“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
Hi! Welcome to Active Art. This website is a space to share some of my product designs, art, YouTube videos, and POD designs (print on demand). I will be adding and updating things over time so don’t be a stranger and come on by to visit now and then.
At the top of the page, you will find a listing of different pages that are dedicated to different projects. The blog will feature a variety of topics and discussions about art, the process of developing a product, and other related topics. Please join the discussion!
What is a unique gift that does not have to cost a lot?
Writing a story.
You can write a story for them to read. You can write a story to be read to them.
You can write a bedtime story with deep meaning. You can write a fun rhyme.
You can write it on notebook paper or type it out. Maybe just record yourself reading it.
I chose to write a story and hire someone on Fiverr to illustrate the book. I did not pick the the most experienced and costly person I could find but someone whose samples were in a style that fit the story. There are people who will do watercolor paintings and some that stick to digital drawings.
The illustrator sent me the files in different file formats. I needed to make some changes. Once it was uploaded to KDP, I needed to make some more changes. I believe that in transferring the files from Adobe illustrator to Photoshop to Acrobat several times I must have compressed the file at least once when I saved it. The color of the images does not look exactly right. I will wait until the author’s copy gets here to edit. First, after days of staring at it, I’m tired of editing. The way I am processing the images takes each one through 3 different programs to get the format and sizing correct. There may also be another issue with the book that will not be noticeable until I am looking at the physical copy.
I did have fun making it and am already planningbookstwo and three. Now that I have done it, I am sure the next time will be easier. There are people on Fiverr that you can send the book to and they will return a PDF file ready for upload.
If you are not doing a picture book, handling the files may be a little easier but I am betting the first time you upload it you may need to tweak your format.
There are places other than Amazon and KDP to publish your book. Teespring even has a way to set up a digital book now. I have only tried a regular image, so I am not sure how their book program, works.
KDP did have different price options. Distribution settings influenced the price minimums of both paperback and Kindle versions. There was something that seemed to indicate that because it was a picture book, there would be added fees for readers to download the book if you choose some price and royalty options. I plan on reviewing my choices and playing with the options to see if there is a better combination, but this really was intended to be a gift for a specific little one.
This was my first time publishing a book. I pondered throughout if hanging out with writers on social media/IRL was going to turn me into a writer. I could hear tweets in my head about issues I was coming across as I went through the process. To my friends that write the books with the words, I give much respect. A 32 page picture book may be as close as I get to your language artistry. Surprise!
A short post for this busy week. Keeping designs simple can often be a key to success. New products do not have to have the kitchen sink thrown in. I have seen some beautiful and elaborate packaging from Etsy store owners but how much does that add to the cost to the product? Elegant, simple, and functional packaging may be better. If your margins are good enough to spend extra, would branded freebies be a better choice?
I have one digital design that has outperformed every other listing I have across print on demand sites (numbers sold). It is just one word. It uses one color. I used the POD website’s editor to make it.
You want to get your amazing product idea manufactured. How do you find the right manufacturer?
I mentioned in an earlier post, “What Product Idea Should I Develop“, that I spoke to someone at a company that makes similar products and they told me that I would have better luck looking oversees for a manufacturer. I will put a list of resources at the bottom of this post to give you some leads that I did not end up using, but first, I will talk about my journey.
For all of my ideas, the first place I begin a search for manufacturing is local. Internet searches, with various relevant search terms, will let me know if local is an option. I like the idea of local; support the community, able to visit the site, less shipping costs, easier delivery logistics. I thought I found a company that could make one art tool idea but it fell through. I have recently begun to research baking companies and there are some in my state and several around the country that are able to take your recipe and scale it to small or large batch. There are also private label food packers that have products you can order and add your branding. Finding someone to make the Chair CaneTM was not easy, until I found Alibaba. On this site you can browse through all sorts of products. You can order a product, order a product for a private label brand (putting your label on an existing product), customize an existing product, or work with a manufacturer to develop your own, unique product. Some companies will have a mandatory minimum for products but you can find some that will sell 1 item. Those are, generally, higher priced, existing items.
–Side note: it may be worth it to check out AliExpress or Alibaba for anything that you are shopping for that you think has a high markup and you do not need right away.
I narrowed down which manufacturers I would query by looking at their product lines, what materials they work with, reviews, response rates, and if they were a part of the Alibaba Trade Assurance program. Trade Assurance is a program that holds your payments until after your receive the product or after a certain amount of time after shipping is confirmed (Ocean freight shipping takes a long time. I believe my payment was processed a certain number of days after confirmation of receipt by my freight forwarding company).
The company I chose to work with, was able to manufacturer both the metal and rubber components of my product. They had mostly positive reviews and were the right size. They were big enough to handle large orders but not so big that I would need to order a crazy high number of units. My first order was for 500 units. They offered smaller and larger orders. The smaller the order, the higher the cost per unit. I messaged them through Alibaba and have only used that messaging system to negotiate and discuss the product to ensure that there was a record of everything.
Working with the manufacturer to create my product
The first thing that had to be done was translating my drawings to engineer drawings so molds could be made. There were a few rounds of back and forth with drawings to get the measurements and design the way I wanted it. I started with a sketch that I had made for the patent attorney There were measurements, angles, shapes, and descriptions. The first drawing I received back had some measurements that would have decreased the function of the product. I corrected those and tried to provide a range of possible measurements to allow their engineer to choose what would work best for the machines and the materials. Some measurements were a little different but I did not correct as it would not change the function.
Once the design was settled, they made the molds and 3 samples. They did need to rework the first mold to make the end result better. They did that correction prior to making the final samples and communicated to me what was going on with the process. The samples were mailed to me and we started to work on the box design while it was in transit. The printer software required Adobe Illustrator file format and I used the free trial that Adobe offers. The company I used does not make boxes but they found a company local to them that does. The price of the boxes was acceptable. I probably could find slightly less expensive boxes, but they were able to look at the box samples, send me pictures, descriptions, and their recommendations on appearance and thickness of the materials. Later, during the full 500 unit run, they were able to assemble the product and pack each box.
The samples they sent looked great. I did have one issue with how the product functioned and did not want to move forward with the production if it could not be addressed. I sent some pictures and a video showing them my concern. They were quickly able to present solution options that I agreed should fix the issue.
The sample box and new sample product were mailed out. I will want to adjust some things on the next run to improve the box design but it was a go for production.
The samples that were mailed to me were all relatively small packages and the manufacturer arranged the shipments. There were some delays in these shipments. I have no idea if the delays were random, regular events or if COVID-19 was the cause of the delay. I have my guess. The full pallet shipment was also delayed. That may have been due to the increase in number of shipments coming to port at that time. I am planning on discussing the freight forwarding process in another post. I still get a headache just thinking about it; however, most of the headaches came from me just having never done it before and being introduced to new terms and considerations.
Websites to Explore for Information about finding a manufacturer
I had this great idea. It was the precursor to the Chair CaneTM . I made a prototype at home. I was so sure that it was going to work that I contacted an intellectual property law firm before the glue was dry. Thankfully, they did not return my call until the next week. Over the weekend, I tested it and it failed miserably. I reworked it a few times. All were failures. By Sunday, I realized I needed an entirely new approach. The new idea came quickly and I was ready to go by the time the lawyer called.
The easiest way to create a rough prototype is to find parts or an object that are close to what you are creating. If you have an idea for a better broom, then why not start with a broom and modify it? The first Chair CaneTM prototype was created from a product that was already for sale; modifying how it was put together; then using a little heat gun and other tooling magic.
Connectors seem to be an issue with every project that I work on. I search far and wide, in stores and online, to find things that allow me to attach one part to another. Tapes and glue work well for static parts but if something needs to be adjustable or be able to attach and release, it gets more difficult. I have used several “close enough” clamps and straps. Unless you have money to burn, contracting a special device to be made for a project that may change by the time it is delivered, should be avoided. If you do take it to production, the manufacturer you choose, may be able to help.
PVC pipe comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can be cut and ripped with hand held tools or a Dremel saw. The MVP of my supply box is moldable plastic. It comes in pellets or sheets. You heat the plastic in hot water or with a heat gun and can mold it into almost any shape. Once it cools back down, it is solid. I have drilled into it but I would recommend finding a way around that if possible. The drill bit starts to heat up the plastic and it becomes moldable again; or just really sticky. If you do need to drill into the plastic, pack your patience and take breaks every few seconds.
I encourage home improvement store roaming and creative internet searching. I occasionally find items that inspire an improvement in a product design. Here is a list of some of my other DIY invention toys to get you started:
Aluminum wire: soft and moldable by hand (often used to make jewelry)
Electric Saw and router (Dremel was on sale)
Scissors, razors, knives
Heat shrink wire connectors
Mask, gloves, and goggles: safety first! Makes sure to have a mask rated to your activity
Clamps: variety of sizes and types
Zip ties and rubber straps
Lead weights (I used fishing sinkers to weigh down the moldable plastic for one experiment)
Work table(s)-leave your kitchen counter alone! I have a home made, wood, work bench that was gifted to me years ago, a folding table, patio table that was on clearance, and a garage sale rolling work table.
Anything is game, as long as it is legal and you are safe with it. Not a bad idea to have a fire extinguisher around and keep a phone in your pocket.
The short answer is, no. I would wait until either you have a large amount of savings or your product is making enough to pay your living expenses. Quitting your 9-5 is more about timing than a yes or no answer.
I started to develop this idea when I had a full time job. I was laid off in the middle of it and received a bit of severance pay. My plan was to work on the Chair Cane and other projects for a couple of months and then start looking for a job. It was nice to have that time. However, the joke was on me. About the time I began to look for jobs again, there was another round of layoffs at multiple companies and good jobs became hard to find. I was very lucky in having some savings, so I could take time to plan the next move. I was also almost a year ahead in my car payments with a loan that allowed for early payments. I was able to find a prn (as needed/part time) position that I really like and may grow over time. However, I needed more income to pay bills until it did grow.
List of 14 Side Hustles and Part Time Work That Made Sense and Some That Did Not
I will start with what became the most successful and dependable income sources for me. A couple product testing sites were the only things I tried that left me feeling scammed. Maybe I would include some YouTubers that tell you how successful they are but even their thumbnails have a scam vibe. There is a whole section of the internet that is devoted to telling everyone how to get rich quick. They make their money by clicks and some even sell courses. Almost all of the endeavors helped me to learn a skill or lesson that has been useful as I work on other projects. My first two ads for the Chair CaneTM were made on Canva and TikTok. I learned about both of those while I was working on something else.
Pizza Delivery – I applied to a few places, interviewed at two, and started at one. You get a regular schedule and, with tips and mileage, are paid well over minimum wage, depending on the shift. The down side compared to something like Uber Eats is that you get side work and you may be asked to leave early or stay late depending on business. They have the final say on your schedule, not you. Side work is something like dishes, sweeping, restocking, or taking the trash out. I am still delivering pizza and do not plan to quit any time soon. I like the crew and managers and the money is good for a job where my car does most of the hard labor. I have some chronic fatigue issues left over from Lyme Disease and other things, so energy expenditure is an important consideration for me. I also wanted a job that would leave my days mostly intact so I could accept assignments from the prn job I mentioned above. Be ready for nails in your tires. I can drive the same number of miles for other jobs but pizza seems to be a magnet for nails. Maybe it is just my area.
GoPuff contract driver – This company has a warehouse full of convenience store and other items. There are no side jobs or inside work. You get an order and an address and you deliver. The tips are not nearly as good as pizza but the company pay structure is higher. The location I work at is not real busy (yet). I usually have time to work on other projects, like the paperwork for my other job. Sometimes I just walk circles around the parking lot for exercise. The down side of this job is that it does not provide a reliable income or schedule. Every week you have to sign up for shifts and you need to be quick and have a good phone connection or you will not get shifts that work with your schedule. They let drivers swap or drop/add shifts as needed, so you may be able to pick up shifts, or drop ones you don’t want.
Stock Trading – This one is clearly high risk. Early on in my adventure, I sold all individual stocks because I did not want to risk money that I needed in the short term. I also had a bad feeling about what was going to happen over the next year. (This was around October 2019.) The money I had in the account was left over from when I had invested after the housing bubble crash. Buy low, sell high came in to play again during the Corona crash. There was a low cost bank stock that I was familiar with that gave about a 30% gain post crash. It is a relatively stable stock and pays dividends. A cruise line stock made about 40%. I watched it for awhile and got used to its high volatility pattern. I bought and sold that stock a few times and paid a month’s worth of bills with the gains. The market is less jumpy now and I worry about another dip so I have pulled most to cash and will see what the market does around the election and the virus/vaccine. If you see the market take a huge drop and have a few bucks to risk, many platforms have no cost trades available. Please consult a financial professional regarding any risks and options about investing in stocks. Many people say timing the market is not a good long term strategy, or even a good short term strategy. This is not stock or investing advice, just my story and experience. There will be a tax cost at the end of the year.
Print on Demand product sites – I have seen all kinds of people claiming to make thousands off sites like Teespring, Zazzle, and Society 6. Some of those people have staff or use Fiverr to hire out designs. I wanted to increase my experience with art and design so I did not hire any designers. I did run a few FB ads promoting products. The ads would get a lot of clicks but I am pretty sure that I never made a sale through them. I have made sales on each of the sites and as an affiliate for Zazzle. I am not rolling in cash. It was the type of money that helped me pay for supplies for other projects.
Product Tester – This one is more for random money a few times a year. There is a brick and mortar testing company within driving distance to me and that is the one that works for me. I have tried various online product testing/survey sites but they never resulted in any revenue. They seemed like a scam. They ask a bunch of questions to see if you qualify for a study and then I was never chosen for one. Every product tester will ask you screening questions but the studies at the websites I tried were over the top. It was like their questionnaires were the study.
Etsy – I got tired of Etsy and the fees and the saturation of competing items. Some of the products on the site were too underpriced to be coming from a real artist that is paying for supplies and shipping. It seems one way to be really successful on there is to develop a large social media following and to have patience as your site builds up. I ran out of mine. It is an easy platform to use to get your work out there but it just wasn’t a solution for me.
REV.com – On this site, you type the closed captioning for videos. They give you some training and then you are able to start. There are different status levels based on how many projects you complete and how accurate they are. I started doing this to make a couple of bucks and to improve my typing skills. I did not last very long and only completed a few projects. It is competitive to claim a project that is relatively easy. By easy, I mean clear audio with speakers that are easy to understand with the audio used in the film. Videos that do not include a lot of technical terms that are industry specific. When a speaker lists a bunch of names, you need to be able to spell them correctly so I would end up doing searches for people at the academic institutions that were mentioned on the video. I type slow enough that it took me a long time to finish a video. One complicated video I worked on for hours and missed the deadline. I did get ten dollars for it but I determined that I was better off doing other work.
Fiverr – I really just started on this platform so I do not know if it will work for me yet. I hired someone off of the platform to do the voiceover for the video on the first post in this series. You can find someone to write an article, edit a video, create a logo, or a number of other projects. I am trying to sell a service using my personal training certification (that I received after being laid off) with the injury rehab knowledge that I also have. I have stopped short of providing an actual medical service because I have no expectation that the website is HIPAA compliant. If you have a skill that you can sell, you can post a gig.
Pawn Gold – I had an old, broken gold necklace that I had not worn in decades, and a gold pin that an employer gave me over 10 years ago. I was not sure they were worth anything but had some time one day to drop by a couple of shops. The first gave me around $100 for the gold pin I had almost thrown away. They only offered a few dollars for the necklace so I kept it. I happened to be driving past another buy gold place on my way home and they gave me $60 for the broken, light weight necklace. Not a sustainable income source, but if cleaning out some drawers can make a few bucks either through pawn or an online marketplace, why not?
YouTube with affiliate links – I did not start the channel to make money but after listening to all of the YouTube gurus, I though I might be able to get a few bucks. Huge earnings fail for me for several reasons. I did learn a lot that helped with other projects, including product demos to present to companies and customers.
Ebay – I tried to sell a couple of paintings and 2 used respiratory suction machines. I tried to give the respiratory machines to charity when I got them but no one would take the used medical equipment because of the liability. The only thing I got off Ebay were scammers asking me to text them and one guy who bought the machines but never paid. It was free to list, so it was just a waste of time, not money.
Twitch – I never really thought that I would make money but I am listing because some people do. Skilled gamers have the best shot on Twitch. I would guess that if someone has a big fan base on another social media sight, that they could get a fair number of people to follow them over. Once people are hanging out watching the same person, it is like a chat room with its own rhythm. I think I may have had 2 people watching at the same time once, but I am pretty sure it was just random people stopping by and moving on. I was doing acrylic pouring with only one camera on the painting. Most users that I saw have a camera on them and one on the art or game video feed. It is a really interesting site and I learned a TON about streaming and how I absolutely do not want to have hours long interactions on any platform. It is exhausting. The camera and microphone work helped me with a remote job interview for a job I did not get (see photo of interview set up.) I learned about how people are willing to give small amounts of money, in the form of coins, if they appreciate content and bonus if the giving of a coin causes the creator or a programmed bot to interact with them. YouTube live and TikTok live are the only other places I have seen it.
Care.com – I tried this early on. This site reports to provide a service matching people that can provide in home services to people who need them. The most popular services I noticed were house cleaning, home health aide, and companion care. They can provide background checks, user reviews, a service for payroll taxes, and help mediate disagreements. The reviews of the actual website are mixed. I paid for a background check and built my profile. My skills and my offer were not a great match for what people generally go to that site to find but I thought there was a good size overlap in customer base. I also thought that it would be a nice site to refer people to if they were interested in having me do work for them. I wouldn’t need to build a website and worry about the payment arrangements. I tried to apply for a couple of job listings and never heard back from anyone and no one approached me after their searches. I had zero results. When it was time to renew I pulled my profile off.
All the other options I have not tried – On demand work aps may be really good but I have not tried any of them. This is largely because I live in an area that is spread out. I would probably need to drive to other areas to make it really worth my time. I may still try one at some point. I have heard that being a notary can be a good side hustle but I am pretty sure you need to market your services and network. I may try it someday but for the moment, I am choosing to put my energy budget to other projects. There seems to be an almost endless list of things that you can get into. Depending on your skill set, equipment, and energy, you can try anything (legal). Yardwork, painting, handyman, personal shopper, house cleaning, care giving, dog walking, power washing, sales, social media star…
BONUS Extra: Found money – Check for unclaimed property in any state that you have lived or have ties to. I went looking because I knew that there was a HSA account that had been closed and the money sent there. When I called the bank, they could never find my account. Eventually, the account is determined to be abandoned so they send the funds to the state. The first time I searched the state’s database, I found money from the state’s toll system. There had been a few over charges. Clearly, they knew where to bill me, but issued my refund to the state. I have now received both checks. In every state I searched, there is no charge. If you find a claim, just fill out a short form and one day a check shows up in the mail. Nice!
I look at side hustles a lot like fishing. You drop several lines out and see what you can catch. You may find a sweet spot that fits you well and you can then focus only on that. Chances are, you may need multiple lines in the water to catch what you need. Diversify your income streams until your product is clearing enough profit.
I am NOT a lawyer and this post is not legal advice. It includes my experiences and considerations in developing a product. Please do your own research and consult a lawyer for legal advice. I have used an online legal service and two lawyers in the process of developing the Chair CaneTM.
I will start with something for those who want to sell a new product on Amazon. Seller Central has a brand registry for new brands. If you are selling something that does not exist, and the brand does not exist on Amazon, you need to register a trademarked brand. Trademarks can take several months to a year to be officially registered. The option that I took, was to use the Amazon Accelerator program that connects new brands with intellectual property (IP) lawyers. These firms have negotiated a rate with Amazon for filing a trademark application. If you use one of these lawyers, Amazon lets you register that exact brand within days of filing for a TM. You are then able to list your brand and product. The service is quick and you can be listed in days. If the TM is rejected 6 months later, your product may be removed but, I believe, they do not remove the brand if your are in process of responding to the USPTO office action. The lawyer you chose is still your lawyer, and (at least mine) offered to handle any office actions or any other IP needs at an hourly rate. The Amazon “negotiated” TM package rate is high compared to DIY but seemed within reason for experienced, professional help. I also needed to have a professional seller account to have access to this program. Professional sellers pay a monthly fee. If you end up selling only a few items a month, a professional account will cost you more than the basic account. It feels a little pay to play but I believe that it ended up helping me obtain better protection for my product.
I have filed for TMs myself through Trademark Engine twice. The first time, it was for a two word phrase that I was using in a clothing design. I filled out the application how -someone who doesn’t know what they are doing – would fill out a TM application. I also failed to do anything more than a Google search to research existing TMs. There is a chance that I could have started over and refiled with better information but the cost was adding up and I was already losing passion for that project. The second time I filed, it was rejected before they even needed to research it because I included words that were not supposed to be in a particular section. This one was filed before the one through Amazon and was related to the Chair Cane project. I am considering re-filing. Responding to the action is not really an option for a couple of reasons. The main is, I wrote the initial application so poorly. It is also for something that is not essential to the success of my business. Using the IP lawyer for a trademark resulted in a much stronger application. He asked a few questions and offered advice on information to include. I provided information about the product to help him construct the application. The form is clearly written by a professional and not me. I imagine the person who reviews applications can recognize when someone with experience writes the application. I have a few months to wait to find out if it will sail through or require a response.
The Provisional Patent Warm Blanket
A provisional patent holds your place in line. It gives an official date marker saying you got there first. You can also flex a little with “patent pending” to let people know that you are serious and they should not take you as an easy mark to steal from. You can move forward without one. There are some situations where it may not be needed, especially if you have a relationship with someone at the company you are pitching. I pursued two provisional patents through two different paths. They were for two products that I wanted to pitch to companies right away. I wanted to have some comfort and protection when disclosing the idea to potential corporate buyers and to manufacturers. I tried to avoid filing too soon because they are only good for a year. That year goes fast. My plan A was to have a provisional and sell the idea prior to its expiration. The buyer would then be responsible for obtaining a nonprovisional, or they would be paying for it through their offer.
Technically, you can fill out the USPTO form with no help. I used LegalZoom for the simple, art product I was working because I needed some guidance. I researched wording on patents and what type of information should be included. LZ does help but I liked looking at examples on the internet.
For the Chair Cane, I researched law firms and various IP options near me. I live close enough to a few big cities that I figured finding one I could drive to, if needed, would be a bonus. My first phone call with them seemed like a screening interview. Could they help me and how? Was I a nut? What type of nut? I had to agree to a consulting fee to have my assigned lawyer set up an appointment for a phone consult. When an agreement was made to move forward with the patent application, the fee was applied to that work. The fee was not too high but it was enough to scare off people who were just fishing around for information and not serious about a project (my take on it anyway.) I had chosen a law firm with a good reputation but also one that works with large corporations. I didn’t even have an LLC at that time and made clear that my budget was limited. The initial consultation involved me describing my situation and him offering options and estimated price ranges for the options. One benefit of using a lawyer when drawing up a provisional patent is that when you use them later for a utility patent, it is less costly and takes less time. If you do the provisional yourself, you run the risk of a lawyer not wanting to or not being able to file a utility patent based on your provisional. Once you file a provisional patent, any subsequent non-provisional patent applications for that product must have similar information. If you tweak your idea outside the bounds of the original provisional patent, then you cannot use the date from the provisional on the non-provisional (consult a lawyer to make sure you have the correct information for any IP issue; this is not legal advise, I am not a lawyer). If you did not include the right information in the original provisional patent, the lawyer may need to start from scratch. You would lose your place in line.
Like the provisional patents, you are able to DIY. There are very particular guidelines that need to be followed and that includes illustrations and how you use them. I did enough research to provide my attorney with much of the needed information he needed in a format that did not require too much editing. You may be able to save money if you fill out a patent application and then hand it to a lawyer to review, perfect, and file.
When I would consider not getting any IP patent/trademark protection:
The biggest reason that stands out to me is timeliness. Is the product idea something that will be irrelevant in a few months or year? Is it part of a trend? I would want to get that to those markets as fast as possible. I could still get a DIY provisional or non-provisional through the internet but I am not sure it would be worth the filing fees and effort. By the time someone stole it and got it to market, the trend might be over. It could be a risk to go without any IP protection, but if you need to push your product out as fast as possible, it could very well be worth the risk.
The next reason would be if I had no way of funding it but I was determined to develop the product. If I had to chose between a product and a patent, I might chose the product. It would depend on the product, the landscape of the product sector, and the particular situation I was in. If my goal was to license/sell the idea, then the patent might be more important. Would I need a functioning sample for the pitch? In tech and other worlds, this all may be different. I have no specific knowledge about programming and coding.
Possible intellectual property mistakes I made, or as HR Sally would say: Opportunities to consider
I did not file for a trademark early enough. If I had filed earlier for a TM, it may have been registered by the time I was ready to list on Amazon. I could have saved time and money going to Amazon with a registered TM ready to go.
The trademark and provisional patents I filed for myself, through online sites, ended up wastes of time and money. It was too early to really need them. They were also likely filled out in such a way as to be virtually meaningless.
I hired a lawyer, and from a large firm. This may have made it more expensive than it needed to be. There are people you can hire to help that are not IP lawyers, but I really wanted someone that I did not have to stress over being part of a scam or incompetent. What my attorney charged, was in line with what various price estimates on blogs and IP websites quote. Everyone I spoke to, from the initial screen, through final filing of the utility patent, all seemed honest and up front with the process and the cost. I never felt like they padded hours or came up with reasons to charge me more than necessary. If anything, I felt that they went out of their way to be efficient with the filing to avoid having to send me a huge bill. As a new, small client, they knew I wasn’t going to make it rain, but they treated me right. The lawyer I used through Amazon was upfront and transparent. Tip for cost control and to be a good client: Do NOT pepper your attorney with emails and phone calls. Good communication is important but over communication is costly. They get paid by the hour. They make a living by having “billable hours”. If they told you that something was going to be done, trust them and be patient. If they have a question/need more information/something came up, they will contact you. If you were expecting something and did not receive it, by all means call. If something changed on your end and they need to know, of course, call them. Just don’t nag simply because you are restless.
With patents/trademarks, and state filings for forming my business, I hired a lot of it out. Some of it went through online help like Legal Zoom and Trademark Engine. Some of it went through lawyers or other live humans. I know my strengths fairly well. Detailed, legal forms I have no experience with are not it. I never quite understand what they are asking for and get stressed out. It also takes me a really long time to finish complex forms. Other people may have the time, desire, and ability to just pop over to USPTO and fill out the forms, but that is not me. I researched the form and requirements and took it as far as I could go before having a certainty that I would mess it up if I did not have help. Know your strengths. Know when to ask for help.
Next in the “Idea to Launch” series: should I quit my job?
What do you have a passion for? Is there something that would make your life better?
This article includes my considerations for which invention idea to prioritize and a list of qualities that can make developing a product easier.
While researching product development, most of the online gurus I came across recommend finding a small way to alter an existing product and selling that idea to a company. After all, they already had manufacturing and marketing processes in place. Unfortunately, my product idea was for a wholly new product. Better chairs and bedside commodes already existed. The trouble was a lot of good but shaky bedside commodes, like the BSCs that insurances cover, tend to be what many people have at home.
My original plan was to try to license or sell the idea to a durable medical equipment (DME) company. I approached several companies. I approached a few of them multiple times, believing that as the product was further along in development, they may be more likely to respond. There was one person that called me back and we had a real conversation about the product. This person was from a smaller, local company. (The company was not that small, but I am not sure small companies exist in the DME space.) He pretty quickly determined that it was not a project that he was interested in because it did not fit his target customer. He was nice enough to stay on the phone and discuss things. The gentleman asked if I had a prototype sample from a manufacturer. When I reported that I only had the garage-made, rough, prototype because I was unable to find someone to make it, he told me that almost no one in the USA does and that almost everyone goes oversees to have DME manufactured. He also told me to make sure that I got it tested. The long conversation was really helpful and I am so grateful that he took the time to make that call.
Early in the development of what would become the Chair Cane, I was laid off from my job. With the extra time, I started to develop at least 3 different products that related to art. All three have now been placed on the back burner because of different obstacles and the desire to focus on just the Chair Cane. If I had pivoted more quickly from trying to sell the Chair CaneTM idea to focusing on its production, it would have advanced more quickly and would likely have been for sale months earlier.
I saw a better and more elegant version of one of the art products on Instagram. It’s price point was about $300 (3x) more than what mine would have been, so I may go back to it. One idea was an accessory for the first. The third art product idea was developed to the point of provisional patent and reaching out to a manufacturer. Selling/licensing the idea was my preferred path. I approached a few companies and made private, custom YouTube demonstrations for each to review. Because they were private, I could watch the view count closely and I knew that one company looked at their video. It was a simple design and I thought it could be easily produced for low cost. There was a local company with the right materials and tooling that agreed to create a sample. After months of “sorry, we have not done it yet,” I sent an email with a short deadline for seeing progress. The person I was working with was on vacation over that time and the whole thing was dropped.
Not getting calls or emails back was disappointing but an expected likely outcome. One company tried to be nice but their process ended up cruel. I had reached out through email and it was forwarded to the person/team that accepts pitches. They did email back an encouraging letter and included a phone number to call. No one ever answered another email or phone call. I had this vision of a phone sitting on a table in an empty, small, dark closet. Occasionally, an intern might be sent there for punishment.
List of product qualities that would make inventions easier to take to market:
It doesn’t already exist
People want it, the more, the better
It solves a problem, is entertaining, or makes a task more efficient
Small change with big impact on existing product
Small product; easy and relatively cheap to produce, store, and ship
Tech/game/app that everyone can download and is addictive
Tariff free and tax exempt
You can develop rough prototype without hiring a specialist
1-The Invention is a Novel Idea
This seems intuitive. If you invent something and are going to try to sell it, you need to research and make sure that it does not already exist. Many inventors have a good start on this because they went looking for something they needed and were not able to find it. Look past an Amazon search. Dig deep on Google. Try a variety of search terms. Go pages deep on the search. Maybe you just do not know what it is called. Maybe the product exists, but in a different specialized area. I looked on photography supply and mechanic sites for one of my art related items.
Even if you are unable to find a preexisting, similar product, do not be surprised if one pops up on a patent search. You can use Google Patents to begin your search. It may also be worth hiring someone to do a detailed search for you. I used Legal Zoom to do a patent search years ago and one of the findings was almost an exact match. It was actually my idea but better. With the Chair Cane, I did the initial research myself. When it was patent time, I did ask the lawyer that I was using to complete a detailed search (that he suggested). More intellectual property talk on a future post in the series. You should have more than a good story before getting a patent. Develop the idea more first.
2, 3- The Product Invention Fills a Need
While you can develop a product and then spend time convincing people they need it, filling a need that people already recognize is an easier haul. I did not perform proper market research for the Chair Cane. I recognized and was aware of my choice at the time. Myself and the the patients I saw, through my home health work, were the target market. I saw the need. I wanted this product to help the people I worked with. I did have some discussions with colleagues about the problem and if they had any ideas. I really did not start off looking to build a product or open a business.
The other projects have not made it past rough prototype stage. That is to say, my personal art set up and supplies include the products, but I have not approached anyone else to see if they would want to use them. Nor do I have a suitable sample for them to try out.
4-7 Think Small, Cheap, and Easy
As mentioned before, if your invention idea is a small but meaningful change to a product that already exists, you may be able to skip most product development steps and head straight to the pitch. Find the right phone number in the target company’s marketing or product development department and shoot your shot.
If you actually need to produce a prototype, sample, and/or case of products, size matters. I am envious of all the sticker shops on Etsy. It can be a difficult challenge to develop a unique digital design that sells, but they can store it in a folder and mail it in an envelope. Again, it is not easy, but the resource cost is much lower than for larger items. Programming an app or game that people like is really difficult, but digital downloads do not need a warehouse with a forklift.
8-You already have the knowledge and skills needed to make a rough prototype
This can include a detailed drawing that has enough information for someone else to be able to pick it up and know what the product is and what it does. It is better to have a functioning model. You can test it out yourself. You can show your manufacturer, lawyer, or investor what it really looks like and how it performs. I am currently working on another product in the healthcare realm that I will probably need to hire an engineer to get a working prototype. My PVC and elastic band version is just a big paperweight right now. To introduce it to a manufacturer without the materials and physics at least partially worked out, would be a waste of time.
Going back to an important point raised in the question at the top of the post, what are you passionate about? Developing a product invention takes some time, even if you skip my mistakes and pour 100% into the project. Design problems may come up that need to be fixed. Filing for patents and trademarks can take a long time. It may be difficult to find a manufacturer that will work with a small, new business. There is time to wait while the product mold/sample is being made. Production, shipping, and almost every step requires patience and learning a new process. If you have experience in developing a new invention idea into a product or a licensing deal, it may be easier but it is hard to imagine it would ever be considered easy. Going through the whole process for a product that I did not care about would have been excruciating.
This is the launch of a product and a blog series. I saw a problem that needed a solution and developed a product that is now for sale on Amazon. This series will explore the steps I took along the way. It will include lessons I learned and mistakes I made. Taking a page from Franklin Covey, the series will begin with the end: the product.
The Chair CaneTM
The Chair Cane is used to decrease the shaking and unsteadiness of bedside commodes and other chairs. Here is a quick video that tells the story:
The expanded, written version of why I wanted to develop this new product:
I work in home health care. The main reason people receive home health is because their mobility is limited. A portion of this population finds it difficult to get on and off chairs and low toilets. Bedside commodes (BSCs) or 3:1s can be very helpful both for the person and for their caregivers. “3:1s” can be used as bedside commodes, shower chairs, or placed over an existing toilet. They are height adjustable so that anyone who finds it easier to get on and off a higher surface can use them. They also have arms that can be very useful in helping them push up or slowly lower down.
They sound great, right? They are. However, there are some problems with them. Raising the center of gravity tends to make them less stable. There are wider and more stable BSCs but they are more expensive, may not be covered by insurance, and they take up more space. Space not always available. Over the period of a year, several people I knew fell when the BSC tipped over. There were other people that declined to use them because the shakiness made them fearful of falling. My job is to problem solve and the Chair Cane is my answer.
Topics that are planned for this series include: how to decide on a product to develop, making a prototype, how to protect intellectual property, finding a manufacturer, freight forwarding, listing on Amazon, social media, and the lessons waiting for me to learn. If you have specific questions/topics that you are interested in, please let me know. The next post in the series will drop tonight. The rest will be published over the next few weeks.
Recently, I made a digital birthday card on Canva for a friend.
The dog sketch was created by manipulating a photo I found with an image search and then using that manipulation for a drawing. It was almost a tracing but the real life dog I was trying to depict looked a little different, so it was not an exact tracing. It is still clearly taken from the photo. I reached out to the photographer on Instagram and asked permission to use the drawing commercially. I am not sure I will, but I was thinking about it. She was nice enough to agree. Here is the beautiful original photo by Emily Rieman:
There has been increased discussions on Tik-Tok and other platforms about artists stealing images and/or ideas for Etsy or other websites. Some of it is legalistic and obvious. Some of it is not. Posting a homemade Mickey Mouse necklace may get you and/or your item banned from the selling platform. There are some companies that do not seem to mind “fan art”. Without permission, that seems a bit risky to me. It takes a great deal of time and effort to create some of these pieces. To invest that much in something, not knowing if your inbox will be stuffed with a letter threatening legal action, is too much for me.
To be clear 1) I am not trying to parse out legal definitions for copyright and I am not giving any sort of legal advice. This is more of an artist ethics discussion. Please add your thoughts in the comments. 2) Getting inspired by another artist is not what I am referring to in this post. Watching what other people are doing on social media and the internet is amazing. I may watch an intriguing approach or color combination that sparks a train of thought that leads to an idea for a new project. That is different than copying their work. 3) Experimenting and playing with techniques and ideas that other people use is a great way to practice. Can you draw something like that other guy drew? Give it a try! It is great practice, but it is not appropriate to then sell that image.
One area of ownership that I had not initially considered was using names in descriptions or tags. I mentioned Oprah one time in a description. Teespring pulled that listing down in seconds. A couple of sites would not let me publish something that had a tag of “COVID”. I have one design that brushed on a couple of these ideas:
This is from a spray paint vs acrylic pour video I did last year. The anvil stencil I used was made by finding an anvil that was for sale, manipulating the photo, tracing, and then cutting. There were multiple product photos with the same silhouette and the end product does not come close to what a sales listing would look like. I watch the show “Forged in Fire“. Rarely have I been able to write the name of the show on the same page as the art. I knew that it would not be okay to try to use the show’s name to get exposure for the video or to sell the art. I may have # them on IG and Twitter, but not on YT (YouTube) or POD (print on demand) sites.
Confession time: While thinking about this post, I pulled down a couple of designs that leaned on learn to draw type images. I manipulated the drawings and turned them into my own creation, but not enough for me to be comfortable continuing to use them commercially. The Easter Bunny I pulled because of the pose. It was a unique pose among the images I searched through. The second one I just warped around and stretched out a little. I just tried to find it in Google images and was not able. Maybe it has been taken down, or maybe I do not recognize the original reference anymore. Right click search found nothing for the nose and rose and only fish for the gold one. I originally drew the rose for a breathing exercise illustration not to sell. So I slid into that mistake before I realized.
I do not remember her name, but one Tik-Tok artist stated that it is best to take your own reference photo. (Another made a good point that using someone’s personal image without their permission is wrong.) That would be best practice, in my opinion. I would broaden it a little and say to create your own reference. If I paint an image of what another artist created, it would seem appropriate to try to contact that artist. I have created references by cut and pasting different images into one. Think of it as cutting hair out of one magazine, eyes from another, adjusting the shape and form of each individual bit, and then manipulating the final image into something even more different. Is that an acceptable reference?
One area I need to get a bit better at is researching an idea before I roll with it. A saying or phrase may pop into my head and I think it is unique and clever. I may have forgotten or never seen that someone else has made it a whole thing. Researching before I create would save some time. I guess that is part of why I love to do abstract art. No detailed references are needed. It becomes more about color, texture and mood. Driving around and watching the world is my jam.
Where do you draw the line? Has anyone ever copied you? Have you ever been called out for copying a piece/idea?
I had some COVID era time on my hands and decided to straighten up my office. I found an old SD card and popped it in Lightroom. The canyon photos are from a trip in 2013 to Page Arizona. It is amazing how many colors can be pulled from the walls of the canyons. Slight changes in camera settings can change everything. Editing can take you to another world.
The Hawk with his lunch was taken the same year, but from a boat on the St. Johns River in Florida. The card was not full. I am not sure how the two trips ended up on the same card, but it was fun to revisit that year.
Do you have any old SDs around? Maybe a journal with memories that have faded?