Think before You Send
By Roger Brown
I contact a wide variety of companies for new product submissions. I do my own negotiating. I have friends who do product reviews in various companies. Given my longevity in the inventing industry, companies also contact me for ideas.
And, of course, I get a large amount of email from inventors asking for help or to review their ideas and sell sheets.
In short, I see and hear all sides of the inventing process. I’ve discovered sometimes inventors can be their own worst enemies. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to submitting pitches or new products:
1. Don’t send hand-written submissions. Even if you don’t own a computer most libraries have one you can use for free. If a library isn’t an option, go to FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s). If you send your submission via snail mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Don’t assume your target company will pay postage. And use Arial or Times New Roman font.
2. Do put your contact information on each piece of paper you send. That includes samples and prototypes.
3. Don’t waste a product reviewer’s time detailing how you came up with your idea. Focus on the benefits of your product/technology and why it will make the company money. Companies don’t care if your second cousin twice removed worked on your project for two years once he got out of prison.
4. Don’t use the phrase, “My idea is worth millions.” Let the company decide that.
5. Don’t use the phrase, “There is nothing else out there like my idea.” Most of the time you will be wrong.
6. Don’t say you have researched your product idea thoroughly when all you did was walk into a Walmart and didn’t see it on the shelves.
7. Don’t use the phrase, “Everyone will buy one.” This gets back to being realistic about the size of your market. Know who the target customers are. (See Rule #6)
8. Don’t send a prototype to a company unless it asked you to and is expecting it. Companies do not want to keep track of or be responsible for items they did not request in the first place.
9. Do be realistic about your expectations. Understand licensing royalties usually are about 2% to 5%. Greed can kill an otherwise profitable deal.
10. Do read and re-read everything a company sends you to make sure you understand everything in the documents. Don’t assume everything is fine and sign it. I send people my two-page non-disclosure agreement to read and sign prior to sending me anything for review. I have to include in my email an explanation to make sure they fill in their address on the top of the first page, because so many people don’t do it. This is in the first two paragraphs of the first page. So, if they are missing that what else are they missing in a longer document?
11. Don’t write a novel to explain your invention. Be concise and factual. No one wants to read a novel to get your idea. Be able to explain your invention over the phone or in person in 30 seconds or less. Practice your pitch until you can say it in your sleep. Look at the short blurb on the back of a book. Your pitch needs to be that short.
12. Do know your product. You should be the expert on your product. Never assume companies will just “get it.”
13. Don’t send your submission to a company on Monday and call Tuesday to ask when it will be sending you a contract.
14. Do follow rules when entering any invention contest to make sure your submission actually fits the contest criteria. Don’t submit a lawnmower idea to a soap company.
15. Don’t send your invention submission in care of the general bulk mail of a company. Get a specific person’s name in charge of that department – new product development, marketing, inventor submissions, inventor relations, etc. Don’t send “To Whom it concerns.” The only thing it will concern is the round file.
16. If you call a company asking for the person in charge of invention submissions, do be ready if you’re put through. This is not the time to forget pen and paper or fumble your pitch. If you get voice mail, leave a short intelligent message with your call-back number.
17. Do know the time zone difference of the location you are calling.
18. Don’t send a company any package that has special storage requirements, contains a live animal or flammable liquids. Real example: An Inventor sent his new food-sealing device with samples of food sealed inside. It was not opened until a week later, by security.
19. Don’t send a company anything you can’t afford to lose. Accidents happen and things can get misplaced. If it’s a one-of-a-kind item, you may want to send CD or DVD.
20. When sending email attachments to companies, do make sure it is in a program they have installed on their computers. Not everyone has Filemaker Pro or Microsoft Office 2010. Ask the company if it has a size limit on attachments. Moreover, some software automatically kicks out any email with an attachment that is not on a safe email list.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the June 2010 print edition.
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