Setting the Stage: The trials and tribulations of getting a product to market

Today, our thoughts turn to the core element of any business, not just a start-up: the product – and how to get it in front of people. Without a product (or service, depending on the nature of the business) it doesn’t matter how good your planning is, how well supported you are, or how much you know about the peripheral aspects of starting a business! Everything is geared towards that product, and one of the fundamentals of making your business a success, is getting that product out to the market and selling like hot cakes.

There are several stages of getting a product out there, and it’s important that you have covered off every one of these stages as part of your business  plan.

Know your enemy. The importance of identifying not only your market, but those who are already operating in it, cannot be emphasised strongly enough. You may think that your product is unique, but the chances are that there are products out there that do the same job, even if they look or perform differently. Rather than seeing this as a problem, look on healthy competition as a positive; researching your competitors can give you a very accurate picture of the demand for products of this type, how much people are prepared to pay, and also where your competitors are succeeding, or failing, at getting very similar products out into the market.

Protecting your idea. Having your product copied, particularly by someone with the resources to churn out cheap versions, is every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare, so it’s essential to take steps to make sure you are adequately protected. There is plenty of information available about trademarks, design registration, patents and the like, but to make sure you get it right, there is no substitute for good legal advice. An experienced patents lawyer should be one of the first numbers in your little black book, and the cost of engaging such a person, although high, could save you a lot of money and heartache in the future. There are steps you can take as well. Take care not to give away your idea in the early stages – take heed from the cautionary tale of Antonio Meucci, who filed a temporary patent for an idea that was set to change the world. He failed to cough up the $10 fee to renew the patent, and was forced to watch in horror as Alexander Graham Bell (who worked in the same patent lab where Meucci’s patent was filed) grabbed the opportunity to go down in history as the inventor of the telephone.

Manufacturing. Many a new invention falls at the first hurdle, proving to be uneconomical to produce due to high manufacturing costs. You need to find out how much it is going to cost to make up your product, and decide if the cost of manufacturing can be justified by the retail price of the finished article. Don’t be disheartened if initial investigations result in a nasty shock – it pays to shop around. Never be too proud to take advice, and don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board to see if you can shave off some manufacturing costs.

Find the finance. No matter how hard you’ve tried to identify each and every cost, it is a given that you will need more than you think to successfully launch your product. Lack of funds can very effectively throttle a new business, so getting investors interested at an early stage should be high on the list of priorities. There are many options; crowd funding, angel investment or a good old fashioned chat with your bank manager, with the success – rate of approaches considerably enhanced by a strong business plan which shows that you’ve done your homework and have a proposition that will pay off in the long term. 

Marketing/PR.  Your product may be the best-in-class, set to revolutionise the sector you operate in, but even the brightest flame needs to be fanned. Word of mouth is great, and your own ability to talk passionately and knowledgeably about your product is vital, but to really create a buzz, enlisting the services of someone who makes it their business to maximise exposure in targeted markets is invaluable. Research the agencies or individuals you are considering working with carefully; there’s little point in engaging a fashion PR agency to market software. Whilst the principles of marketing and PR apply across the board, a specialist practitioner in a specific sector will know what the media, and the marketplace want to see, making them a vital cog in the wheel.

Retailers. You’ve done all the hard work, developed your product, ensured that you have protected your brand, put the finances in place and started to market your product – but without an outlet for selling the product, your efforts will be in vain. Think carefully about where you would go to buy the product you are selling, and dip back into your market research to see where others buy from, to give yourself an idea of whether it’s possible to sell through your own website/premises, or if you need to approach retailers (on and off-line).

Nobody starts their own business thinking it’s going to be easy. It will be tough, and there will be times when the thought of packing it all in and working for someone else is very appealing. There is no easy way to get a new product to market and make it a success. You will need to work hard, grab every bit of advice you can, keep a tight rein on your finances, and endure a few sleepless nights. Once you’ve succeeded though, rather like  climbing a mountain, once you reach the top, the bad bits will soon fade away, and the sheer joy of seeing your idea become a viable business will make it all worthwhile