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Some Strategies for Persuading Others to Share Your Vision


Question: A friend and I have developed a viewer that enables people with visual impairment to see objects through magnification. This concept has been around for years, but the schools, optometrists and foundations I've reached out to haven't seen how simple and inexpensive it is. What can I do with a great idea like this?

--Mike Leighton, Phelan, Calif.

Answer: Here is what I tell my clients about new products: Great ideas often get tripped over by accident. Regularly, it's an outsider--someone without credentials or knowledge of an industry--who stumbles on something significant. W.S. Van Dyne tried gold mining, lumberjacking and gunrunning before drifting toward the movie industry. Unhampered by a literary background or education, he became one of the greatest directors of the silent screen era.

However, when you are not an insider in a particular industry, you will always face an uphill battle in producing and marketing your idea, no matter how good it is, because you are not seen as having the right expertise and credentials. I call this the NIH (not invented here) factor.

To further complicate matters, the first application of a promising new idea, discovery or product is more often than not the wrong one. Kimberly-Clark developed an emergency hospital dressing that was used during World War I. Nurses discovered the dressing made excellent sanitary napkins, but the all-male marketing and sales unit back at Kimberly-Clark rejected this application as unpromising. When the company took a second look at the product, they renamed it Kotex.

If your product has so far been unsuccessful in attracting interest or attention, it may simply be that there is not a market for it in the arena you've been focused on. You may be able to discover a better application for the idea that will appeal to a wider or more promising commercial market. Think creatively about other ways the technology you've invented could be used. The real gold mine in your idea may emerge as a byproduct of the work you've done so far.

As you're working, always write everything down. Capture your ideas on a pad of paper or in a computer file so you won't lose it. Get feedback from groups of people who might use your product, and always listen carefully and courteously to what they say in beta-testing situations or one-on-one interviews. Do not shoot down heat-seeking missiles! Finally, always read back your group meeting or interview notes, because you are likely to find something of importance that escaped you the first time around.

--Ed Engoron, president/CEO,

Perspectives/Consulting Group

Inc., Los Angeles

Q: We are trying to grow our locksmith business on a very limited budget, and we can't find an effective way to market ourselves, especially to commercial accounts that would be repeat customers. What can you recommend?

--Lisa Allgood

Rockland Co., Corona

A: You want to target property management companies and landlords who will make you their regulars when it comes to changing locks and making repairs. I would recommend a regular direct-mail piece, targeted to the top 25 or 50 or 100 property management companies in your area.

You could start with a simple, fairly inexpensive folded brochure and make sure you offer some kind of discount or value-added service to pique the interest of your first-time customers. After that, your reasonable rates and quality service should be enough to get you repeat business.

Along with identifying local companies, find trade organizations for property managers and landlords and join them. Go to occasional meetings and conferences that your potential clients are attending and meet as many of them as you can. There is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings, handing out your business cards and shaking hands. Personal contact and getting to know people counts for a lot when they are deciding which company to use.

Another potential market for you might be real estate brokers, who often refer new homeowners who need to change their locks. As a woman business owner, you may find a number of women-owned realty agencies that have great respect for other women-owned businesses. It's easy to simply visit some offices in your area, shake hands with the owners, hand them your card, or leave a flier that describes your services and follow it up with a direct-mail piece. If the owner isn't available, take time to meet the secretary or receptionist. You never know who in the office will be asked for a referral to a locksmith.

I recommend that all small-business owners get a copy of Small Business Success, a resource guide for entrepreneurs available for free from Pacific Bell Directory. Call (800) 848-8000 and request a copy. It includes excellent articles on topics such as marketing, hiring and using new technology.

--Laura DuDell, president,

DuDell & Associates, Berkeley

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