We've all heard a picture is worth a thousand words. Well what if you could drop a prototype of your product right into someone's hands. What is that worth? Many people are skipping the elaborate business plans and they're focusing on prototypes. It used to be that software/Internet business had the advantages in prototyping. A couple of programers would stay up for weeks and "hack" out a semi-functional set of code for people to see and work with. New technology has given that advantage to tangible goods businesses as well.
If there is one thing I've learned over the years you can put all sorts of descriptions on paper but until someone can touch that something they can't tell you if they'd use it. I'm all for skipping all the nitty gritty descriptions and turning a concept into something tangible. And guess what? It's quick and very afforadable for any product smaller than a microwave oven. I'm talking about rapid prototype machines. This technology has been around for 10 years but like all new technology its getting very good and very cheap. I've used it to produce parts and check fit, finish, function and yes, drop it into someone's hands.
Rapid prototype machines (check out yahoo images to get an idea of what you can make http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=AkYTSuF41ug2ElbQtiQcQSebvZx4?p=rapid+prototype&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-546) take 3D CAD drawings (computer aided design software) and process plastic and even metal into a very percise replicas of the product and product pieces you want to make. This is an additive proces in which ionized plastics or metals are layered over hours to create physical parts.
These prototype pieces will not be exactly precise and will not be made from the final materials you want to use but you can hold them, fit pieces together, paint them to match color and finish and best of all drop them into someone's hands and ask, "what do you think".
Rapid prototype machines have come out with home versions for under $1,300 (3D Systems) and are still on their way down. There are limits on size, complexity and materials with the home versions so consider purchasing a commercial version for $5,000 and up or use a prototyping service that you pay per the part (my recommendation). You send them the CAD designs and a couple of days later your very precise prototypes show up in a box. Small pieces can be made for hundreds of dollars.
Do a little bit of research and consider if spending between $300 and $2,000 for physical prototypes might be useful in raising funding or getting those first "charter" clients.