Got the bug to take a big idea all the way to market? Taking an idea from rough drawing to a store shelf is probably one of the most gratifying experiences an inventor can have. But to get the most out of your valuable time and resources, following the advice of those who've come before, is a great idea in and of itself. The key to success in this enterprise is to properly lay the foundation; as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
There is no "one way" to take an invention to market for everyone and every invention, but there are steps that you can take to ensure the maximum likelihood of succeeding in your efforts to do so.
Step One: Define Your Product
Sure you know what your invention is, but do you know what niche it will fill or who wants your product or service? As you deepen your research, the idea you started with may very likely evolve into a more refined version of what you thought it would be. It's also a good idea to think about the adoption curve and how you can improve your product in subsequent iterations.
Step Two: Conduct Market Research
What similar products are on the market now and how is yours better or different? If you find yourself unsure, invest in one or two books on inventing, and look at the online courses and columns that pertain to taking an invention to market. Look for resources that focus on how to make money from your invention, not just how to patent it, which you can learn about on the United States Patent Office's website. This will lead to the next phase of market research, namely, determining who your competitors are. Where do they manufacture their products and where are they selling? Look into how they got their products to market and understand the tools of the trade (sell sheets, copyrights and other intellectual property protections). Also check for complementary businesses, which can come in handy when/if you seek collaborators or distribution. Conduct feasibility studies, but don't underestimate the anecdotal; casual conversations are more intimate and occasionally more revealing than megatrends. By simply talking with individuals, inventors can learn a lot about their potential audience's needs and how to position their product to appeal to them (Source: marketing a new product from Innovate).
Step Three: Develop Your Prototype And Protect Your Intellectual Rights
Though it may not be as elegant as you'd like, developing a representational diagram or prototype is highly recommended as soon as possible (date the prototype for future reference). Though exuberance is understandable, it is advisable that you exercise extreme prudence in discussing the idea, prior to an approved patent. Should you disclose the idea to a third-party without a disclosure agreement, you have one year grace to file your application (within the U.S. only).
Step Four: Define Your Marketing Plan
There's more than one way to market: either license your invention to another company or design and manage the business yourself. If you opt to approach companies, they're not likely to sign non-disclosure agreements, so look for companies that you trust. If you choose to do it yourself, there are reputable licensing agents that can help you find a suitable manufacturer for your invention, for a percentage of the royalties.
Step Five: Draft Your Business Plan
This final step will be the culmination of all the preceding steps, so the more attention and diligence you put into them, the better your plan will be. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask so-called "dumb" questions, recognize that it is far wiser to ask now then to backtrack later.