Research and development

  • Product expansion

    Product expansion

    You’re a growing business now with some credible experience in market development. Now you feel it is time to apply a bit more research into further product development to grow your business, brand and product lines. 

    But what are the next steps involved for you to diversify your product lines and add another string to your business bow? The competition is fierce - you have to ensure you don't forgot about your existing product range or you may risk the marketshare you've worked so hard to achieve.

    As a business professional who's officially off the ground, you’ve had a taste of the product development cycle before, but here’s a reminder of the fundamental tasks involved:

    • Investigate and plan your idea
    • Build and test your prototype product
    • Experiment, test and refine your design
    • Handle your intellectual property

    You’ve also got experience in planning, design and build, with strong and cemented relations with the people that built it, and insider ‘know-how’ that packs a punch. You can talk the talk and understand the terminology involved, like:

    • Low cost
    • High margin
    • Market share
    • Growth rates
    • R and D Output

    And if that's not enough, you've had one of the steepest learning curves going - namely the priceless experience you went through when you designed your prototype product. So you'll understand what works, what doesn't, what the pitfalls are, who the distruptors and innovators are.

    Whether it's luxury candles you make and want to add, for example, a collection of new scents - or perhaps a child's toy that has more sophisticated learning capabilities than the one you developed previously, you'll have your work cut out. But it's nothing you can't handle if you've done it before.

  • Product road map

    Product road map

    Product lifecycle steps tend to follow the same pattern, regardless of what you're building or your level of expertise in this area. Putting together a detailed 'product road map' that covers everything from specifics of the product to strategic rollout is all part of the road mapping process. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

    Here are some of the key steps involved in product road mapping:

    • Product Detailing – put together a case that details the product and its high-level capabilities
    • Implementation – start to implement the project and assign the tasks once you’ve nailed the product specific details
    • Design and Build – map out the design, then start to build the product to the high-level build specifications
    • Test – submit your product for specific product testing and wait for a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ response, then act accordingly based on the responses
    • Plan a strategic rollout to allow your product to be ‘user tested’ to either a niche and manageable audience or plan for full market rollout 
  • Staged user testing

    Staged user testing

    Even the world’s most successful brands undergo the typical product cycle, which includes rigorous product testing. Why build a smart phone, for example, and distribute it to tens of millions of people just discover flaws and bugs or faulty hardware? Isn’t it easier to sample-test your product to a small group of organised testers first?

    One particular mobile phone manufacturer has pioneered the way when it comes to product testing, adopting an 'invitation only' programme that invites people to test pre-release software products and provide them with 'real-world quality and usability feedback’. 

    If applicants are successful and accepted on to this high level programme, there's an expectation that the participant will:

    • Share their user experience
    • Complete engineering questionnaires
    • Fill out bug reports and enhancement requests
    • Participate in online discussions

    By creating a forum of highly skilled product testers, they're continually reinforcing the importance of the cycle of:  

    • Initial testing
    • Reviewing
    • Product detailing
    • Design and build review
    • Further testing

    And that's what you need to do too. Design your product, then test it over and over again!

Product development funding

So your idea is there, but where does the money come from?

Whether you’re a new or well-rooted business it’s important to have a financial strategy that establishes your businesses’ guiding principles in all financial situations. You’ll plan the optimal strategy and understand the need to constantly re-evaluate it whenever your business undergoes changes to its financial circumstances. But what funding is out there and what do you have to do to get your hands on it?

The level of available R and D funding available largely depends on your business location and the different schemes that apply to geographic regions within the UK. Not all businesses that expand have the need to borrow, that all depends on your finances and what you can afford to invest. But if you are ready to broaden your horizon and expand your product range, check out some of the potential lending options available to you (if you are based in Northern Ireland):

  • Talk to your bank

    Talk to your bank about your business borrowing needs and investigate what they can potentially offer you in terms of bank-related products, which generally include:

    • Fixed or Variable rate Business Loans
    • Term Loans
    • Business Expansion Loans
    • Overdraft facilities

    And more.

    Banks are highly skilled when it comes to understanding business growth.

    While they may be conservative when it comes to taking some lending risks, they have a tendancy to offer more competitive rates compared with the direct investment of say a private funder or business angel.

    There are a variety of other business borrowing alternatives that may also suit your business when it comes to sourcing funds for product development.

  • Other business borrowing options

    Crowd Funding

    This innovative method of funding is designed to draw small sums of money from large crowds of people and is particularly prevalent on the internet. Principally, it has had a tendancy to support social enterprise or arts-related projects, but it has evolved over the years to cover more commercially driven initiatives. 

    Private Investors

    There are a variety of collective investment funds designed to offer finance to businesses that operate within the UK. While private investors may seem appealing, particularly if your business is going through the expansion process, be mindful of the terms that accompany this type of investment. Private investors may add a lending caveat that, for example, sees them added to your Board of Directors or that they acquire a percentage stake in your business in return for lending you the funds in the first instance.

    If you are considering sourcing funds from private investors, make sure you’re happy with the lending terms before you sign on any dotted line. 

    Friends, Family and Fools

    FFF funding is where you turn to friends, family and fools! (Or so the saying goes). While sourcing funding from those we know may have its advantages, it can often cause conflict too. Mixing business with pleasure may well have its drawbacks and can sometimes impact on relations if, for example, you are unable to repay the debt within the timescales agreed. So exercise caution and know the pros and cons when it comes to FFF funding. 

    Regional Funders

    If you are based in Northern Ireland, check out the links below to be re-directed to other potential business funders: 

    Growth Fund Northern Ireland

    Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme

    Invest Northern Ireland