What to Do With a Great Business or Product Idea

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Have you come up with the next Popiel's Pocket Fisherman? Something even cozier than a Snuggie? A search engine that out-Googles Google?

We are a nation of inventors, so there's a good chance--well, a chance anyway--that you might come up with the Next Big Thing. And if you do, then what? There's a long and winding road between Point A (The Big Idea) and Point B (The Big Payoff). Here's a roadmap to get your journey started.

Are you sure your idea really is great?

For every iPod, Magic Bullet, Toyota Prius, Amazon Kindle or LightWedge there are countless dusty prototypes and forgotten business plans in attics and file drawers all over the country. The nature of inventors and creative types is that they often build something they think is fantastic, just for the joy of creating.

Do Your Research

This means you have to do market research to understand the dynamics of the industry into which your product fits. This can include surveys, which can be done very inexpensively on the Web; focus groups of consumers to determine how they react to your product or idea, and most importantly, competitive analysis to determine what choices consumers have, other than your product.

A key benefit of competitive research is that you will find out if it's really you who has the Big Idea or whether someone else also has it. There's an old adage: if you're thinking it, someone else is already doing it. That may be fine, because your solution may be better, but you still have to know what else is out there.

Protect Your Idea

Many would-be entrepreneurs are eager to tell the world about a new idea before they've done anything to protect it from theft by competitors. Ideas are very hard to protect and you should consult a trusted advisor such as an attorney if you feel you must protect a proprietary concept.