Do your homework: "With the Web, no one has an excuse for not doing research," says Mary Cantando, author of The Woman's Advantage. "If you're starting a service, like a doggy daycare, do an Internet search in your zip code. If there's competition, leave your dog at one of the places and see what it's not offering."
Develop a prototype: ShapeLock.com sells 10- and 20-ounce jars of plastic pellets that you can heat in the microwave and form into the shape of a gadget. If your first try doesn't pan out, put it back in the microwave. For more complicated designs, look for a machinist in the Yellow Pages, says Tamara Monosoff, author of Secrets of Millionaire Moms, who's sold thousands of her invention, TP Saver, which holds toilet paper in place so toddlers can't pull the roll off the rack. She also suggests logging on to Thomas.net, where you enter the materials you need for your product and it provides a list of factories that work with those components.
Find a workspace: Incubators let you rent space and equipment, from fax machines to industrial mixers, at a low cost. They usually require tenants to attend mentoring sessions, says Dinah Adkins, president of the National Business Incubation Association, "so, if you don't like to take advice, then an incubator is not a place for you." (To find one, go to NBIA.org.)
Banish the thought of overcooked, mushy string beans: In this smart recipe, Melia Marden cooks the beans in a small amount of water until they're just tender but still bright green. Then, she removes them, dries the pan and flash-fries the vegetables in olive oil until they're slightly charred all over. The finishing touch: garnishes of fried shallots, chopped basil and crumbled pecorino cheese.