Cashing In: Turning Great Ideas Into Moneymakers

By Martin Brown

Liquid Paper. The Wet Bone. Commando Matchsticks.

It happens every day in America: a woman has a business or product idea, and runs with it.

There are many successes, and many more failures. The failures, however, of anyone else’s start-up should never be a reason for you not to pursue your own ideas. But as is the case with all sorts of investments—be it time, money, or effort—the more you know going into the process, the better the chances of your success.

So if you’ve got a great idea and you’re thinking: “Now what?” consider these four rules before taking your next step: 

Rule # 1: Don’t Work in a Vacuum

No matter how keen a mind you have, ideas don’t take shape when there is no oxygen to support them.

In the case of creators, that oxygen can come from many places. A good start is your local library, most of which have one year or several year’s worth, of business magazines, such as Entrepreneur, sitting on their shelves. You’ll find there a wealth of ideas, success stories
(and failures), all of which will give you insight into the real lives of other people with creative ideas, from building a better fast food restaurant, to creating a new kind of body friendly chair.

Here’s a thought to keep in mind: Many believe that perhaps the most brilliant mind of the past one thousand years was that of Isaac Newton’s.  When he was honored by his fellow 18th Century scientists, he famously said: “If I have seen further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” If building one idea on top of another was good enough for Newton, it’s good enough for any of us. 

Rule #2: Network, Network, Network

Richard C. Levy, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cashing In on your Inventions, is someone who has spent nearly his entire professional life bringing ideas to market. Levy, who writes and guest lectures at various business conferences and university events, likes to joke that there are, “two kind of inventors: the paranoid, and the more paranoid.” As Levy explains it, they are convinced that the world is just waiting to steal whatever idea they have. “Well, if you want to die with that song in your heart, that’s just fine. But no one has ever cashed in on a secret that went with them to the grave.” 

Networking happens in many forms. For example, it can be something as simple as joining a local chapter of Ladies Who Launch, an organization that explains that it is “all about women who want to turn their life-dreams into a reality.”  You can find a local chapter that has regular meetings in many communities across the country. There you can meet, greet, and exchange ideas with other women who want to follow an idea from concept to development to finally cashing in. Their stories will inspire you, teach you, keep you on track and from making
mistakes, or from going nowhere in a hurry.

Besides Ladies Who Launch, there are a host of organizations for networking, from your local Chamber of Commerce to Rotary, Lions and more. And that is just the beginning. You should be learning about whatever industry and consumer market segment your concept applies to.  As Levy suggests, “Go to conventions, trade shows, and start reading that industry’s publications. Again, nothing happens in a vacuum. You succeed in the marketplace and for that to happen you need to be a part of that marketplace.” 

Rule #3 Knowledge is Power

How do you bring an idea to market? Well if it’s a patent-worthy idea, your first step is to do a patent search. Levy cautions about spending needlessly on patent attorneys, when they in turn just go to a patent research consultant and pass that information onto you with a healthy mark-up.

Levy, for example, uses George Harville of Green Tree Information Services, for all his patent work. “A patent attorney may indeed be needed later in the process, but not to perform an initial search,” Levy explains.

Also, know that while the federal patent office is located in Washington, DC, most cities have a patent division outreach center attached to a main public library. To find a center near you, conduct an online search, or inquire with the reference librarian at your local library. For your first foray into the world of patenting, you may want to visit one of these centers and see if you can do a search yourself.

Remember that just because you have not seen your idea in a product form it does not mean that a patent has not already been secured on whatever is your concept. It may have come to market and flopped before you ever knew about it. It may be about to come to market or currently being marketed in a different area of the country or under a name you never thought to apply to your idea, therefore an internet search comes up blank.

In the search of knowledge your first step is to know if it has been done before and that search begins with the patent process. If, as many ideas are, it is a service that is not an item you can patent then again, learning all that you can about the business area your idea applies to is essential. 

Rule #4: Ideas Are Where You Start, Perserverence is Where you Finish. 

Levy gets a call a week from would-be creators who think that the idea is the end of the process. In truth, it’s only the beginiing. The old line goes, that creation is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Levy could not agree more. In the final analysis Levy suggests, “people have to buy into you more than into your invention. You have to tell them every part of what you think works well and never hide the facts.” Levy’s advise, “Every garden can benefit from a little fertlizer, but you should never lie. Most of Levy’s success has come from the toy and game industry with smash hit toys like Furby to his credit Levy knows that real success comes from teamwork. As he says, “George Lucas, might be the name you think of when you hear the words Star Wars, but never forget the credit roll at the end of the film. Hundreds of people working as a team turned his vision into a reality.”

While Levy knows that the odds against success are often daunting, that fact has never slowed him down and he doesn’t think it should slow you down either. “You will miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Levy concludes. “Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the stars. Be willing to work smart, and work hard, and you might just find yourself reaping some amazing rewards.”


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