The Anatomy of an Idea (or How to Get a Real-Life Education) – Part 3


in Creativity,Money,Personal Growth

It would be wonderful if ideas unfolded in neat, sequential steps. If they did, then you would know exactly what you were supposed to do next. But ideas usually don’t unfold neatly. They wander. They sputter. They stall. They take off in furious spurts only to stall again.

Although I am outlining my sock project in terms of steps, be assured these steps did not always happen sequentially or in the best order. The idea was leading me and I was feeling my way.

At this point in the story, the sock project has been moving along fairly well:  helpful resources have been located, names chosen, legal details sorted, and the first sock – the prototype – is being born in China.

Behind the scenes, I’m discovering how much I really don’t know.

Step 7 – Getting Smart (or Who is Going to Buy This Thing?)

Before investing any money in manufacturing a product, you should have an idea if anyone will actually want to buy what it is you are selling. And, more importantly, if anyone will buy it at a price where you can make a profit – because that is the point, right? You actually want to make some money.

Enter market research.

There is a lot of very good information out there about how to do market research. There are even companies you can hire to do it for you.

I didn’t do the greatest research before I started down the path of manufacturing the product. As you might imagine, this is not the best plan. Really.

When I had the idea, I knew I would want to buy the product if it were available on the market and it would solve a problem that my child was having while learning to walk. Although I was a member of the target audience (a good place to start), it didn’t provide me with nearly enough credible information.

There are lots of ways to get handle on your market. Here’s how I did it:

  • I identified potential products that could be perceived as similar in nature and defined how my product was an improvement and/or different.
  • I visited numerous stores and identified where my product would fit on the shelves.
  • I cornered moms picking up their toddlers at the daycare facility my daughter attended. I shared the idea, told them what the product was intended to do, asked them if that was something they would buy, and, if so, how much would they be willing to spend and why.
  • I visited shops specializing in children’s clothing and toys where I spoke with shop managers and asked them whether they would be interested in carrying such a product as well as what they thought a comfortable wholesale and retail price would be.
  • I traveled through market showrooms and spoke with sales representatives to learn what they thought of the idea and where my product would fit best.
  • I used Google key words to determine if anyone was searching for the type of product I was considering selling.
  • I secured market demographic information from magazines whose readers would likely be interested in my product.

As I said, this kind of research is best done before you spend money on getting a product made. Thankfully, my research suggested good market potential for my little sock since I had already spent a significant sum on preparing for and getting a sample made.

Step 8 – Defining Your Strategy

Once I felt comfortable that a market existed for my product, I had to consider my strategy for getting the product to market. I had to have a plan.

You can have a great product but if you don’t have a distribution strategy – an idea of how you are going to get it in front of the consumer – you aren’t going to be making any money (which is the point, remember?).

To hone in on your strategy, key things to think about include:

  • Who is your ideal customer and where do they shop?
  • What will the price point for your product be? Retail price? Wholesale price?
  • Do you want to sell it yourself – either in physical location or online?
  • Do you want to sell to distributors and/or work with sales reps?
  • Do you want to keep your product fairly exclusive or do want it at every big box retailer in the country?
  • Do you want to stay local or go international?

Lots of questions. Lots of options. The strategies you ultimately choose will depend on your product and the goals you have for your business.

What option did I choose? I landed on starting small with an online store, positioning the product for higher-end children’s boutiques, and letting the concept unfold organically.

Speaking of concepts, I have never written a business plan – for anything. Perhaps it is merely a matter of semantics, but I have opted to create concept papers. To me, a concept paper is more fluid. It allows me to set out what I’m thinking and how I see it unfolding. It’s a flexible, living document. And, it just suits me better personally.

However, that being said, it is extremely important to consider and understand all of the elements that go into what formally constitutes a business plan even if you never sit down and write one. Knowing how you will finance your business and understanding the basis of your financial projections is critical not only for your own purposes, but also if you ever want to seek outside financing from a bank or investors. They will require a business plan so it is best to know what goes into one.

Now that I had a plan, all I needed was the sock.

Step 9 – Reaching the “Uh-Oh” Point

There is a point with every project where all you can say is, “uh-oh.”

I now believe that it is best to reach the “uh-oh” point early and often. It helps you identify challenges and opportunities that will save time, effort, and resources.

I reached my uh-oh point the day my first sample arrived from China.

I will never forget the excitement I felt as the UPS truck pulled up at my door. I ripped open the package and unwrapped the tiny bundle within. A single pink sock filled my vision.

A sock that looked nothing like it was supposed to – at least according to the vision I had in my head and what I thought my schematics had conveyed.


It is a given that a prototype is just that:  the first of its kind and something to be tweaked and shaped until it reaches perfection. But, when it is your first one, you may have some slightly elevated expectations as I did.

After I recovered from my shock and disappointment, I quickly rallied and notified the manufacturer of the multiple adjustments that would need to be made. They indicated they would make the adjustments.

What I didn’t realize at the time is the cultural implications of having a sock manufactured in another country. My wonderful manufacturers wanted to please me and so they worked in the most positive of terms to assure me the sock could be made according to my desired specifications. Everything could be done as I wished.

After several more sample rounds, the product still didn’t look the way it was supposed to despite the best efforts of my manufacturer. It appeared the sock could not be made in the way I wanted.

Uh oh.

I had a great idea but no product.

What happened next?

Learn how I adjust the plan, travel to Germany, and attempt to work with new laws.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rita July 11, 2011 at

Andrea, I am just loving this series of posts. I’m learning tons, and I can’t wait to see what happens with your sock (idea). Picked up a book at the library just this week (by chance): The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin. Not sure why, as it’s about selling crafts and I don’t make any, but the book wanted to be checked out. It’s also full of tons of good information about starting any kind of business–in a way that’s accessible and non-threatening to someone like me. Just like this series. Thanks to this book and your series and my brain, I’ve got some ideas about how you might market and promote these socks. Hope they will be available soon…


Andrea Olson July 11, 2011 at

Thank you, Rita! The sock project was a fun adventure … I’m looking forward to having more of them. The learning was incredible – not only about the process of getting a product manufactured but also what I found out about myself. Stay tuned!


Rita July 14, 2011 at

For me just thinking about the idea of dipping my toes into some kind of freelance business is intimidating enough. Manufacturing a product feels overwhelming to me. But your posts make it seem not-so-impossible. Like any big thing, it’s a matter of just taking one step at a time and realizing you only have to figure out the next right one–not all of them at once.

Found a site recently you might like: Take care–


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