Updated: Jan 19, 2022
If you have the heart and mind of an inventor, it’s easy to look at a great invention, such as the airplane, the computer, or the iPhone; and feel a little bit intimidated at the enormity of such a task.
Those great ideas may even seem to be few and far between. Yet brilliant minds continue to build new inventions that advance our entire civilization; and there are still so many more that need to be made.
That's the fun part; the belief that groundbreaking ideas can literally change the world as we once knew it.
Take the time to look at the things around you: Perhaps a coffee mug on your desk, a pen, pieces of paper, a half-eaten sandwich. All these things are small and on some days, seemingly insignificant.
Yet, all these little things have changed the world in their own special way. Can you imagine how difficult life would have been if nobody invented paper? What if up until modern times, people still lugged around stone tablets simply because no one thought of a lighter, better alternative?
That’s the deal with innovation.
Its heart lies in the desire to solve a specific problem, to find ways to make life easier. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of inventing something and getting it to market. No matter how far along you are in your invention journey, you’ll likely pick up a helpful thought or two from reading our guide on how to invent something and the succeeding steps you’ll need to take to successfully market it.
Steps to Follow
Step 1: Self-Belief and Motivation
It may come as no surprise to you that the first step has something to do with believing in yourself. Now it may sound cliché, but it’s also practical advice; If you believe in your capabilities and have the right motivation, you’re likely to succeed. Depending on the industry you’re setting your sights on, however, chances are high that the journey will be tough.
Detractors may take the form of competitors or people who simply do not believe in your vision. Point is, others will tear you down and discourage you if you let them. That’s why it’s important to have a clear vision at the get-go. You’ll have to believe in yourself and in your idea enough to carry it through despite rejections.
On the other end of the spectrum, some inventors have enough self-belief but lack the drive and motivation to follow through. In other words, there has to be a healthy balance between believing in yourself and having the motivation to keep going despite challenges.
Step 2: Think of a Gap in the Market / Find a Problem in the Market
An inventor is a problem-solver.
That being said, to find a product or service worth your time and effort, you’ll need to sift through your web of ideas and find what problems or gaps your invention will address.
How to Find a Problem That Needs to Be Solved:
Take a look at some 21st-century problems and the solutions that these inventors addressed:
Problem: The advent of smartphones also meant that battery life decreased and needed to be charged more often.
Solution: Chinese company Pisen filled the gap by marketing power banks which they originally invented for charging cameras needed by an Arctic expedition team.
Problem: Traditional books can be bulky, prone to damage, and difficult to transport.
Solution: Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart invented e-books, and writer Bob Brown invented e-readers.
Problem: Inventors and small businesses needed a quick and cost-effective way to create mock-ups of certain products.
Solution: The 3D printer invented by Chuck Hull in the 1980s has been continually improved to become the version that it is today.
So you see, likewise, you can find a gap in the market and address that need, much like Pisen did by repurposing the tech they invented to create today’s widely available portable power banks. Through this example, we see how important it is to take advantage of opportunities when presented with a problem that your invention can address.
You can also point out a specific problem within your niche or field of expertise and offer a solution for it. Note that the people we credit for today’s e-readers are both in the writing and literary field. Chances are, there are gaps in your industry or "inefficiencies" that you can also find solutions to.
Lastly, you don’t need to be THE pioneer in solving a specific problem. Take 3D printing for example, which has been around since the ‘80s but has continually been improved upon by various inventors in pharmacology, jewelry-making, toy-making, and numerous other fields.
Step 3: Document It
No matter what you are inventing, it is crucial to document your progress. This is because proper documentation will come in handy when the time comes for you to apply for a patent. Should someone challenge your application or if someone infringes on your existing patent, well-organized documentary records would serve you well.
FindLaw suggests that from a legal standpoint documenting your invention process will protect your right as an inventor.
Other reasons are:
● To prove that you are the inventor.
● To prove that you had the idea first.
● To prove that you were the first to turn the idea into an actual product or service.
● To establish that your idea is new and original.
● To serve as evidence of your character by showing how you work. Proper documentation suggests that you are methodical and reliable, attributes that may also come in handy when looking for investors later on.
● To help you with income tax filings; good records can establish deductions for expenses relating to your invention
● To serve as your own personal record to help you analyze your work and improve on it further.
Step 4: Conduct Market Research
Before investing your hard-earned money or mass-producing prototypes, make sure to thoroughly conduct market research first. This will help you gauge interest regarding your invention, help you assess pricing points, and identify possible areas of weakness or improvement.
Below are the things you need to consider when conducting market research for your invention:
Knowing your target market is imperative because you can gather crucial information on pricing, product or service features, and general interest in your upcoming invention. Also, conducting target market analysis might turn up unexpected results which may help you make your invention even more marketable.
If for example you’re inventing a new line of play dolls and have initially defined toddlers and preteens as your target market, you might encounter information that would suggest that your market actually includes other age and gender groups. Let’s say you discovered that there is also a market for your dolls among 30 to 40-something women and gay men, or maybe even fashion designers interested in your dolls’ specifications.
You can then use this information to come up with a marketing plan that will address your varied target market demographics. Another possible outcome is that you can also come up with another line, specifically for adult collectors, and set it at a higher price point.
As with any business venture, going to market with an invention also entails certain risks. It’s important to do your research in order to minimize these risks. On top of this list is patent-related.
When an inventor files for a patent, he assumes certain risks such as:
● Not being granted a patent
● The patent not paying off
● Being challenged for a patent of a similar invention
To minimize running into these problems, make sure to check the market for inventions that are similar to yours. If you find any, look for patent numbers. You can also check online and physical stores as well as Google Patents. This will help you ensure that you are not infringing on someone else’s patented idea.
To help you understand intellectual property better, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a vast library of free resources that will educate you on the matter. You can also attend their ‘Path to a Patent’ training, which according to the USPTO is a ‘quarterly series [that] covers everything from intellectual property basics to patent searching, to what you’ll need to draft and submit your patent application.’
The series is part of their ongoing intellectual property training for independent inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Currently, all training sessions are done virtually.
Competitors & Similar Ideas/Products that Already Exist
Checking your competition is helpful because of many reasons. First, by checking for similar ideas and products as yours, you’ll be able to gauge the level of interest it already has in the current market. Second, you can take note of the details of your competitors’ products and prepare for ways to differentiate your product from theirs.
Among the list of things to look out for are:
● Price range
● Product names
● Materials or Ingredients
● Manufacturer (you might also want to tap your competitors’ manufacturer)
● Distribution channels (this will provide you with an idea of where to display your products)
It’s valuable to know these things in order to be able to assess how you can position your product within the market. What ‘edge’ do you have against your competitors? How can you convince their current buyers that your product is better?
Also, another great benefit of competition is that it paves the way for innovation. Meaning, you might be able to identify a gap that existing products do not address but your invention can. In that case, you’ll have a new and improved product that consumers will likely gravitate towards.
Interest in the Product/Service
An important part of market research is asking people if they would be interested in your upcoming product or service. This way, you’ll be able to gauge whether your invention in its current state is ready to go to market or not. If the majority of the responses show a lack of interest, don’t give up yet. Instead, take it as an opportunity to ask your target audience what they want, so you can improve on your invention and incorporate potential clients’ feedback.
Be reminded, however, to stay vigilant in protecting your idea/invention even during the market research stage. If, for example, you're consulting down to the details with someone who might potentially take credit for your idea, consider having them sign an NDA prior to any discussion so that you’re legally protected in any eventuality. Law Depot has a free template that you can download and edit for your personal use.
Willingness to Pay and the Price People are Willing to Pay
Another important piece of insight you can gather from market research is the number of money people are willing to shell out for your product. You probably already have an estimate in mind based on your cost and margin for profit, but doing due diligence research involving potential clients will allow you to adjust your set price.
Remember to keep the following in mind when thinking about product pricing:
● Costs: What are your operational and production costs?
● Profit: How much profit do you want to make?
● Customers: Are your target customers driven by low prices, value, or branding?
● Competitors: How much are your competitors charging?
● Positioning: Do you want to be known as the lowest-priced brand, the most value for money brand, or as a high-end brand?
What Consumers Expect/Want From the Product/Service
Finding out what your customers expect can help you highlight strengths and address weaknesses. Ranging from product features to your marketing strategy, customer feedback is valuable and can provide you with a 360-degree view of your potential client landscape. You may even get brilliant ideas to improve on your product or develop a new line.
Again, remember to protect your information by asking consultants to sign NDAs. If you’re conducting surveys online, consider asking vague questions that will not point out specific aspects of your invention. Instead, ask the participants what they want, what their expectations are, etc.
In place of asking ‘Would you be interested in buying a self-heating lunchbox?’ ask ‘What added features do you wish your lunchbox had?’ This would be a good time to gain added insight and organic feedback surrounding the main idea of your product, without introducing any biases.
The Requirements to Start the Project
Of course, before going all-out on production and marketing, you’ll have to come up with a complete list of requirements to start the project. Be as thorough and comprehensive as possible, and prepare for worst-case scenarios, too.
List down your materials, suppliers, manufacturers, distribution channels, and other relevant information that will allow you to ensure a smooth-sailing flow.
One of the most important things you’ll have to prepare for is your patent, so make sure to list down the requirements for that as well.
Taking this step will allow you to prepare for the cost that you’ll need, as well as provide you with contingencies in case of deviations, such as unavailable materials and other possible last-minute challenges.
Step 5: Build a Prototype and Conduct Trials of the Product or Service
Building a high-quality, attractive prototype is crucial because it will allow you to finally test your idea and attract potential clients and investors. Make sure to consider your budget before going all-out, but strive to build something as close to the real thing as possible. It’s important for your prototype to be a working model so that potential customers can at least test out its functionalities and features.
Nowadays, 3D printers can produce good quality prototypes at reasonable price points, so you can be as detailed as you want. Don’t go overboard on prototypes as well - make sure to produce them in small batches, as you’ll likely improve a feature or two after testing, and you wouldn’t want too much of a surplus.
Testing the Product/Service in the Market to Gauge the Target Audience’s Reaction
Here comes the exciting, nerve-racking moment of truth. Testing out your product or service in the real world to gauge your target market’s reaction is a very important phase of the invention process. In this step, you’ll see how people interact with your invention.
Are they wary of it? Are they excited or amazed? Are they intimidated by the new concept?
Based on these reactions, you can adjust how you present your product when you market it. Be sure to address initial reactions of intimidation by thoroughly explaining how your product works, what it aims to do, and how your potential customers can improve or enrich their lives by using your product.
Step 6: Protect Your Idea
Protecting your idea is paramount to ensuring that all the hard work you and your team put in doesn’t go to waste. From the research phase, you’ll be able to find out whether or not there are any similar products in the market or if there are existing patents you might infringe on. If there are none, you may now proceed to the application stage.
To give you an overview, here are the ways through which you can protect your idea:
● Patents - The USPTO defines a patent as ‘the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.’ Patents usually last for about 20 years in the U.S.
● Intellectual Property Protection - Intellectual property protection is for protecting your idea/invention before marketing it. These include filing for patents, copyrights, and trademarks to protect your idea, trade secrets, and employee know-how. Learn more about your IP rights on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s official website.
● Trademarks - Trademarks are for protecting your product or service name. According to the USPTO, a trademark is ‘any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services.’ For more resources, visit USPTO’s section on trademarks.
● NDA’s - NDA’s are a legally binding agreement between you and a third party. If you have not yet patented your product, it is advisable to ask any third party with whom you are sharing your idea to sign an NDA.
Step 7: Find Investors
A key step in penetrating your desired market is getting investors to notice your product and invest in it. To be able to do this, you’ll need to pitch your idea to potential investors by presenting a business plan. Your business plan will explain your overall marketing strategy, target market/potential customers, and other details that will convince them that your product is worth investing money in.
To avoid ideas getting stolen by potential investors, make sure that you have intellectual property protection, such as a patent. To avoid tricky situations with potential investors, make sure to do a background check before approaching anyone. Remember that whoever will invest in your idea will be working with you for a long time, so it’s best if you find potential investors whose business style and values are aligned with your vision.
Now, you’re ready to pitch! If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, now is the time to put everything you’ve learned from binge-watching to practice. To deliver a successful pitch, remember the following points:
● Come prepared: From your main idea to your most important statistics, be prepared to show potential investors that you know your invention and your market inside out.
● Do your research: Do a bit of homework on your potential investors. What is their line of business? What do they specialize in? By knowing your potential investors, you’ll be able to highlight specific aspects of your invention which you think would appeal to them.
● Be organized and engaging: Get straight to the point and try to be as engaging as possible. You’ll likely only have a few minutes to discuss your pitch with potential investors, so make sure to capture their attention and present organized information.
Step 8: Final Product/Service
Now that everything is in place, you’re ready to manufacture your product or launch your service to the market. Based on your market research, you’ll already have a list of materials and suppliers for this step.
Considering your target market and pricing goals, you can adjust your materials and other manufacturing costs accordingly. You may even start production in-house if your product allows it. However, for more complicated products, you might also want to partner with a manufacturer or corporation that may be better equipped to handle your technical requirements.
Keep in mind that you don't have to sell your invention to someone else for them to manufacture your products.
You can either:
● Find manufacturers and sell your products, or
● Find a company that will manufacture and sell your products while giving you a percentage of the sales
For a detailed list of available suppliers, manufacturers, and other resources for North American companies, Thomas For Industry has a vast library you can choose from.
Whether you’ve invented a product or a service, make sure to put regular quality checks in place to ensure that your customers are getting the best out of your hard-earned invention.
Once you’ve gotten a successful invention running, you may be past the hardest part - but the journey only changes from here on. Here’s what to keep in mind when trying to grow your useful product into a market success story.
1. Promotion of Your Idea
Promote to the End Users
Depending on your target market and marketing budget, there are various ways to promote your new invention. No matter what channels you choose, remember that a robust marketing strategy is your key to successfully penetrating the market and gaining a loyal clientele.
Traditional Marketing Techniques
Traditional marketing can be very useful for your brand, especially if your target market includes older demographics. Make sure to tap sources such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV shows to build awareness about your new invention. You can also use the power of testimonials and word-of-mouth to gain popularity and trust among communities.
Digital Marketing and Social Media
Using digital marketing and social media can be the most cost-effective way to start building awareness for your brand. You can connect with your clients through:
● An official website to house product information or your online store.
● Social media channels, which may differ depending on your product and market.
● Emails or newsletters to provide consumers with information on deals, bundles, new releases, etc.
● Blog posts on credible sites that your target market frequents for opinions.
There are multiple ways by which you can maximize the use of limited offers to make noise for your new product. Among the most popular ones are social media giveaways and contests, which give you the potential to go viral and also gain access to potential clients.
Other examples are:
● ‘Early bird’ promos that offer an exclusive preview and reduced price; you can launch an event to cater to your existing loyal clients and early registrants, so they can preview/experience the product or service first.
● Introductory offers during your first weeks/months of going to market; this will allow customers to try out your products at a price point that’s comfortable for them.
● Bundles or package deals; you can offer great value by creating nicely packaged bundles or bundle subscriptions that will appeal to clients.
● Joint promotions with another brand; you can tap a bigger, more established brand whose product is complementary to yours and offer freebies or discounts upon purchase.
● Buy one get one deals; depending on your product, you can carry out a BOGO deal that will surely entice customers.
2. For Products, Advertise to Wholesalers
Identify stores and businesses that already sell or cater to your target market. You can start by approaching small stores and businesses with a loyal clientele and eventually, you’ll be able to create an effective ‘sell sheet’ to present to larger wholesalers.
You can also check online wholesalers such as Amazon and use these online distribution channels to promote and sell your product.
3. Focus on Sales Techniques and the Target Audience
Keep your target audience in mind once you’ve gone to market. Remember that knowing your audience is one of the most effective ways to anticipate their needs and appeal to their wants.
Now that your invention is out in the market, it’s important to follow through with sales by letting your audience understand why they would want or need your product or service in their lives.
Focus on tried and tested sales techniques such as building strong customer relationships, providing excellent customer service, using the power of influence to drive sales, and personalizing the client’s experience by eliciting an emotional response.
Inventing something and getting it to market is hard work. However, if you’re motivated and committed enough to see it through various obstacles and challenges, you may just unlock your most rewarding business experience yet. Soon enough, you’ll be able to see your products on a Target or Walmart shelf, or your service advertised on television!
We started by reminding you about the importance of believing in yourself and your idea, and we’ll say it again: Believe in yourself because no one else has the same perspective and thought process as you. What you invent will be uniquely yours especially if you truly created it out of a desire to address a specific problem unique to your field or niche.
Originality and creativity set an inventor apart from others, and that’s something that you have to remember as you carry your invention out to market. However, an inventor's success also comes from the painstaking work involved in making the idea a reality and introducing it to the market.
Thomas Edison, who invented the electric light bulb and phonograph, once said that ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.’ Edison was a prolific inventor and held over 1,093 US patents.
That being said, remember Edison the next time you contemplate whether or not you need a patent or some form of intellectual property protection. The short answer is yes, you do. Always. An invention is an incredibly valuable piece of work, something that large corporations would be willing to pay millions of dollars for, so why wouldn’t you protect it?
In this article, we’ve outlined some practical tips and know-how to help you through the process of carrying out your invention into a reality. You can use it as your personal ‘Inventor’s Checklist’ to make sure that you do not forget important steps during the planning stage. Remember that research is very important, so make sure to save this material or even add your own notes under each step.
You can also visit the resources we’ve linked above to read more about marketing, patents, and other information that will help you turn your dream invention into a reality.