The Anatomy of an Idea (or How to Get a Real-Life Education) – Part 2


in Creativity,Money,Personal Growth

The lifecycle of an idea is like throwing a pebble into a pond.

When you first toss it into the air, you wait expectantly to see how far it will go and then listen for the loud satisfying splash it makes upon hitting the water. You then quickly look for the next pebble to throw so you can relive the experience. In doing so, you miss the gentle, infinite ripples that followed the original launch.

And the ripples are where the real action is.

You have no way of predicting how far they will travel or if they will encounter an obstacle – like a big duck – that will totally disrupt or distort the process of forward movement.

When we last met, I had thrown my idea into the proverbial pond. I was going to manufacture a sock that would help keep toddlers upright. I had located knowledgeable people to help me and found a manufacturer. (Step 1 – Starting; Step 2 – Doing What You Need to Do to Find Out What You Need to Know; and, Step 3 – How to Share).

I was riding the ripples and had no idea where they would go. But, I was determined to follow them.

Step 4 – Finding a Name

Other than having the idea itself, the next best thing is coming up with a name for the company that will hold your idea. I spent hours in delicious brainstorming and filled pads of paper with options.

Although there are many theories on naming, my decision ultimately came down to the following:

  •  Was it appropriate for the children’s product industry? (aka the “cute” factor)
  • Would it help potential purchasers easily understand the business I was in?
  • Was the URL available?

When I found a name that met all three requirements, I snagged the URL and then did the next logical thing:  I hired a graphic designer.

I know what you are thinking. Shouldn’t the next logical step be hiring an attorney to make it all legal? Well, yes.

Once you have found a name that you like, you’ll want to make sure it is available for use in all the legal realms you want to travel (e.g., corporate names, trademarks, etc.). Otherwise, you may end up wasting tons of money on something you don’t have the right to use.

But, I really wanted to see the name in a logo!! That would mean I was really in business, wouldn’t it? So, I found a lovely designer who created the perfect look for my logo. At this point, I was well and truly in love with my idea. How could it not succeed??

The decision to hire a graphic designer early in the process was a fortunate one as you will soon see. I didn’t know it, but I would heavily rely on her services as the idea unfolded.

Step 5 – Making it Legal

Even though I am a lawyer, I have no interest in representing myself. I am no longer immersed in the intricacies of ever-changing laws; therefore, I firmly believe in hiring the best representation. It is money well-spent to know that an expert has oversight of the legal end of a project.

Most of us don’t have an attorney on retainer so how do you find one? Generally speaking, the attorney that helped your mom get a divorce isn’t necessarily the best fit to help you launch your new business venture. Here are few quick tips:

  •  Ask your friends and family for referrals to business attorneys.
  • Ask your mom’s divorce lawyer for a referral.
  • Check with business-related associations to see if they have someone they might recommend.
  • Contact the local bar association for referrals.

When you do finally connect with an attorney, it is ok to set up an informational interview to ensure they are a good fit for you and your budget. You’ll want to:

  •  Ask about their experience and what kind of businesses they work with. Small? Large? Local? International?
  • Get a sense of their interpersonal skills. Do they seem like someone you would be comfortable talking to?
  • Find out how they communicate information. How often can you expect to hear from them? In what format? Will you receive progress updates?
  • Determine what the fee structure will be.

In consultation with my attorney, I formed a corporation to serve as the legal structure for my idea. But that wasn’t the end of the legal work.

With any idea, it is helpful to know if you can actually execute on it. For example, does someone else hold a patent on your idea that you would infringe on if you went to market? Or, is your idea so unique that it is worthy of patent protection itself? Are there any trademark issues? Do you need to trademark your concept? And on and on. Your business attorney will be able to guide you regarding these issues.

In my case, I decided to hire a patent attorney to do an initial review of the concept.

After working with a patent attorney, I can see why they earn the big bucks. Reviewing patent claim cases is not for the faint-hearted. I had lost interest after reading the first one (where I had to re-read the paragraphs multiple times to make sure I even understood what was being said).

This was an expensive initial outlay but worth it to know that I could proceed with peace of mind.

Step 6 – Making the Baby

With the pesky legal details out of the way, I was ready to launch my line of socks. Or, so I thought.

The manufacturer I elected to work with had an eco-friendly facility in China with English-speaking staff, which was lovely since all of our communication was done by email.

All manufacturing begins with the approval of a sample or, in my case, a prototype since nothing quite like it existed.

Before starting down the road working with a manufacturer, especially one in another country, you’ll probably want to:

  • Get references from satisfied customers (if they’ll give them to you);
  • Ensure that you will be able to communicate easily and with accuracy;
  • Find out what it costs to get a sample made and how long it takes;
  • Find out what their minimum order requirements are as well as the price per order (e.g., do you have to order 100 pieces at a $1.50 per piece or 10,000 pieces at $1.00 a piece?); and,
  • Find out how long it takes for the product to arrive once you’ve placed your order.

The manufacturer kindly asked me to send them the specifications for the sock so they could make a sample for my approval.

Because I had no idea what I was doing, I got out a sheet of paper and drew them a picture – by hand. As I scanned the image into the computer, I happily envisioned them “getting” my idea and sewing my little sock together.

I have since discovered that if you want to manufacture a product, it is helpful for the manufacturer to have design specifications – drawings which include exact measurements, down to the centimeter – because they will only make what you ask them to.

The manufacturer was nice about it and simply asked me for the measurements along with my desired Pantone colors. Not wishing to reveal yet another level of ignorance, I told them I would get back to them shortly with the desired colors. In reality, I had no idea what a Pantone color was.

Pantone colors are used in the manufacturing world as a standard method for accurately communicating color selections. This piece of information wasn’t something I learned about in law school. Fortunately, my graphic designer was able to help me understand what was required and also helped me convert my hand-drawn sock picture into an acceptable manufacturing schematic.

Soon, little pink and blue sample socks were winging their way across the ocean in my newly created UPS international shipping account.

What happened next?

Well, the ripples continue in Part 3. Watch for the next installment where I finally do some market research, consider what my business plan might look like, and make some tough decisions.

I'd love to pop into your inbox. Subscribe to get blog posts, an occasional newsletter, and other good things.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tess Giles Marshall July 6, 2011 at

This is great, it’s like following a detective story. Looking forward to part 3!

BTW, if anyone in the UK is reading this, The Law Society (UK governing body) has a network of solicitors specialising in small to medium businesses, and maybe more helpfully a number of downloadable guides dealing with issues around starting a business in the UK. Links are here:


Andrea Olson July 6, 2011 at

Hi Tess -Thanks for the great UK information. The whole experience was a bit like a detective story so I’m pleased that it is coming across that way! More episodes to follow. :)


Lisa Marie Tsering July 6, 2011 at

This is great! My mom is looking to take her idea to market and I will be passing these articles onto her.

Also, as a self-employed graphic designer I am wondering how you went about finding a designer to work with. I am striving to build my business around small business owners, entrepreneurs and artists and would love your perspective on the process of hiring a designer.


Andrea Olson July 6, 2011 at

Thanks so much! I’m so glad you liked the information … lots more to come.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: