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

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in Creativity,Money,Personal Growth

By now you may be wondering where my tale leads. I have come up with an idea (now known in my mind as the great sock project) and have made inroads on realizing my goal of manufacturing a line of socks for toddlers.

Did I become a sock mogul? Or did I have more to learn?

As with any tale, this one has some strange twists and turns.

Step 10 – Knowing When to Change Plans

After going through many rounds of sampling with my manufacturer, I was at a complete loss. The little pink and blue socks still didn’t look the way that I wanted them to.

Uh-oh.

What to do?

I didn’t want to give up on my idea since I had now invested significant time and resources on the project. I was also in love with the vision of myself as a sock entrepreneur (just imagine that). There had to be a different way to get this project done.

I considered my options. I could try to find another manufacturer in China but I was pretty sure I was dealing with a really good one. If they couldn’t get the sock made, then it was unlikely someone else could.

So, I went with Plan B.

I must stress the importance of having a Plan B (and quite possibly a C and a D). Things almost never turn out the way you expect them to so you’ve got to keep your alternatives in mind. You’ve also got to keep your goals in mind when you come up with your alternative plans. If Plan B doesn’t achieve the goal, then it might not be the best thing (more on this in a bit).

In my travels, I had run across a company in Germany that made beautiful socks in keeping with what I had in mind but I hadn’t seen the brand in the United States. If I couldn’t get my socks made the way I wanted to, then perhaps this company would interested in having me be one of their distributors. A distributor is someone who secures a manufacturer’s product and then distributes it (or sells it) to various retailers.

Which is how I ended up in Germany at one of the biggest children’s products trade shows in the world meeting with representatives of the company to talk about Plan B.

How did that happen?

  • I wrote to the company several times until I was connected with someone who had the authority to respond to my inquiry.
  • I shared with them what I wanted to do and what I could offer including details about my professional background as well as my existing industry relationships and how those might be leveraged to introduce their product to the US market.
  • I asked to meet with them (sometimes you just have to ask).

The meeting went well and, based on my written marketing proposal and verbal presentations, the company was willing to work with me as a distributor.

No one was more surprised than I was at this result. You’ve heard the old saying about the dog that caught the car… now what? That’s exactly how I felt.

Step 11 – Understanding Customs

Of course, I didn’t know the first thing about being a distributor or how one actually brought products into the country. I envisioned the products arriving at my doorstep but how they got there or where they went from there, I had no clue.

Fortunately, someone always knows the answer if you don’t – it just takes a bit of persistence. I connected with a customs broker who sat down with me and walked me through the process. If you are considering importing a product, a customs broker is a good person to know.

My customs broker gave me information about the costs of importing as well as what regulations might apply to bringing children’s socks into the US.

It costs money to buy the product from the manufacturer. It costs money to package and truck the product from the manufacturer’s location to the nearest port. It costs money to put the product on a container ship and send it to its destination. It costs money to bring it into the country (tariffs and duties).

Equally important to these “hard costs” are the invisible costs of laws and regulations. You need to know what laws impact your product, if any.

You must know all of these costs in order to price your product and ensure that you are making a profit.

In my case, new stringent laws had been passed that required testing of all children’s products entering the United States to ensure their safety. The laws were murky and the costs were unclear but had the potential to be significant.

In running the numbers, I determined that my profit margin as a distributor would be very slim – especially when factoring in the uncertain costs of product testing.

Uh-oh.

Step 12 – Making the Right Decisions

With any idea, you have to remember why you started down the path in the first place. Why did you want to do it? What got your heart racing? What was the point??

For me, the beauty of my sock project was in creating something useful and lovely and then sending it on its way into the world. It was my baby. My idea.

My goal was to sell my sock.

I lost sight of my goals when I wandered down the road of pursuing a distributorship. As marvelous as the company was, their sock wasn’t my product or my idea and my heart just wasn’t in it.

And, your heart has to be in it 100% to make it through the tough times. If you aren’t on fire about your idea or what you are doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it because you won’t make it through the numerous challenges that will undoubtedly arise.

When I asked myself if my goal in life was to distribute socks, the answer was a big “NO.” If the answer had been yes, I would have figured out a way to overcome murky laws and other things to bring a new brand of children’s socks to the US market.

But it wasn’t. So I didn’t.

I let the sock project die.

Was I sad? Yes. The death of an idea is like the death of a relationship. You have to let go of all of the things you hoped and dreamed. Of all the good things you imagined like how it would change your life and who you would become as a result of all that effort.

Was it all a big waste of time? No. I got one of the best educations I could have had and met so many interesting people that are now part of my friend-network. And, it was way more fun than three years of law school.

Would I do it again? You bet. I’m just waiting for my next idea to arrive.

My dear readers thank you for re-living this journey with me. As you might imagine, there is much more to this story but I couldn’t fit all of the details into the pages of a few blog posts. My hope is that you gleaned at least a few bits of useful information from my experiences.

Take on your ideas. You just never know where you might go.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Vanessa@Luxuria July 20, 2011 at

Brilliant lessons Andrea, that apply to any business/idea. These types of lessons you will never learn at Harvard Business School , they are only available from the University of Life ;-)

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Andrea Olson July 20, 2011 at

Thanks, Vanessa! I’m an avid attendee at the University of Life … love what I’m learning. :)

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Rita July 20, 2011 at

What I know about you, Andrea, is that there will never be a shortage of ideas for you. This is all just preparation for the next one. Thanks so much for sharing.

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Andrea Olson July 20, 2011 at

I do love ideas. :) You are absolutely right – each idea, each thing I’ve tried has paved the way for the next thing. Where it all leads, I don’t know. What I do know, is that embracing my ideas and interests has lead to very rich, full life. Thanks so much, Rita!

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Ronna July 21, 2011 at

Such a telling tale – full of drama, plot twists and turns, a heroine, multiple “villains,” a once-upon-a-time, and no real happily-ever-after. Seems like life, doesn’t it? And that’s what I love about these posts…it’s your story, your journey. Yes…about socks; but more, about life. A multitude of learnings…

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Andrea Olson July 21, 2011 at

A rich ride for sure! Thanks, Ronna.

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