Common Sense Inventing - Educational articles to help Inventors make informed decisions

A sell sheet is basically your calling card to a company. It is used throughout all industries to show a company your products benefits. There is no one size fits all when it comes to sell sheets. The formatting can be anything you want it to be. They can be very professional looking with graphs and illustrations or photographs. They can be on high gloss paper or paper with a dull finish. The major point of a sell sheet is to convey your products benefits in a short and concise manner on one or two pages of letter sized paper.

The sell sheet is comparable to the blurb you see on the back of a 300 page novel, but with illustrations. When you pick up a book and read the back jacket it gives you a short overview of the books storyline. You don’t need to read the entire 300 pages to get an idea if this book would be of interest to you. Based on that blurb the Writer is hoping to peak your interest in their book enough to buy it. The same can be said for the sell sheet. You are using this format to get your idea in front of a company representative with the hopes that they will read it, understand it, see your products market potential and want to know more.

One question that pops up all the time regarding sell sheets is how many pages do you make them? IN my opinion no more than two pages. There is no written rule saying they can’t be longer than two pages, but based on my experience two pages or less seems to be the best approach. The reason goes back to what I stated above with the book example. Do you want to read the entire novel or the short blurb on the back of the book to get the person’s idea?

Another reason for the two pages or less applies to the statement of getting your verbal pitch down to 30 seconds. It is all a matter of time. The person hearing your pitch or reading your sell sheet does not want to waste a lot of time trying to “Get” your idea. The quicker they “Get” the idea and understand it does a couple of things for you. One, if they “Get” the idea quickly and like it you are that much closer to getting the licensing agreement you are wanting.

The second is if they “Get” your idea and its usefulness quickly they can also see that the public may “Get” your products benefits just as quickly, which means sales for them and you. No matter how good your product may be if the company feels they will have to educate the consumer before they “Get” the idea, they may pass on it. Depending on the (ROI) Return on Investment calculation the company will decide whether it is worth the cost of educating the public on the product or if it just isn’t going to be worth the time and investment.

Can the company get the public to understand your products benefit using a graphic on the package or will it require a TV commercial to get the benefits across and drive sales? These are all things that are considered by the company when you present your idea.

So, what exactly do you put in the sell sheet to get their attention? You want your sell sheet to put your best foot forward. If you send your sell sheet via email make sure you send it in a format they can open. Often an Inventor will use software they have on their computer to make the sell sheet, but forget the receiver doesn’t have the same software and won’t be able to view it. You run into the same issue if they have a different version of the software than you do. This can hamper certain features of your presentation not to work or can rearrange your formatting making everything look confusing. Most people have the ability to open jpegs and PDFs. It is best to ask the receiver if they have a compatible program before sending them your sell sheet via email. You need to ask if their company has a size limit on what will be allowed through their server.

Below are some things you need to make sure are included in your sell sheet:

Make sure your contact information is on every page

Put your best short description of the products benefits

List any patents or other documentation your product has that would be of interest to the reviewer.

Make sure any photos or illustrations you have are clear and give the best visual of your product

If you have a website make sure you list it if it shows other products you have licensed

If you have a prototype or product samples available use this phrase “Prototype/Sample available upon request.”

Things you don’t want in your sell sheet are:

Telling them how long you have been working on this in your garage. (They don’t care how long or where you have been doing this. They are only concerned about will it make a profit?)

Letters from your family members telling the company how much they love your idea.

Making demands on how much you want for your idea. (Get the company interested in the product first and then you can negotiate terms once they start discussing contracts)

Don’t tell them the product has to look exactly as it does in the sell sheet or there is no deal. (Companies modify products to fit their consumer base. If you can’t see your products design changed then you need to produce it yourself and leave companies alone)

Don’t overload your sell sheet with graphs, charts, and a lot of mathematical statistics. (If you think more detail is needed to prove your product works as you claim add a note that more detailed information is available upon request. Get their interest first before you hit them with tons of information).

Give your finished Sell Sheet to a person you know will give you their honest opinion no matter if it hurts your feelings. Make sure you have signed a non-disclosure first to cover both of you. Don’t tell them a word about your product beforehand and simply let them read your Sell Sheet. Once they are done ask them to tell you about your product and what it does and see if they get the product. Do they miss seeing the benefit of the product, how it works, seem unclear exactly what you are trying to “Get” across to the reader? This is a good indicator that you may need to tweak your Sell Sheet.

As with anything this complicated I have not covered every situation, but this is a good place to start.

How much time do you spend Watching QVC and HSN? You would be surprised how much you can learn taking time to watch and really look at how they try and pull the viewer into the benefits of the product verbally and visually. Look at the difference how they pitch the product when they have just a few minutes to spend on the product versus when they have 20 minutes. You can use this as an aid to writing your own sell sheet and putting your pitch together to contact companies.

Watch a product that comes up and record it with the sound down. While it is playing think what you would say to get a person’s attention if you had to pitch that product. Write them down. Then replay the segment and see if you used any of the points they did and did they miss some points you saw they didn’t. Were you able to “GET” the benefits of the product and how it worked without the audio playing?

Another benefit of this exercise is you get to see a number of the current products that have come out. It could spark something in an area you had not considered to go after.

Here is an exercise I do daily that you may want to try and see if it doesn’t help you keep your mind active and fresh. Every day I randomly pick a topic, product, problem and think on it throughout the day to see what solution I can come up with or different twist/use. My focus for today is Flower Pots. Yesterday it was fire hydrants. You will be surprised how well it works and you will be thinking about it even when you are working on something else without trying hard.

Another interesting exercise you can do is listen to the ads you hear on the radio while driving and see which ads catch your attention and why. What in their pitch got your attention and what did it make you see visually in your mind?
While you are watching TV and doing the exercise with QVC and HSN you might want to do the same exercise with ASOTV pitches. You can go here and watch multiple videos on their products and use the same method to see how you would have pitched them.

This is a great practice to start looking at everything around you differently or as a challenge to keep things fresh and your mind active. Who knows what idea it could spark and find success.

Okay, let’s face it we all have ideas we think are great and we want to see them get to market. For some reason when an Inventor has a bad idea they think if they explain it to you more and more it will make the idea better. It doesn’t. Just because your family and friends say they love your idea does not mean the rest of the country will want it.

Too often I have Inventors send me products/ideas for review that just will not pass the “Better Than” question. Meaning the idea has either been done to death and they bring nothing new to the market that could interest the consumer, their idea is not giving the consumer any advantage over current products, its cost to bring to market is more than the consumer is willing to pay or the idea is really just plain bad to the point no one will really want it. An example I like to use is “Edible Sneakers”. Sure you could patent it, you could have them made, but would anyone really want to purchase them?

This is why I am always pushing Inventors to do their due diligence on their idea long before they start spending money on it. Unfortunately you have a lot of Inventors that are in love with their idea and will proceed no matter what you tell them. I prefer to avoid learning the hard way, but that is just me. I have been fortunate to get my inventions licensed in the toy, tool, kitchen, eyewear and nuclear industry spending less than $100 on each and some as low as $8. I used a NDA and a sell sheet, no PPA and no patent. So it can be done. You just have to do your homework upfront.

PPA’s (Provisional Patent Application) can be a great tool when used properly, but in a large number of cases the Inventor does not get the full use of the PPA. Why? Because a large majority of Inventors rush to file a PPA without looking at the biggest disadvantage a PPA has, which is time. You have 12 months from the time you file before it expires. (Disclaimer: I am not a patent lawyer so this is not legal advice, just my opinion).

Talking with numerous Inventors over the past 17 years one of the biggest pitfalls Inventors hit was they ran out of time on the PPA and now have to make a decision on filing a Utility patent and don’t have the funds to proceed. Or they decided to refile the PPA and lose the filing date as well as there can be issues with the expired PPA being prior art.

Inventors get an idea and are reluctant to wait to file the PPA for a variety of reasons. Some reasons such as; the fear someone will steal the idea, someone will file before they do, think they will lose millions if they don’t, get pressured by an invention submission company making them feel if they don’t file today all could be lost, friends and family tell the Inventor this is the best idea they have ever seen and everyone will buy one once they get it to market.
These reasons above and others prompt the Inventor to skip a crucial couple of steps such as; doing research to see what is already out there, competition on the market, does their idea answer the Better Than question, is it already patented. Then come the inevitable question once they have filed the PPA “ What do I do next?”

Once they have filed the PPA the clock is ticking. They have not considered do they want to build a business around the idea or license it to a company. If they do decide to build a business around the idea some realize that they are not ready to build a business due to all the challenges that represents or they realize they don’t have the skill set to do this.
Some that decide to license the idea to a company realize they don’t know the first thing about contacting companies, which companies to contact, what type deals they can expect, what questions to ask a company they approach with their idea.
By the time some of these Inventors get an understanding of the direction they want to go whether that is building a business around it or licensing 5 to 6 months have gone by leaving them six months on their PPA to utilize.

If they decided to license the idea they are now learning that some companies can take a couple months to review, evaluate, test and respond back to the Inventor if they have interest. Others may ask for a sample which the Inventor may or may not have at the time and will lose more time having this built. They realize their idea needs to be refined due to the feedback they have gotten taking up more time. Contacting multiple companies at the same time can save some time. But if you have a day job keeping up with this can be challenging. These are just some of the issues the Inventor needed to consider before starting the time clock. Same goes for building a business around your idea and working a 40 hour job at the same time can be a challenge they had not considered.

Inventors need to do as much of the legwork, due diligence, research upfront before they file a PPA so they can utilize the entire 12 months and have a plan on what they will do if the PPA is about to expire and they still have not found a company to license it or are still working the bugs out of their product and building a business around it. And don’t forget figuring out any funding you will need along the way and when the PPA expires.

I am not saying you can’t make it work. I am saying the more prepared you are and have an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses the better your chances and the more informed decisions you can make to help you find success.

Here is a response I have had Inventors give when you ask them “What makes your product unique to stand out in the market?” And their response is ” Mines better.” They fail to elaborate any further as if that statement covers the question. It doesn’t. When asked that question you need to be able to give actual facts why yours is better. Not “Everyone in my family loves it and would buy one if it was on the market.”

You have to look at your product and your competitors products and understand that if yours was to come to market you will be competing for the shelf space of the products already there before you. And you need to think about it from two different perspectives, the company you want to license and manufacture it. And the consumer who is going to see it on the shelf and make a decision to buy yours or the competitors.

Because you need the company to see the product as something they can produce for a reasonable cost, put in front of store chain Buyers and get purchase orders and sell at a margin that makes them money.

The store needs the consumer to see enough value in your product to purchase it so they make their investment back and a profit. Which prompts the store to order more and the circle starts all over. Every time that happens, YOU the Inventor, are making money.

None of these things happen if you don’t first get your foot in the door of the company by giving them a reason to see the potential of your product. So, you can see that just saying “Mine’s better” is not the preferred response. You need to explain yours is better because…………..and fill in the blanks. Your response should show you know your competition, their strengths and weaknesses, your strengths and weaknesses and why yours will come out on top.

Many Inventors come up with their idea and don’t research to see who is their competition and if their idea is actually Better Than those competitors. Then when confronted with the realization there are others out there they seem to push aside all common sense and still argue that there is a mass market for their idea.

Consider the corded phone versus the cordless/wireless phone. If you came up with the corded phone today do you think it would have mass appeal? When shown the cordless/wireless phone would you argue consumers will still want your corded phone more? That is the stance a number of Inventors take.

Better Than can also have to deal with educating the consumer. There are a number of products companies look at that they will agree are better than what is currently on the market yet they will turn it down because they can’t educate the consumer of its value on a blister card unless the consumer stops picks up the product and takes the tine to read the package and learn the benefits. Look at the MainStay line of products you find in Walmart. They are a basic flat piece of cardboard with MainStay written on it and the product attached to the cardboard. There is nothing on the cardboard explaining anything about the product. If you don’t recognize its value or use you will probably pass it by.

If you go to Bed Bath and Beyond you will see displays with a video unit running in a loop demonstrating the product. They are trying to get your attention and educate you on the products value. Hoping this will create product and brand awareness, increasing sales. These displays are limited in the store.

Look at HSN and QVC they are all about educating the consumer to create sales and buzz around the product. They take their time showing you the product and making sure you see all its benefits and value. They can do that because they are on 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Same goes for ASOTV products; they spend huge amounts of money to do the infomercials showing you how it is quicker, easier, etc and generate mass sales quickly. If they skipped the infomercial and just put the product on a store shelf you would not see the same sales because most consumers would not know the benefits of the product.

So you can see Better Than can be affected by the market it is targeting.