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Diary of a start-up: “My first product prototype!”

First-time entrepreneur Lisa Edoff updates us on her progress over the last month, as she prepares to launch her own design business

This last month has been very exciting; I have finalised my first product and received some great feedback on it!

I’m proud to present Lisa Edoff Design’s first product: the circular serving tray, “Ice cream blossoms”. This tray is handmade from sustainable birch trees in Sweden, and printed with my design. I am thrilled as to how it turned out! Here it is:

I received such great feedback from my blog readers, friends and colleagues when I presented this tray, and I already have a mailing list of people that have said they want to buy one. I can’t wait to start selling my products, but before I can order more trays I have some more work to do.

The funding organisation that gave me my business grant has set me up with a business mentor, and she is helping me come up with a strategy so I don’t just rush into ordering lots of product and use up all of my funding money.

My mentor came up with some brilliant ideas on how to do market research and gain valuable feedback about your products before you actually spend a penny on prototypes. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create mock-up photos of your (planned) products in Photoshop. For example if you want to sell t-shirts with your own design on them, you can find an image of a plain white t-shirt online, and then paste your design onto it. Make it look good though; if you don’t know how to use Photoshop, see if you have a friend who can help you.
  • If possible, convince manufacturers to make a free sample of your first product.
  • Organise your images into a nicely presented portfolio.
  • Contact 5-10 small shops, perhaps local ones, that you think are a good fit for your products, call them and ask if you could come in and have a few minutes of their time.
  • Present your products to the shop manager/owner and ask for feedback such as: would you stock this product? How much would you recommend it to sell for (retail price)? How much would you be willing to buy it for (wholesale price)? What quantity would you buy? etc.
  • See your presentation as a pitch; best-case scenario the shop owner could place an order straight away!

From these meetings you will gain very valuable insights and feedback; you can see which products are the most popular, and which ones don’t work at all, or perhaps find out about changes you need to apply to the products to make them more desirable for the buyers.

Over the last month, I have also been doing a lot of research into manufacturers in the UK. There are so many companies with different working methods and prices, it feels like a jungle. However, I have come across two organisations that might be able to help me: Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). I have actually been in contact with MAS on twitter (@mymas_mfg) and they have been really helpful!

Another very positive thing happened a couple of weeks ago when I attended a designer maker’s trade event. I presented my portfolio to a lady who works for an online shop that sells designer homeware products, and she said that they would definitely be interested in selling my trays! I was so excited when she said this, especially as I was really nervous about approaching her in the first place. It just shows that you’ve got to put your products out there and challenge yourself to do scary things!

So as you can see I’m dying to start selling and promoting my products, but I’ve got to be patient and do this right. I’m going to try and see if I can get some more product samples made first, and take it from there.

If anyone has any comments or tips to share about manufacturing or creating prototypes, please do!

To catch up on the first two chapters of Lisa’s start-up story, visit our Diary of a start-up channel , or for more updates on Lisa’s progress, follow her blog A Piece of Lisa and Twitter: @LisaEdoff

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