Look Before You Leap: The First Thing You Should Do Before You Jump on an Idea

Look Before You Leap: The First Thing You Should Do Before You Jump on an Idea

I wrote the following article for another website but it ended up not getting used.  Still, I think it’s filled with some pretty decent advice (although I am biased) so I thought I’d post it here.  It doesn’t have as much of my “charming” personality as some of my other articles (like the one about your baby being ugly) — and maybe that’s why it didn’t get used — but hopefully those of you looking to get into this industry will find it useful.  Enjoy!

Got an amazing idea and you’re certain it’s going to be a hit?  Before you start building your first prototype there’s one thing you need to do to ensure your time and money are going to be well spent: a market audit.   Doing a market audit will help you answer two very important questions: (1) Is my item unique? (2) Is my item viable in the marketplace?

google searchAs a professional inventor the first thing I do when I have an idea is a simple market audit from my home computer.  I’m trying to find if my idea has already been made or if there is something that’s similar.  Searching Google, as well as Google Images, using a variety of keywords and phrases that describe an idea is a great place to start.  My next step is to search sites that are geared towards the product I’m trying to create.  For game ideas, I’ll look around BoardGameGeek.com as well as eBay and internet retailers that specialize in games to see what I can find.

If you come across your exact idea when doing a market audit, pat yourself on the back for having a great idea; unfortunately, this is where your journey ends.  If you just find similar products make a list of them.  Looking at the list, if you can still explain how your idea is different and better than the competition, you’re ready for the next step.

Travel to and explore a couple stores that might carry your product in the future.  Visit both large and small retailers, and try to find the aisle and place on the shelf where your product would likely sit.  This may be more than one location within each store.  Spend some time in the aisle and look at what’s around your chosen space.  Take notes on prices, package sizes and styles as these will be useful to know later in the development process.

store shelvesAnalyzing similar products can be very helpful.  Start by looking at the variety of prices.  Can your idea be made for a competitive price?  If your idea is going to cost 2-3 times the amount of similar items, it may not be viable in the market.  Will your item take up more or less shelf space?  A smaller item may appeal to retailers, whereas taking up too much space can deter them from carrying it.  Take your analysis one step further and look at what features are being emphasized by the competition.  Brainstorm ways to make your idea’s unique features stand out from the rest.  Ask yourself, “What is going to make a consumer buy my product instead of the one next to it?”  You don’t need to answer all of these questions now, but once you know what the competition looks like you have a better chance of succeeding.

Doing a market audit is a key first step to any idea development project.  Starting with a quick internet search can save you time, money and heartache from becoming invested in an unrealistic project or creating a product that doesn’t highlight unique features like it should.  Don’t skip this step!  The information gathered in this initial audit can help guide you throughout the entire development process.