Electronic Design

Entrepreneurship: Doing It On A Shoestring

You can create your own manufacturing business with little capital, test it with little risk, and expand it if the test is successful. Inventors who get rich do so from this method.

Your Product: Choose a product which can be developed and manufactured in small quantities, with little capital investment, particularly in tooling. Molds, dies, ASICs art and masks may cost many thousands of dollars. Large quantities might be produced at low-unit cost, but you won't yet know whether you will be able to sell those large quantities.

Some products can be made in small quantities, at much higher unit cost, but the investment loss is small if the product doesn't sell. Many contract manufacturers with short-run manufacturing techniques use inexpensive tooling. Among these are:

  • PC-board fabrication and assembly,
  • NC machining,
  • Template-guided machining and flame or laser cutting,
  • Plastic molding of small parts with standard mold inserts,
  • Plastic molding with aluminum molds,
  • Photo-etching,
  • Manual assembly,
  • Short-run stamping,
  • Printing,
  • Fiberglass and resin lay-up,
  • Photolithography,
  • Welding,
  • Painting and plating,
  • Packaging and shipping.

Most of these processes are provided by specialized shops. Some of them have surprisingly clever and economical techniques.

If sales are satisfactory, it then becomes relatively safe to invest in high production, low-unit cost, and tooling.

Marketing Your Product: It's a terrific idea to sell by mail order via the Internet. Before the advent of the Internet, mail order was the simplest way to start up the marketing of a product, but it incurred substantial costs in printing, postage, and mailing lists.

Selling costs via the Internet can be very, very small. Specifically, you can design your website yourself, including the pictures. There are many books and programs available to help you. There also are many consultants who will do this for you, at a price, with unlimited artistic embellishment but limited understanding of what you want to say and show. The more art there is, the longer the transmission time. To get your site on the web, you will have to pay an Internet Service Provider (ISP), but not very much. It receives your e-mail as well.

You can easily acquire the ability to accept credit cards and you will certainly be able to accept checks. You must register your website on the directories. Luckily, this is free. Your website should practice the keyword and other rules to get a good ranking in the directories. Commercial services publish such rules and suggestions. Devise and use a company name, product name, and logo.

Don't Let Overhead Get Out-Of-Hand: Keep your overhead down. After all, a garage was good enough for Bill Hewlett and David Packard, founders of Hewlett-Packard Co. Work at home for as long as you can. Don't buy the kind of office equipment you hope to need someday. Make your own stationery on your computer. Running out of money is the most common cause of business failures.

Introduce yourself to a banker when you open your business account and keep him or her updated about its progress. You will need that person when you require a loan and perhaps as a source of introductions and advice.

It's critical to hire a lawyer for yourself. Keep this person informed about your business progress too. Ask for guidance in licenses, conformance to relevant laws, and anything else that he or she suggests for you to stay out of trouble.

Your Present Job: Can you keep your job while you start part-time? Certainly not if you compete with your employer. What do your employment terms say? Will you risk getting fired or losing your place on the promotion and raise ladder if your boss finds out?

Patent Protection: Explore the websites www.ljkamm.com/inventor.htm and www.ljkamm.com/adventur.htm. Start with a provisional application to save money on a regular application. Use your business name, product names, and logo in interstate commerce as soon as possible to automatically make them your property. Although some do, don't hope to make money by selling your inventions to other manufacturers.

Employees: Use part-time employees and moonlighters whenever possible to avoid paying for idle time. The legal problems are minimal and you can get the level of skill you cannot yet afford or recruit.

Miscellaneous Advice: When working on your new business, a nonobvious cost is the diversion of your time from studying to improve your professional competence and advance in your job.

You may find yourself with a supplemental income that's not big enough to justify quitting your job. Before you dive in, consider your spouse and family, your age, and your feelings about security and risk.

Whatever you do, you will have to sell your product or service. What do you know about the market for your product or service? It can be quite a shock to find that other smart people made the product first. They might even have patents! Study business books and get an MBA. Above all, be lucky!

I wish you wealth and independence!

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