I get asked for marketing advice a lot, often from people who have an idea and aren’t sure where to start. And the answer to all of them is: Distribution.

At some point I worked for a sales coach and a man came to her with a cheap (but practical) fast moving consumer good he’d seen in Asia. He thought he could get rich quickly by distributing the product in Australia. He was so convinced his idea was a money maker he begged us to keep it confidential.

My answer to him today would be:

1) Don’t pay a coach! Just do your research. He just needed to find a similar product and look at its distribution. It would fit in kitchens and likely be sold somewhere like KMart or at supermarkets like Woolworths. So he should start by approaching them and finding out how to get stocked on their shelves. Make a phonecall.

2) I would be honest. His idea was not a moneymaker. It was an idea cheap to manufacture, and even if it took off in Australia it could easily and quickly be replicated. These days, it would likely be Woolworths or KMart themselves who would be doing the replicating! So unless he had a unique selling proposition to HIS version of the product – and a barrier to entry for other people to replicate the same sell, no go. To explain, it couldn’t just be a funky colour – anyone could replicate that. It would have to be a unique material he had the copyright for, or a design element or feature difficult to manufacture in a cheaper way.

A year or two later a friend had an idea for a safety product to help learner drivers. He too, begged me to keep the concept a secret while I advised him on where to start making his idea into a reality.

My advice to him was:

1) Who would be the people most likely to sell safety products? The government? Driving instructors? Trainers? Could he envision the product being included in school driving programs, or was he thinking more like petrol stations etc? If he was unsure, he should chat to people – ask if they would be likely to buy it and why.

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I can’t remember if I told him at the time, but I knew his idea wasn’t a major moneymaker also. And distribution in the formal channels his product would appeal to would be very difficult to get into. But I also knew that he wanted to do it for reasons other than to make it rich. Sometimes an idea just takes you and has to be seen through as more of a creative than a lucrative exercise.

He did go on to manufacture the product and had a lot of fun with design and development and learned a lot along the way.

More recently a friend who had taken a unique photo of a popular tourist attraction asked me for marketing advice on how to sell the image as a print.

I advised distribution again, and with one image I assumed he would be interested in something like cafepress which can recreate any image onto coffee mugs, tshirts etc. But he saw the sale of large scale prints, so I suggested going into a print shop and chatting to them, getting the name of their distributor and following that chain of contacts until he hit someone with more answers. He might even want to simply pay for the prints to be printed and mounted and directly sell to local print stores – but he’d have to talk to them to see if they would go for that.

What I didn’t mention is that it was unlikely he would get a lot for his image – photos that are used in large prints as you would see on postcards or images aren’t paid for how many times the image is replicated. But I think for him the value of seeing the image appreciated would outweigh the financial reward.