Starting a business is no easy feat. There are countless steps you’ll need to take before you can get off the ground—and one of them is learning your local market.
Like all major cities, Chicago has its own unique entrepreneurial community. It may be wise to seek out mentors, as well as keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening within the community, particularly if this is your first major venture in the area. To find out more, we asked a panel of entrepreneurs from Forbes Chicago Business Council to share their best tips for new entrepreneurs getting their start in the Windy City. Here’s what they advise:
Members discuss a few things to keep in mind when considering starting a business in Chicago.
1. Be Prepared To Build Both A Product And A Company
Understand the difference between building a product and building a company. Most startups require you to do both, but many entrepreneurs only want to do, or anticipate having to do, the first. They require different skills and present different challenges. If your new business idea requires that you do both, make sure you’re ready for that. – Kyle Nakatsuji, Clearcover
2. Find And Engage With Mentors
There is an amazing number of experienced entrepreneurs in this city. Find them and be upfront. Say you’re looking to build your mentor network and you’d like to buy them coffee once a month. The lessons they will teach you, the answers to the basic questions you’ll need to ask, and the helpful introductions they can provide will all be invaluable as you build your business. – Sterling Douglass, Chowly Inc.
3. Ask Great Questions
Jump into the deep end of your industry by contacting as many relevant experts as you can. Chicago has very tight-knit industry circles, so find senior people you have a connection to and meet with them. Ask good questions and ask who else you should talk to—everybody loves feeling like an expert and generally wants to help those who are just starting up in their field! – Cory Sandrock, Pareto & Company
4. Understand Your Market
Chicago is a unique city with a culture all its own. Do your research on your target market and understand what’s happening in your area. Learn the demographics, be aware of new developments, and get connected with city officials and key players that can help support your business. Your neighborhood alderman’s office is a key resource in any Chicago market. – George Csahiouni, TransMerit Merchant Services
5. Understand The Value Of Each Startup Task
When you’re just starting a company, your to-do list is pretty long, but you have limited time and resources. If you try and tackle everything, you’ll fail. Rank everything on the list by value, where value equals feasibility times impact. Pick a small number of high-value tasks and start with those. – Dan Wagner, Civis Analytics
6. Write A Detailed Business Plan
Before you start your business, write a very detailed business plan with a pro forma. Although most businesses don’t require funding to get started, it is a good approach to see if your idea is good enough to bring in investors. If you can convince an investor to back you, that is when you know you have something. Run as lean as you can and take the lows in stride. – Michael Mayes, Quantum 9 Inc.
7. Rapidly Prototype Concepts
I see a lot of early-stage companies investing too much into technology solutions too soon (ironic, I know, given that I build web and mobile applications for a living). It is better to rapidly prototype concepts and test before you jump into a development solution. I would strongly encourage new business owners to prototype, learn and fail as fast as possible before jumping into tech. – Mark Rickmeier, Table XI
8. Prioritize And Focus Your Energy On A Few Key Tasks Per Day
You eat an elephant one bite at a time. Identify three key tasks to get done each day, write them down and focus almost all of your energy on them that day. It’s hard not to always react and drift, but if you have made a decision as to what three tasks are your real priority each day, you will get the most important things done more consistently. – Ed Connealy, connealy design element
9. Take Time For A ‘Clarity Break’
Have a vision for what you want to create and stay laser-focused on executing that vision. Understand that it’s OK if your vision evolves over time, and don’t let that change paralyze you. A weekly clarity break can help you evolve your vision as you gain more experience or your market shifts. – Scott Pauga, Second Life Mac
10. Just Get Started
The hardest part about starting a new business is just getting up and starting it. Yes, have a business plan. Yes, expect hardship and failures along the way. Having the courage to make that first step is the most difficult thing to do and by far the most important. – Jeffrey Wissink, Navint Partners
11. Be Willing To Get Up Again When You Fall
Starting a new business requires perseverance. You will make mistakes. This is expected. Embrace your challenges and learn from them. I tell my team that it’s OK to fail. Know that building and growing your business may take one to five years. Be patient with yourself and your expectations to allow yourself the time to grow. Focus on celebrating and building on small successes. Keep going. – Patrick Coleman, GiveCentral Inc.