As a small-business owner, one thing you don’t lack for is ideas—they’re the key to your success, and you probably wouldn’t have struck out on your own without a surplus of creativity. Yet aside from innovation and entrepreneurship, just about every other aspect of developing a new product can pose an obstacle to the small-business owner if not addressed properly.
Some of these new product development challenges are directly related to the manufacturing of the product itself. Some are more related to the business side of things. Each can trip up a small-business owner—but can also be solved effectively with a little bit of planning and foresight, which is the goal of the points below.
Determining the right material for your product is one challenge. Acquiring it in the quantity you need is another. If you’re prototyping or producing parts in low volumes, your selected material may be cost-prohibitive or otherwise difficult to obtain in smaller quantities. Small businesses often will not have the capital or buying power to make large material investments, and it can be more difficult to purchase on credit without the resources of a huge company. Be sure to seek a manufacturer and/or material supplier that caters to small businesses and can work with you on these needs.
Once you’re ready to move to the prototyping stage, you may again encounter problems with production minimums that you can’t meet. Look for a manufacturing partner with no (or low) volume minimums, and be especially sure that you aren’t sacrificing the needs of your prototype to simply get it made. For instance, prototyping with 3D printing typically won’t have a quantity minimum, but you may be looking for a fully functional prototype—which is better suited to injection molding. Find a manufacturer that will get you exactly what you need.
High-volume production runs aren’t always the most cost-effective choice, especially if you’re working with a specialty product or testing a market. Remember: inventory is costly to maintain and cuts from your bottom line. Explore other options for manufacturing your product: Is it feasible to manufacture it as orders come in, with 3D printing, for instance? Can you price-compare on materials? Can you find a manufacturer with lower volume requirements better aligned with your needs?
Moving to the business side of things: as a small business, you may not have the full complement of marketers, business development folks, or even full-time accountants that larger businesses keep on staff. Product development steps like market research might fall through the cracks. Combat that potential oversight by relying on your own expertise: if you know your customers inside and out, you can’t help but understand your market as well. Think about their needs and pain points when developing new products.
Don’t forget to take the legal aspects of new product development under consideration. You’ll need to research existing patents to make sure that your next product idea isn’t protected under patent law, and depending on the product name (if any), you may need to conduct trademark research as well. It’s definitely not the most exciting part of the process, but taking care of it sooner rather than later can be a big help down the line.
Author: Matthew Davis is a team member at Revpart. RevPart is a custom rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services company. Matthew is an experienced product design engineer and Plastic Injection Molding design guru.