Licensing is one of the least risky ways of bringing a new product to market. I was fortunate to discover its benefits early on in my career when I worked in the toy industry, which has always depended on the creativity of independent product developers. Perennially attracted to working for myself, I set out to license my own ideas in exchange for passive income. When I did, it quickly became clear to me that the best way of attracting the interest of a potential licensee was to let my sell sheet do the selling for me. Today, I remain convinced it's the most important tool you have at your disposal if you want to license your ideas.
Sell sheets are simple. Really, they're just a way of showcasing the benefits of your idea in a succinct, static, compelling way. They're one-page advertisements, similar to billboards. But for whatever reason, people seem to struggle with them. I know because I recently began reviewing sell sheets for product licensing consideration with my cofounder Andrew Krauss on our YouTube channel, inventRightTV. When viewers kept asking us to describe what a good sell sheet looks like, we invited them to share theirs with us. I've looked at nearly 50 now. Some needed just a few tweaks... but ninety percent of them were terrible.
Here's how to create a winning sell sheet.
My first suggestion is always: Learn from others. How are other similar products, products in the same category, being marketed? Search Google Images to get a quick snapshot. How are these products being packaged? What colors and copy are being used? Pay close attention. These products don't have the luxury of relying on an 8x11 piece of paper (which I suggest you use to create your sell sheet) to intrigue consumers. They must communicate their intentions quickly, and with limited real estate. If the packaging is effective, you should be able to identify the benefit of the product easily. This is a good time to note that you should always design your sell sheet with the end customer in mind -- not the potential licensee. (Unless, the big benefit of your idea is to the potential licensee itself, like reduced manufacturing costs.)
Your sell sheet needs an image of your concept. I called this the beauty shot. Typically, it's the focus of your sell sheet, meaning the largest aspect. It needs to look fantastic! If you've created a rough prototype, hire a 3D artist to make it come to life. I've seen digital renderings that are so good, so lifelike, you feel like you can order the product right then and there.
It also needs to highlight the big benefit of your concept. Why will customers want to purchase it? I typically call this your one-line benefit statement. If you look at packaging, most companies have condensed the benefit of their product to a few short words. For example, take the product "Breathe Right." When I look up the product on Google Images, I notice blue and white, a popular color scheme for healthcare. There's a great beauty shot of someone with the strip on his nose sleeping peacefully and smiling. Why is he smiling? Because now he can 'breathe right'! Benefits of the product include, "Instantly relieves nasal congestion. Opens your nose to breathe better. Opens your nose more completely. Reduces snoring." Simple. We get the message.
Take garbage bags. When I do a Google Images Search for Hefty plastic garbage bags, I notice a lot of red. (Green if the bags are made out of recycled plastic.) If you want to submit an idea for an improved garbage bag to Hefty, you should use the same color scheme. The beauty shots are all of the bags, of course. Not just the bag itself though -- how it ties together. One-line benefit statements include "Extra strong. Blocks odor. Expandable strength. Easy flaps." Again, these are simple and to the point.
I also notice how large the Hefty logo is in relation to the rest of the packaging. It stands out to me as very large. Hefty has created goodwill -- people know the brand.
As an independent, you don't have brand recognition obviously. Your logo should be much smaller. Space on your sell sheet is a premium.
These are two simple examples of wonderful sell sheets. These companies know what they're doing. They've spent a lot of time and money and market research figuring out how to design their packaging so it communicates the benefit of each product quickly.
Sell sheets exist in so many different forms. Once you open your eyes to them, you'll notice them everywhere -- on social media and in magazines, for one.
You'll also want to include your contact information on your sell sheet. If you can state you have a patent pending, meaning you've filed either a provisional or a non-provisional patent application, include the words "patent pending" in small print.
If you've created a short video showcasing the benefit of your concept, aka an infomercial, include a link to said video on your sell sheet, and make sure it's noticeable. Video is a fantastic medium for communicating the benefits of a product idea, but you still need something fixed (a sell sheet) you can share with potential licensees. More important than a video is the strength of the benefit your concept offers.
I suggest modeling the layout of your sell sheet to mirror the products a potential licensee is already selling, including color and font. You want potential licensees to think, "Wow this fits in seamlessly with our line." Show them something familiar, in other words. If you're not an expert in graphic design, please find someone to work with who is. Sell sheet design is best left to professionals! And you'll be able to get great work done at an affordable price, as freelancing is more popular than ever.
But, and this is a big but: You must be the art director. You need to give explicit direction to get the best work possible. In no time, you'll be cranking out winning sell sheets together.
Originally published on Inc.com July 1st 2016.