Okay, so we’ve had some fun with handcrafted products and 3D printed products. Some people will be happy to stop there and make a living selling those kinds of items.
But if you want to take the world by storm, you’re going to need to create something more unique, and you’re going to need to mass-manufacture it in big enough quantities so that you can get it into stores and start making lots of money from it.
So where do we start?
Of course, we start with the idea.
This is going to be the hard part for some people, and it’s what will often be the stumbling block. To create something that will be successful, you need a unique idea with a ‘USP’ (unique selling point). You’re probably not going to be able to compete with the big businesses on price or marketing, so you need to come up with something original, or you need to use savvy marketing.
To come up with something original, you should still try to think about the ‘buyer persona’ – the person that you’re targeting with your items. For what markets can you gain access? What channels can you utilize to get your items out there into the real world? Once you know this, you can start to think about what category of product you want to create.
And it’s always best to ‘create what you know.' In other words, fitness products are best designed by the genuine ‘fitness freaks’ of the world!
From there, try to think about your own ‘pain points’. Think about common frustrations or irritations you have and then think about how you’re going to solve them in a unique way. This is called ‘scratching your itch.'
Other ways you can try to come up with new ideas in a given niche is to try combining two previous successful products. Alternatively, think about something cool that everyone undoubtedly wants but isn’t possible just yet – and then try to find out what the closest thing to that is that you could make.
But if none of this works, then you can go the route of creating a tried and tested product, and there’s nothing wrong with this approach. If you have a dedicated audience on your website, or if you can source your products cheaply… then you can market yourself and sell something with your unique design, or your unique logos, etc.
Designing Your Product
Coming up with just an idea though is not enough. What you also need to come up with is an actual product – as in you need to know how that idea is going to work.
Once you’ve done your design on paper, you then need to think about how it will operate and how you’ll be able to produce it. Enter: design engineering. Design engineering is perhaps best explained as being the nexus where design and engineering collide. In other words, this is where the line becomes blurred between form and function and where engineering decisions are going to start directly impacting on the user experience and the functionality of the process.
Industrial designers will often be responsible for the aesthetic, and ergonomic aspects of design, whereas the design engineer, will then work with the engineers and designers to create a much more detailed set of designs outlining how all this will work.
If you imagine any new product, then it's easy to see why there would need to be back and forth between the designers and the engineers. Imagine for instance a new computer – the design team might have an idea for how this should look and interact with the user, but they are going to be limited by the electronic engineers who know how large the components are going to be, how hot the device is going to get, etc.
The Engineering Design Process
Design engineering will often follow the 'engineering design process' which consists of several steps.
First, is research, which involves looking at the literature and research as it relates to the target market, to previous products, etc. From here will come feasibility, at which point the viability of the proposed project is discussed with the additional information now provided by research. A feasibility study will not just define a project as feasible or not – but will also look at how it could be altered to come in under budget/to be functional, etc. This narrows the scope of the project and leads to a further design phase.
Conceptualization starts next and will usually involve a concept study where the project is planned, and different ideas are discussed. These steps help to minimize error and improve the project's chances of success ultimately.
Some different tools are sometimes used to assist in this stage. These tools are intended to aid 'ideation' and thus to encourage the flow of new ideas through trigger words, brainstorming, and Synectics.
From here you then establish design requirements and then create a preliminary design with basic schematics, diagrams, and layouts. If this is successful, then the initial design can move onto a detailed design that can also include the creation of prototypes, models, and drawings.
In this stage, CAD (computer aided design) can be used to stress test the project to an extent and to find ways to reduce the costs by removing materials without negatively impacting on resilience. Finally, this moves on to production planning and tool design (the creation of the tools needed for production) and ultimately the production of the project.
This might seem like a lengthy process, but ultimately it is these crucial stages that help to prevent issues down the line and thus keeps profits high.
Starting to feel your stress levels rise? Don’t worry! I’ve used all the technical terminology here just to make sure you understand the process in detail, and you can discuss it if necessary (see the next chapter). But if you’re planning on manufacturing everything yourself, then it’s sufficient to do all these things ‘vaguely.' Just come up with your idea and then make sure you design what it is going to look like and how its function is going to inform the form.
Outsourcing the Design Process
Still got that headache? Don’t worry; I got you covered. It’s possible to outsource the process of designing your project and more specifically – to ‘crowdsource’ it (meaning that lots of people submit ideas).
CrowdSpring (www.crowdspring.com) for instance, is a website that allows you to find designers for your projects starting for as little as $7. So if you have your idea, and you’re not sure how to make this into a CAD file you can use, just head over here to get exactly what you need! The platform is geared specifically toward small businesses and entrepreneurs (like you!) and has given life to some popular products such as the Diet Wizard Wristband from Bluenova.
A similar option is CAD Crowd (www.cadcrowd.com). This allows you to run contests for CAD designers; wherein you pay only your favorite designer once several options have been submitted. There’s also a more traditional option to pay by the hour, though.
One of the very best ones for people who are absolute beginners though is Idea Bounty (www.ideabounty.com) which is a site that allows you to have discussions about specific ideas and designs. If you have nothing other than a specification and no idea how to go about it, then this site will be able to help you – and again, you’ll only pay the people who come up with the resources you want to use. Tons of big brands have used this site too, including Top Gear (which used the site to come up with ideas for covermounts for their UK magazine).
And for everything else – packaging, branding, etc. - you can always use the ever-popular 99Designs.com.
Is Your Idea Profitable?
Having a great idea is something that you should never underestimate. With the right idea, you have not only the power to change your life and that of others, but also the power to change the world. The right idea can get you passionate; it can make you rich, and it can make your life easier and better in all sorts of ways. Right now we have an idea of what's possible and what's not, but when we come up with a new idea, a new solution to a common problem, we can change this definition by creating new ways to do things and even creating entirely new things to do in the first place.
But if you want to create a business on the back of your idea, then it's not enough for it to simply be useful or even transformative - your idea also has to be profitable.
What that means is that your idea needs to be commercially viable - you need to be able to create it in a cost effective manner so that you can charge a reasonable price for it and still make a profit. Likewise, you need your idea to be attractive enough to other people that they are willing to pay that much for it - and you may also need it to speak to lenders and investors so that you can get financial backing to go ahead.
So how do you know if your idea is a possible business? How do you know if your idea is profitable?
Cost Per Unit
Well to decide whether or not your business is going to be profitable you need to look at two things in particular: your cost per unit, which tells you how much it is going to cost to manufacture, and your price.
For that first figure - the cost per unit - you need to make sure that you account for every single expense that you will need to make to create your products. That doesn't just mean thinking about the cost of manufacturing the item itself (which you can get from your manufacturing contractor). It also means finding out how much packaging and instructions are going to cost, how much you will spend running your business in that time and for labor, and how much it will cost to deliver your item.
Likewise, you also need to think about marketing, how much money do you want to spend on making your product known?
Once you know that, it's now time to work out a price and to see if there is any profit left over for you at the end of the day. Bear in mind that you will need to work out two prices - one being the 'wholesale' price that you offer to resellers, and one being the RRP that end users pay for your item. Bear in mind that everyone in that chain also needs to make a profit and that you need to keep your price competitive and do market research to ensure people are willing to pay it.
If you run these numbers to find that your product isn't going to earn you any money, then don't be disheartened - by tweaking a few elements you can typically increase your margins. And it's better to find out now than later!