A reader I’ll call Mitch has an interesting question:
About a week ago, I was sort of daydreaming while watching television when all of a sudden I had a great idea. I really think this idea has a lot of potential to affect a lot of lives. I’ve been doing a ton of internet research over the last few days to see if anyone else has had a similar idea, but I’ve not found anything very close to it.
I’d like to be able to make some money from this idea, but I think more than anything I’d just like to see it executed. Do you have any suggestions about what to do?
Most people have a handful of great ideas floating around in their heads (yes, I really do believe that). Unfortunately, most of those ideas either wind up buried, forgotten, or abandoned simply because people don’t know what to do with those ideas, they forget about those ideas, or they harbor visions of grandeur that aren’t realistic, holding the idea as an “ace in the hole” or throwing excessive resources into the idea.
The first question you need to ask yourself – and this is a pretty hard question – is whether or not you truly expect direct compensation for this idea. Some people have the expectation that every good idea they have deserves direct compensation. Others are quite happy to give their ideas away. Still others are somewhere in the middle – willing to give away some of their ideas, but attempt to sell others.
I struggled with this for a long time. I used to believe deeply that I deserved compensation for every idea and creative work. I would write short stories and essays, carefully protect my copyright on them, and seek out only paid opportunities to share that work. I was very hesitant to share any good idea I had, only sharing the ones I was being directly paid for.
Eventually, I realized that this wasn’t the way I wanted to go. I eventually came around to the opposite perspective – I now try to share as many of my ideas as I can as widely as I can without much worry for copyright, and I merely hope to earn a little bit of money in parallel with it. That’s why I blog instead of trying to sell articles to publishing outfits.
The question of whether or not you should directly receive compensation for an idea isn’t an easy question for anyone, and you should spend the time to come up with your own conclusion on the question.
Regardless of what you decide, the next step you need to take is making sure that the idea doesn’t already exist. Googling is a nice first step, but you should also check the U.S. Patent Office if appropriate.
The reason for this is simple: you simply do not want to present an idea as being your own if it clearly has been presented by others.
The next step is fleshing out the idea to the best of your abilities. Spend some time adding appropriate details to your idea. How can it be done or made? Is it even possible? Why is it useful? What evidence do you have for this idea?
This will likely involve some time and at least some minimal research using tools like Wikipedia. Obviously, your amount of effort in this area depends on a lot of factors: your expertise in the field, your interest in digging into the topic, and your seriousness about attempting to earn money from the idea.
Regardless of what you intend to do with the idea, fleshing it out a bit is still quite helpful. For one, it can often reveal fundamental problems in your idea that might be exposed in an embarrassing fashion if you didn’t do the appropriate work. For another, additional work makes it much easier to present the idea when you decide to move forward with it.
Speaking of which, the next step is figuring out how to present your idea. Your idea may be one best expressed as an essay. You might want to create a full presentation for it as well.
No matter how you intend to present it, you’ll also want to come up with an elevator pitch for the idea. At some point, when you share your idea, you’re going to need to get someone’s attention quickly. How will you get someone’s attention in just a sentence or just a few seconds? Try to boil the attractive element of your idea down to thirty words or so. If you can do this, you’re much more likely to get good attention to your idea.
Once you’re ready, share your idea. If you’ve decided to effectively give the idea away without worrying about compensation, seek out the person with the largest audience that may be interested in the idea, as that will give it the broadest presentation. If you’ve decided to sell the idea, you may need some legal assistance in this endeavor, but you’ll eventually seek to contact a company or organization that can transform the idea into something that can earn a profit.
There are many services that proclaim to help out people who are trying to patent or create or sell an idea. If you’re going this route, I would start with legal help from a source I personally trusted. That individual will likely point you in the right direction towards reputable resources that can help you out.
In general, this is a framework you can follow with any idea you have, large or small. However, you should be aware that most ideas are quite worthy of sharing, but likely aren’t quite worthy of earning you some money by themselves.