First, don't beat yourself up too much. These things always seem to take longer than you'd like or expect. While you'll want to be nimbler than them, large consumer businesses have five-year timetables for new launches. And in most cases (unless it's Olympic merchandising) it's better to get it right than do it quickly.
Things can vary depending on what sector you're in, so I'll try to cover as many bases I can:
1. Off the shelf...with added you
In fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) where design and manufacture of packaging is a potential delay, wherever you can, use standard packaging. You can still make it your own by adding your own "signature".
Many new spirits brands that want to get to market quickly and cost-effectively will use an industry-standard "tall round" 70cl bottle and then add an interesting label. It's the same with wine of course. At Leon we sourced existing brown boxes and added the LEON stickers to give it our personality.
2. Think across categories
If using standard packaging will help but you really want to stand out within your category, consider using packaging that is standard in other categories but not in yours. For example, I am in the middle of a (lengthy) process of launching a haircare range and I rather fancy bottling it in smoothie bottles.
3. Fast vans vs. slow boats
The flipside of cost advantages in the Far East is slower launch times. Choosing to source at least initially in the UK can avoid your dreams being lost on the slow boat from China.
4. Predict the biggies
Think about and act on the long-lead items early on. With many products including packaged foods and beauty care you'll need to do microbe and stability testing to ensure your food will stay ' fresh' and your face cream will not separate or decompose after a few months.
With shampoos, for example, you'll need to have your packaging locked away for six months before you can be sure it doesn't degrade. The sooner you can do that the better. Or upfront, choose a product and packaging combination that has already been proven to be stable.
5. Bypass the shops
Many big retailers will have long buying and launch cycles. "You've missed February so the next time you can launch is October" is a common message. Do whatever you can to not be reliant on them and to get out there ahead of time.
Launch a simple ecommerce website; meet the big landlords to get a pop up shop that isn't currently being used; get a market stall, do mail order, or start direct selling à la Avon - anything to not be dependent on that one buyer.
6. Start with independents
If you still want to launch in shops, go independent. Smaller stores have shorter lead-times and are more flexible, mostly, in their ranging.
7. Less is more
Choose a category with low minimum order quantities, good working capital profile and minimum external fundraising requirements. The bigger the minimum order quantity, the more you will probably have to tie up cash, and the more effort and delay there will be in raising the capital externally.
7. Eat well...
Then you'll live longer and it won't matter that it took a while to get launched. By the time you do launch your biological age may even have lowered.
John Vincent founded healthy fast food chain Leon with Henry Dimbleby in 2004. He is a mentor on the Brother Business Ambitions campaign, taking your questions on branding, marketing and customer service.
Image: Stevendepolo, Flickr.com