When PORTOPONG, the world's first inflatable beer pong table, was first conceived, we would take a photo of a prototype out with us to bars and sports events, and ask people for their feedback. The general comment made was "why didn't I think of that?" Then we'd ask them if they would buy the product and how much would they buy it for?
We knew we had something worth pursuing, but it wasn't these feel good comments or long nights playing pong in the pool that made the business happen. It was countless nights online reading and learning about how to build the back bone for our business and seeing if there was a market for the product online. If you have a similar story or an idea brewing for an invention or service and think it has merit, you're probably wondering what the steps are for turning it into a business.
So before you tell your boss "he can take this job and..." spend some time of your own researching the industry you're about to enter and developing your business model.
Test the Waters
Talk to people about your idea and see if you get awed or wowed reactions. Don't be afraid to show your idea off, this process of pitching your company's core product or service will only make you better prepared to pitch viable consumers and buying groups. Take the responses and group them together, see what age brackets said what, and if males vs. females share the same opinions. This process of polling the marketplace will allow you to tweak your idea and gain perspective on how to best sell it to the masses.
See What Else is Out There
Start with an online search to see how many places online your idea comes up. Jot them all down -- these will become your hit list for competitors to watch or places to try and sell your product once fully developed.
The more varied the keyword search the better you will know about the industry you're plunging into. For example: Don't just look up "socks", look up "socks for men", "sock trade shows", "foot accessories", etc. These words too will server a later purpose when you get into search engine optimization (SEO) for your website.
Look for trade associations and other organizations you can engage from your search results to gain more perspective.
Protect Yourself -- a Few Different Ways
Once you have proven that your idea could become a viable business, you need to look into protecting yourself and your idea with patents, trademarks, and copyrights just to get things started.
The basic rule for a patent is to be able to prove you came up with the idea first if you ever had to go to court. The cheapest way to do this, but also the least professional way is to make a copy of all your work, drawings, business plans, and any other important documents -- including that bar napkin with the hand drawing and note "don't forget = $$$" and put them into an sealed envelope and mail it to yourself but never open it.
Welcome to the "Poor man's patent." Why does this work? Basically the parcel is stamped and dated by the post office which by standards of the Unites States of America has been officially documented.
If you're looking at getting a patent, this can start to be more expensive and you will want the aid of a patent lawyer, visit USPTO.gov to browse existing patents and trademarks to make sure before you visit the hourly lawyer who will do this exact thing for you, you have already typed your company name in at least to ensure it is one less thing that will need changing.
Now that your idea has been safeguarded by the postman or a newly acquired legal team, the next step is to protect yourself from...yourself. A Limited Liability Company (LLC) will establish you the business vs you the individual. Not all companies need an LLC, some people can also look to establish themselves as a Sole Proprietorship ( SP) as well. With the established LLC tax time will be easier and you have the peace of mind knowing your business is a self-established entity.
A good source for learning about creating an LLC the most cost effective way is visiting legalzoom.com.
While on the subject of legal ease, another important legal document you will want to look into getting setup once your LLC is established is a Non Disclosure Agreement -- or NDA. This document will bind you and another party while discussing manufacturing, marketing, or selling of your invention. An NDA is important because it protects the business involved from stealing ideas or going off on their own, all defined in the document that will be signed by both parties. It is pretty common to ask people to sign an NDA and most manufacturers may even ask you to sign one of their own.
Establish Your Virtual Identity
When someone jumps online and wants to find your brand how will they find you easiest -- by having a simple and catchy domain name or URL, this is the part that comes after the www dot part. (eg. www.PORTOPONG.com). Try to consider the best domain name that will allow you to tie in your marketing and branding early on so when you do all your legal paper work you don't have to pay twice for any new ideas. Check for a domain name using whois.net.
If you're planing to accept credit cards over the internet the easiest place to go is paypal.com. Paypal is more than just a ebay-shop bank account, they offer business accounts that will allow you to invoice customers, process credit cards manually so you can take phone and fax orders, as well as generate easy copy+paste web buttons that can turn any website or WordPress site into a virtual store front.
Don't stop here. Now that you are empowered with the basics, spend some time reading more about each of these topics and studying the Small Business Association website to find out more the rules and regulations specific to your state.
Jerry Piscitelli is the co-founder of PORTOPONG LLC, the world’s first inflatable beer pong table company. He has used his entrepreneurial spirit to network with many brands in this non-mainstream industry to rapidly become a name brand.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) provides its members with access to tools, mentoring, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth. Our organization promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment.