Chicago Business Startup Guide

Turning your business dream into reality can be a challenge. Knowing the right steps to take, and having the proper resources, can help save time and money. The following is a guide for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Chicago.

1871 Chicago
Photo Credit: Jake Trussell, 1871 Chicago

Step 1: Ideate

Think of a new product or service based on an unmet need. Take an existing product or service from one market and offer it in another where it isn’t available. Look into an up-and-coming franchise operation.

Identify industry gaps, pain points and unserved niches:

Match the business opportunity with your skills, experience, and passions:

Step 2: Prepare

Take the time to find out if your idea is viable. Who will buy your product or service? What’s happening in your industry?

Research your market and current trends:

Take some free business classes, or enroll in entrepreneurial programs on starting a business:

Meet with professional business advisors for free advice and guidance:

Step 3: Plan

If you intend to obtain a loan for your business, apply for a small business grant, pitch your business idea to investors, or enlist the support of business partners, you need a business plan; then you need to act on it.

Create a blueprint for your business by putting together a sound business plan:

Form your team, find a co-founder, get “free” help, outsource tasks (if applicable):

Search for potential commercial business locations (i.e. Office, Warehouse or Retail Space) if not home-based. Do not sign a lease until you have checked with a City of Chicago, Small Business Center (SBC), License Zoning Representative to ensure that you can obtain a business license to conduct your business activities at the address of your proposed business location:

Obtain financing/capital to start your business (does not apply to self-funded entrepreneurs):

Decide on a commercial business location (does not apply to home-based businesses). Sign a lease or purchase a commercial property, hire a licensed contractor to obtain the proper Building Permits for any buildout (if applicable):

Come up with a good business name; check to make sure it’s not already taken:

Create a marketing plan, register your business domain name and setup your website, as well as your business social media accounts:

Step 4: Register

Legitimize your business by registering your legal and assumed business name, business entity type, and by obtaining your federal and state tax identifications; City of Chicago tax registration occurs during your City of Chicago business license application. Please note: you may not conduct any business until you have received your City of Chicago business license certificate.

Select a business entity type which will provide you with the proper legal protections and tax benefits

Register your business entity with the appropriate federal, state and county government agencies

Obtain any professional/industry-specific state license(s) or certification(s) (if applicable)

Apply for City of Chicago Business License(s)
Note: business licenses are not transferrable; every business location requires a separate business license; most business licenses may be renewed every two years

Apply for City of Chicago Public Way Use Permit(s)

  • Business owners who have any items (e.g. signs, canopies, awnings, benches, sidewalk cafes, etc.) that extend out (i.e. over, under, or on) to the public way from their business locations require Public Way Use Permits
  • In addition to a public way use permit, all business identifiers such as signs, awnings, canopies, marquees and banners are required to have a Department of Buildings sign construction permit. Only a licensed sign contractor may apply to obtain a sign construction permit.

Read More: Register and License Your Business

Step 5: Launch

Before opening your door for business, actual for “brick-and-mortars” or virtual for “click-and-orders”, you will need to setup your business finances, record-keeping, insurance, as well as the logistics to operate your business.

Open a business bank account; bring your business registration documents and business license

Set up an accounting and record-keeping system

Obtain business insurance

  • U.S. Small Business Administration, Business Guide, Get business insurance
  • ChiBizHub Resource Partner<hyperlink to internal Resource Navigator page>

Hire, and train, employees (if applicable)

Activate your business website and social media accounts; send out a press release and begin building brand awareness by executing your marketing plan

Procure suppliers and service providers

Create/obtain products/inventory for sales and/or equipment/tools for services

Run through logistics with your team (if applicable)

Contact your Alderman’s office and/or Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon cutting ceremony; send out invitations for grand opening  (if applicable)