaunchers.com, 800-337-5758. He’s an all around good guy and very knowledgeable about the marketplace and inventions, and very honest. He scouts all the hardware and automotive shows looking for products for his clients. His specialty is licensing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Harvey Reese’s book, “How to License your Million Dollar Idea” is great reading, and also has the best contract I’ve ever read. I recommend reading this and using his contract (it’s printed in the book). I use this myself. Harvey will review your idea to see if he will represent you (The cost is about $150), but he doesn’t take on too many projects, including my own inventions (sigh…). But if he takes yours, he’s very smart, honest too.
Read my own cult classic book, “How To Market a Product for Under $500!” The best book ever if you’re thinking about marketing a product yourself (not licensing). Available on Amazon and directly from us – 800-234-4332, or 610-642-1000. I usually answer this phone and am happy to field quick questions from inventors who have read my book.
I assist inventors who are in the later stages and have a product ready (or almost ready) to bring to market. I do some inventor consulting, but I’m expensive because most of my clients are corporate and don’t mind paying my higher rates. The first consulting phone call to me is always free.
7. Our own American Society of Inventors – we review products in person at our board of directors meetings and it’s FREE to area members (membership is $49.95/year). But: you must be in the area and attend the review. Reviews for inventors from outside our area are $295. We record the review for mail-in products, and we’re looking into webinar and Skype reviews. Products may be in any stage – ideas to finished prototypes. Our mission is to help inventors, and to guide them away from shady invention marketing fraud companies.
Our review panel (our Advisory Board of Directors) is stellar – it’s our own (non-paid) board of directors. I’m the marketing guy (I’ve written 5 marketing books), two patent attorneys, one corporate attorney, one guy with 39 patents, one mechanical/prototyping expert, a materials specialist, a few entrepreneurs… and one guy just keeps showing up and buying us dinner, so we let him attend. We all sign NDAs.
You couldn’t buy this much consulting talent for under a couple of thousand dollars anywhere else. Frank and honest, our in-depth one hour reviews are startling clear and a great value from an absolutely non-partisan group who have nothing to gain or lose from a good or bad review. We don’t offer inventors any additional services other than the reviews stated here.
One-hour reviews from the board are $295 – and most of the money goes to our non-profit to bring in better speakers to present to our group – The American Society of Inventors, and the inventing community in Philadelphia. We present these speaker presentations free to members and their guests, and $5 to all others who wish to attend.
Written reviews – which we also offer (for $695) take much longer to research and write and are more in depth. Application fee for this service is $25, which we send this to you and you fill out. It’s worth the $25 just to see this form – it’s comprehensive and will make you see your invention in the light of reality.
If we don’t think we can help we’ll tell you. This written review is strictly for the more serious inventors with products that are further down the line. The value inventors receive is simply amazing: confidential design help, prototyping advice, materials review, marketing analysis and marketing strategy, and patent assessment (go/no-go) just to name a few areas.
Here are a few more tips for Inventors just starting out. To get past the idea stage:
8. You need to be able to tell people about your idea.
If you never tell anyone… your invention won’t be a successful and profitable venture because no one will know about it. Which is OK, too. Some people are just great idea people, and have fun generating new ideas.
To commercialize your product, eventually you’ll tell someone about your invention. This is generally considered “disclosure” by the patent office – which is only important if you intend to file for a patent – because technically you have one year from this disclosure date to file for a patent.
If you tell a limited number of people and each agrees not to disclose disclose your idea to anyone else (best to get a non-disclosure statement in writing) it is NOT considered disclosure.
9. There are lots of GREAT ideas that would NOT be great products. One reason is the product would be too costly to manufacture for the price you need to sell it for (retail price is usually 5 times the manufacturing cost! Yikes, 5 times!). So if you invented a new golf ball that went twice as far as other balls, but it costs $500 to manufacture and sell – it would have a list price of $2,500! It would be a great idea but not a great commercial product.
10. Some ideas are just not “commercially feasible.”
When we (at the American Society of Inventors) review member’s inventions we see a lot of ideas and inventions that are not “commercially feasible”
If the manufacturing cost or the marketing cost is too expensive and you wouldn’t be able to make money on a sale (yes, you do need to make money – or there won’t be any other products from you), we say the product is not a viable commercial product. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea, it just means it’s not a commercial product you can successfully bring to market. For example it might cost you $100 to create a sale of a $50 product.
11. You need to keep an inventor’s note book.
An inventor’s notebook is a composition binder (like you had in grade school) with dates of your inventions. I say this because if you have one invention, you probably have more. Write them all down in chronological order, don’t skip any lines or pages, and keep everything dated. Occasionally have the book date stamped by a notary. You never know when this will come in handy.
12. Licensing: Send inquiry letters.
If you are thinking about licensing your great idea, send a letter of inquiry to a firm most likely to purchase or license it.
Don’t disclose your idea, but write what it does better, faster, cheaper (the benefits) – and send that in a letter to the president of the firm you think could use the innovation. Ask them how they would prefer that you to submit your idea to their firm. Then you can follow their recommendations – or alternatively you can send a non-disclosure agreement for them to sign first.
Just because they want you to submit your idea in a particular way does not mean you have to do it that way. Some firms are honest, some are honest to a point, and some are just unscrupulously crooked. You won’t find this out till later. All firms look good up front.
13. When you pitch an idea to a company for licensing or manufacturing/co-op consideration, make sure the person reviewing your idea is at the highest corporate level – a president or vice president. The reason? Here:
When you call to find out who to send your innovation to, beware the gatekeeper! Everyone will say “Yes!” they are the person you should send your idea (product) to. Everyone will want to see your new idea and tell you to send it right to them. Everyone likes new products! Everyone wants to feel important! Everyone wants to be involved in the fun: selection of a new product! How exciting!
But… very few will actually be able to accept your product and pay you for it. Most people can’t write a check to you – for any reason. Most will not be able to move a new product forward and champion your idea by themselves. It will be a great risk for them – because if the idea fails, their job may be on the line.
Most people will really only have the power to say “no”. They’ll nix your product and they’ll certainly find reasons they can’t possibly manufacture and market it. What are you going to do then?
Others will say, oh – they’ve been working on this idea for several months now. Some will send you a letter from their lawyer saying they’ve been working on this for years.
If the gatekeeper doesn’t want to champion it, or deal with it for any reason – you just got your first refusal from someone who had no authority to say yes! And now you’ll have to go around them if you want the firm to accept your product. This can be a very nasty project, and you’ll likely make an enemy by going over someone’s head who just said no.
If the gatekeeper likes it, still they’ll have to send it to someone upstairs — like the VP or President.
By not flushing this out on the phone in the first meeting, you’ve just doubled your chance of having the product license nixed: once by a self-appointed gatekeeper, and once by the president. The gatekeeper may simply be a blocker, when the president may have been looking for your exact idea, and ready and willing to license it from you.
14. Because you have a great invention, this doesn’t mean you will be able to start and run a small business marketing it. The skill sets are very, very different.
15. Invention is the road, not the destination. At the American Society of Inventors we believe it’s not so much a single invention, but the process of invention and hard work that ensures success. You should enjoy the whole trip, not just the outcome. If your one big invention isn’t commercial, as an inventor… you probably have more inventions – look at those for commercial success.
Hope this is helpful.
After serving on the board of directors for 14 years, Jeffrey Dobkin is the President of the American Society of Inventors, a 501c3 nonprofit that helps inventors free of charge.
Help for Inventors – The Non-Profit American Society of Inventors
Jeffrey Dobkin is a fun speaker and a specialist in direct response copywriting. Jeff is the senior writer at The Danielle Adams Publishing Company. His firm offers marketing strategy, creative writing and design of direct mail, letters, brochures and booklets, website and article copywriting. They also write press releases, and offers PR planning and campaign strategy. Jeffrey has written 5 books on effective marketing methods. Call 610-642-1000 to order his books or for a free 20 minute consultation.