Inventing: The Easy and Cost Effective Way to Getting Your Product Made
Like most people, I have been lead to believe that getting your idea for a new product on paper, digital file, or in a patent is extremely expensive and complicated. Well, I am here to tell you that is simply not true! Sure, at one point it may have been but those days are gone! The world is getting smaller and you have the sum knowledge of the entire human race at your fingertips. I of course am talking about the Internet. Today, people have access to products, services, and knowledge that only people “in the know” have had in the past. The Internet is the great equalizer and you have just as much opportunity as the next person to achieve your goals. Of course money is an issue here and that is why I am here… to save you some money!
The Hardest Part
Coming up with an idea is really the hardest part of the inventing process and you most likely already have an idea for a product. Even if you do not realize it, you know something that others do not. You’re the expert in your field and thus have inside knowledge of how certain processes work and how they can be improved. Take for example, you’re a mechanic and work on vehicles every day. I am certainly not a mechanic but I get by fine on my own. Only you would have an idea of how to do a job better, if only you had a tool that could do “that thing” that you currently cannot do. It would make your job so much easier if you had something like that. In fact, I bet you would even pay for it… and so would others. Actually I bet millions of other people might want to buy that item but don’t even know they need it.
I am generalizing here but you get the idea. Just replace your job or hobby with the mechanics and may begin to get some ideas flowing in your mind. You don’t even need to have a specialized job or hobby to have an idea. You just need to have the need for an item that does not currently exist. Just remember, someone has to come up with the ideas, someone has to make the products, and someone has to make the money. Will it be you or will you be saying, “I thought of that, years ago!”
Out of Your Head and On to Paper
Now that you have an idea of something that you have a need for, you should put it onto paper or on your computer. Writing it down will help you to refine what exactly it should do and what it might look like. Your original idea might not be what eventually comes out but it gives you a starting point. If you’re artistically inclined (I am not) you can draw a few sketches of your new product so that you can refine its design. This is when us non-artistic people will need to spend a little cash. You should be able to find an artist online that can do a sketch for you for under $50. If you want a more detailed, colored, or textured rendering, it will cost you more but should not be more than $150. I paid $75 for a black and white detailed drawing of my product through AvatarArt. You should get 3 revision rounds so that you can get the item as close to what you had in mind as possible. During this process, you might find yourself changing the design when presented with the artists new ideas. This is a good thing as two heads are better than one as they say. At this point, you should have spent no more than $150 on a single drawing.
Obtaining Engineering Drawings/Specifications
Now we get into the expensive part… or do we? Once you have your product on “paper”, you can get an engineer to draw your product……again. Actually, they will be drawing it in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Here, you can add dimensions, color, texture, material used, etc. The manufactures will need this in order to properly make your first product, your prototype if you will. Most prototypes are made out of balsa wood, PVC, or other recycled material available at your local home improvement store. In my opinion, this is a waste of time and money as you know what your product looks like in your head and now on paper so let’s hurry and get it made! Deciding what the dimensions and materials are is actually easier than you think. You have already thought this through during the revisions of the artwork and have a very clear image of what you item will be so not to worry.
Getting this is “professionally” is going to be extremely expensive. That is why I will be getting it done by freelancers whose only barrier to becoming a “professional” is to be hired full time. Of course there is a risk of them stealing your idea but it is highly unlikely as they generally want to keep their job however, if your that worried about it you can make up a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and have them sign it. To get your item done professionally, it will cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 as they always want to duplicate the work you have done so far, and of course charge you for it. Things like Project Management, Creative Design, and Conceptual Brainstorming are some things they will try to charge you for. You have already done all of the hard work and just need someone who can put your (already drawn) item into CAD… that’s it! I use oDesk to find freelancers that charge anywhere from $2.00 per hour to $35.00 per hour. You can check their work history, job performance, and their rating and feedback to make the best selection. All you need to do is sign up which is pretty self explanatory on the site. Congratulations! You have your CAD files…..right?
Oh That Pesky Patent!
At this point you have most likely spent only $200 bringing your product to life. Now comes trying to protect that product from being stolen from you! Let’s face it, patents are expensive. It will cost you anywhere from $400 to $1,000+ to get one as fees vary. It is much easier and cheaper to get a patent pending which will protect your Intellectual Property (IP). For fees, visit the US Patent Office at uspto.gov. This should give you enough time to try and sell your idea to big businesses. If you never receive an offer then perhaps it’s not worth continuing the patent protection or full patent? You are the only one who can decide that. The reason most inventors want to create a product is so they can use it themselves. The profit for that product is an afterthought most of the time. If this is the case, then don’t worry about the protections and move right along, saving even more money.
Finding a Manufacturer
Now you’re ready to find that missing piece of the puzzle… the people who will make your item. You do not need to go door to door with your drawings and an NDA for someone to make your product. In fact, they are more likely to be beating your door down for the chance to win your business. The Internet makes this an easy task once again. You can just search for global sourcing websites to try to connect with a few manufacturers. I have tried Global Sources and Alibaba and have found Alibaba to have more responsive people but don’t take my word for it. You may find a better site out there. You can sign up on the site and fill out your profile in about 15 minutes. All you need to do at this point is browse around and contact the manufacturers (suppliers) directly or create a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quote (RFQ) in the category of suppliers that match what you need. You can attach an image of your product and explain in detail what you need to get more accurate quotes. You will then receive e-mails within a few days or maybe a week with examples and quotes. You may also be asked for further clarification and additional files (such as your CAD file) so they can begin work.
At this point you can request a sample be made (your first working model) so that you can inspect quality, and decide if you would like to make further adjustments. If you need an adjustment, you can simply let them know and they can make it for you as they are the experts in their field and have a CAD specialist on hand. One thing to be aware of when selecting your supplier is the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ). This is the minimum amount of your product they will make so you are going to need to purchase this amount so keep that quotation and calculator handy. Generally, making a sample item will be more expensive than the mass production of the item so don’t worry if your item (or 2) costs you $200 when the quote was $3.00 each. A lot of the time, they will refund some of the money when you place your first order. This is to give them some assurance that they will get your business and since it does cost them money to stop their current production to make your product, they won’t lose so much if you never place your order. On larger more complicated items that require CAD, the supplier is more likely to have a lower MOQ. If it is a smaller, more simple item such as a coin (which does not require CAD), the MOQ will be 1,000 most likely. Of course the smaller items cost less so they must sell more to make money. So let’s say that you are making a small device that they quoted you for $3.00 each with a MOQ of 100. That is just $300 for 100 of your items which you can sell for your retail price of, let’s say $15. If you make a small item like a coin and the quote is $0.20 each with a MOQ of 1000 then at is just $200. You can then turn around and sell them for $0.30 - $0.50 each. Let’s not forget about shipping. This cost will need to be incorporated into the cost of each item so that you don’t lose money. On a single item you may pay $20-$30 if overseas so pay attention to where they are shipping from.
Now You’re Done, Maybe
Let’s recap shall we? First you need an idea. Next you need to draw or get drawn your idea so others can see what you’re talking about. Then you need to get a freelancer to put that drawing into CAD (or skip if not a complicated item) from oDesk or similar site. Next you need to find a supplier at Alibaba or similar site. And finally, get your sample product made and shipped out to you before you place your larger order. And you’re done! You have taken an idea from your head and placed it into your hand, and all at a fraction of the cost “they” would have you believe. A small invention should cost you under $500 for this entire process so while it is still a significant investment, it is definitely doable. Using this process, I was able to build a business from scratch (launch of said business in May 2012) and it cost me roughly $4,000, $1,000 of which is in artist fees, and the rest is samples, shipping and inventory costs. So too you I say, good luck and I look forward to seeing your new idea becoming a real product!