Congratulations! You have a great idea. You and this idea, you’ve got plans.
It started with a tiny nugget you were bouncing around, and it grew up in a marketing meeting. You brainstormed, you took this little idea and ran it up the flagpole, you sent it through the pipeline, passed it to the higher-ups.
It’s growing, and that’s exciting, but it’s almost a little unwieldy now. You have an idea of what you want—sort of. You’ve got a list of things you need—almost. You’ve already written some of the copy in your head, you have a press release half-drafted. Your team is a well-oiled machine!
Except, well, you don’t have any products yet.
When you start growing products from an idea, you’re taking something intangible and building on it to fill demand. You need to connect marketing to products. A seedling of an idea can become a real product and a real business.
New business owners have the chance to develop and adapt business models for niche products. But it’s challenging to sell an idea; a business needs a tangible product to go along with it.
With some time and effort, you can turn a fledgling idea into a great business in four simple steps: plan, organize, execute, and revise.
Here’s a roadmap and some tips to make sure you’re getting everything you need.
Step 1: Plan
Once you have an idea, do some work to figure out your next steps. After all, an idea is not enough. According to The New York Times, in 2011 the United States Patent and Trademark Office had nearly “1.5 million patent applications…pending, compared with around 269,000 in 1992.”
The truth is, everyone has an idea. The difference isn’t just whether or not you have an idea, it’s what you want to do with it next.
It takes more than an idea to get started. To properly execute your strategy, you need tactics in place to guarantee that you follow a plan and don’t forget about the tiny pieces of your plan.
To walk you through the steps, let’s take a look at companies MyParkingSign and Haloplate. MyParkingSign is a company that sells parking signs and accessories to help businesses and parking lot owners protect their lots. They collaborated with Haloplate, a parking lot management company based in California.
Haloplate’s CEO Ed Lynch designed his product to address the pain point of parking your car and managing a parking lot. It’s a parking lot management and vehicle messaging tool that allows lot owners to track who is in their lot, and offers drivers security. They know they’ll be alerted if their car is blocking someone in, or about to be towed.
The plan for collaboration was to create a set of signs to help parking owners display a simple message for people parking in their lot. The products also needed to do double-duty, and convey straightforward information to customers or drivers signing up for Haloplate.
Step 2: Organize
Go over everything you’re working on. What did you miss? Take a look over what you have and streamline it.
Ed Lynch notes that the Haloplate project started with “an expansive, detailed list of requirements.” Once Haloplate designed the signs, the companies decided how to set up their webpages to best feature their products. Then, they determined together exactly what was necessary for their next steps.
You’re not the first person to make something new, but you can always find better, more efficient ways to reach your goals. Check with other organizations, your suppliers, and their competitors to make sure you’re getting the best deal and the highest quality. Use the opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes and accomplishments. By chatting with competitors, or even fellow business owners and entrepreneurs, you can find ways to easily turn your nugget of an idea into a great, tangible product.
Karen Klein interviewed Warren M. Haussler for BusinessWeek, and he pointed out the difficulty of the process: “It’s a long way from designing a prototype to getting a product on the market. After a product is designed and ready to be manufactured, it still takes a lot of time and money before it can be distributed and sold.”
Step 3: Execute
This is usually the fun part. This is when you get to see what you have going for you. Figure out how you’re going to make your product and what materials you need.
If you’re making something yourself, tally up the time it takes you to get your supplies and make your product. If you’re working through a vendor, ask to see a sample or a prototype before you start trying to promote it. You need an assurance that you can deliver when an order comes in.
Haloplate wanted to ensure that their vision was the same as their output. They aimed to play “a crucial communications role, tying our virtual service to real-world parking environments,” Lynch says. The next steps of the process was to make sure that the parking signs held up in tough outside environments, and that their site was simple and easy to use.
Anyone with an idea that has come to fruition will note that you need to iron out each aspect of this execution process. You’re deciding how to piece together the work yourself or wishing you had a team to help you organize the details.
If you have a team? Great. You need to get together and build an execution strategy. Use an organizational tool like Trello to track your calendar with deadlines, relevant contacts, and details about everyone’s role. That way, everyone is on the same page every step of the way.
Step 4: Revise
If everything worked out on the first try to execute, then congratulations! You have mastered everything and you’re a business, development, and marketing genius.
Chances are, however, you hit some snags and there are aspects of what you’ve developed that require tweaking. Keep some product notes going as you’re working on your project and make sure you’re checking in that things are running smoothly as time goes on.
Over time, you’ll start seeing what you can cut from your to-do list and what problems you can fix. The sooner you get these worked out, the sooner you can continue working on your product.
MyParkingSign’s team had to find a way to not only feature their new partner’s products on their site, they also began to plan marketing and outreach around the new idea—a process that’s still ongoing, as more and more people find out about the product.
What’s next for your team? Check in on your efforts, review your materials, and make sure you’re satisfied with what you’ve created. Tracking key metrics and KPIs are essential.
Once you’re settled, keep working. A product can’t market and promote itself. Continue to show off your company and what you’ve created. As your customer base grows and as you get more ideas, keep in mind how to improve your products, make them better, and keep your satisfied customers.
Did your business follow a similar plan to get your product to market? Why or why not?