The way I see it, you're not really in the game until you've begun contacting potential licensees to pitch them on your concept for a new product. Up until now, the work you've done has been more or less in a vacuum. Before you get in too deep, you need feedback. You need proof of demand. Are you on the right track? Is anyone interested? In other words, is the concept worth developing further? When you reach out to companies you think are a good fit for your idea, your goal is to get a dialogue going. If your marketing materials are good, they'll do the selling for you.
To be clear, I believe in testing early and often. That's part of my strategy. For those who want to do this for a living, it's essential. You can't afford to spend too much of your time on an idea that ultimately goes nowhere, as I've detailed at length. On the other hand, there are good reasons why some product developers prefer to continue developing a concept on their own first, like their eventual ability to negotiate for a higher royalty rate. (You've put in the work, after all.) But as far as most consumer products today are concerned, I think the risk is simply too great. There are many more worthless patents than there are examples of designers who toiled independently for years and years, then hit it big.
What's the best way of reaching out to potential licensees, then?
With a sell sheet and video. In this article, I'm going to focus on sell sheets.
Sell Sheet as Billboard
Think of your sell sheet like a billboard in that you have but a very, very limited amount of time to convey a compelling message. Good sell sheets make people think right away, "Oh, I get it." Really, your sell sheet is just an advertisement — a way of relating the big benefit of your concept in a way that is immediately understood. This format works because it's familiar to the companies you'll be contacting for licensing consideration: They use the same tool to introduce new products to the retail market.
The Big Tease
Your intent at this point is to get companies to ask you for more information. Just that. Use your sell sheet to entice them to call or email you back. Don't give them everything! If you leave something out, they'll have to get in touch with you. That's why focusing on the big benefit of your concept, not how it works, looks or why it does what it does, is so important. Basically, you're teasing them. Several months ago, I began reviewing sell sheets on inventRight TV, the YouTube channel I run with my business partner. Most people — about 90 percent — are missing the mark. You can't afford to let that happen: Your sell sheet is the most important tool you have.
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Before you dive in, revisit similar products for inspiration. Remember when I asked you study the market using Google Images? Take out your notes and refresh your memory. How are similar products packaged? What colors, copy, and font are used? These products don't have the luxury of relying on an 8.5 x 11 PDF to grab someone's attention — they have even less space, especially at point of purchase. If the packaging is any good, you should be able to identify the benefit of the product easily. Design your sell sheet to mimic the feel of those products. You want potential licensees to think, "Wow, we could slip that into our existing line seamlessly."
Take baby products. When I do a Google Images Search for baby wipes, warm blues, pinks, purples, and greens flood my screen. Grinning, happy babies stare back at me. Benefits listed on Johnson's baby wipes include "gentle care from top to toe," "no more tears," "as mild as pure water to skin and eyes," "moisturizes and protects," "ideal for diaper change," and "gentle cleansing for little hands and faces." Fonts are approachable and informal; the copy is almost universally written in lowercase. The Johnson logo is relatively large; this is a brand that has established goodwill, and is capitalizing on that.
Snoofybee changing pad
Now check out the sell sheet my student Mike Perry created for his baby product, the Snoofybee 3-n-1 Clean Hands Changing Pad (below). It feels likeminded, doesn't it? Perry submitted this sell sheet to nearly 60 companies before he decided to run a Kickstarter campaign, which surpassed its goal of raising $15,000 by more than $100,000 last summer. The companies he approached for licensing consideration were leery in part, he said, because other products that had attempted to solve the same problem hadn't done well. His winning campaign established clear proof of demand. And sure enough, shortly thereafter, one of the manufacturers he had reached out to initially called him to express their interest in licensing the pad. But at that point, Perry said he'd set up a team and was more interested in launching the pad on his own. If your concept is too novel, a successful crowdfunding campaign can be used to entice a licensee.
Snoofybee sell sheet
Design for the End User
This is a good time to mention that you should always design your sell sheet with the end user in mind — not the potential licensee. Unless the big benefit of your idea is to the potential licensee itself, like reduced manufacturing costs.
6 Steps for Crafting a Sell Sheet
1. A fantastic looking product shot. This is your beauty shot. Typically, it's the focus of your sell sheet, meaning it consumes the most real estate. Capturing every angle of your product isn't important. Remember, benefits are what matter. Which angles highlight the benefit of your product best? Use those. Consider using a storyboard to emphasize the benefit of your concept.
2. A one-line benefit statement. Your one-line benefit statement captures the big benefit of your concept in just a few words — a short sentence at most. Focus on answering the question, why will customers want to purchase this product? You can list additional benefits using bullet points, but don't go overboard.
3. A link to your marketing video. Make sure the link stands out so people know to click on it. (I will tackle video sell sheets in a future article.)
4. The product's name. In all likelihood, it will change. But you need one. Use the opportunity to further establish what the benefit of your idea is. Generic names are fine, like "EZ Cut Scissors." The name you decide on won't make or break your idea, so don't obsess over it.
5. The words "patent pending" in tiny font, if you've filed a provisional or a non-provisional patent application. Establishing perceived ownership is important. Don't list your application number. The advice I got from my attorney was that it's akin to your Social Security number. Keep yours close.
6. Your contact information. Your email address and phone number suffice. Make sure to set up an appropriate voicemail greeting in advance.
Unless you are a professional graphic designer, I recommend hiring someone to help you. Make sure that person signs a work-for-hire agreement, or a non-disclosure agreement with work-for-hire language. Basically, you need to establish when, if ever, the freelancer has the right to make your sell sheet public.
Could you create a website instead? Yes, but I prefer sell sheets, because in my experience, the temptation to clutter a webpage with unnecessary details is just too great. Having a sole page forces you to be brief. If you were to literally put your sell sheet online — sure.
Pitch Your Friends
Test your sell sheet out on people you trust and monitor their reaction. Do they get it? You need them to! If your marketing materials aren't working, redesign them until they do. They truly make all the difference.
Stephen Key is a lifelong product artist who has licensed dozens of his ideas. His bestselling book "One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine" has been translated into five other languages. He speaks, writes, and vlogs extensively about licensing, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property strategy.