If you're curious about the ways the Small Business Development Center can assist you, these answers may help.

The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Harper College provides workshops and seminars on key small business areas and issues to educate and update small business owners and prospective small business owners.

The ISBDC at Harper College also provides individual business counseling/coaching, at no cost, to small businesses and individuals contemplating starting a small business.

The services are available to any for-profit business in Illinois or to any individual contemplating starting a for-profit business.

Starting a small business usually requires a substantial commitment of resources, including time and money.  If you have an idea you feel passionate about, carefully evaluate the opportunity.  Making a business successful requires a great deal of hard work and most entrepreneurs find that they devote more time to their new businesses than they did to their previous jobs. For more information on evaluating a business opportunity, consider attending an upcoming seminar.

Starting a business involves much more than creating a job for yourself. You must make a commitment to paperwork, record keeping, financing, marketing, planning and a host of other issues involved in operating a business. In addition, revenues may or may not come quickly. And ultimately, of course, you must have a product or service about which you feel passionately and which you can deliver. In some cases, starting a business may be a good alternative if you cannot find other employment, but lack of employment alone is not a good reason to start a business.

Choosing the right business is extremely important. Look for a match between your talents, interests and capabilities and the competition and market demand for your products and/or services. Do not fall prey to an "if I build it they will come" mentality. Many otherwise good businesses have failed because they simply did not have an adequate market or the competition was too strong. Ask yourself: "How will I win? What is my competitive advantage?" If you cannot come up with compelling answers, then you should probably choose another business.

The Illinois SBDC at Harper College does not provide a list of business opportunities. However, we can help you evaluate your options.

Basic skills involved in running a business include knowledge of record-keeping, accounting, financial management, human resources management, marketing, legal issues, tax issues, and knowledge about your product and/or service. Although no one can be an expert in all of these areas, it is important to "know what you don't know" so that you can engage the help of professionals in these areas when necessary.  Register for "Starting a Business: Next Steps" to learn more about the skills needed to start a business.

Starting a business requires research and planning in many areas, such as: strategy, marketing plan, start-up costs, sources of funds, legal registration, and reporting requirements and more.  And timing matters too! Our Starting a Business: Next Steps seminar provides an overview of these critical tasks and helps participants create a timeline of critical tasks to launch. The seminar, Starting a Business: First Steps, or having an existing business is a prerequisite to this course.

A business plan is a "road map" for the direction of your business. It will contain information about your business, including an explanation of the products and/ or services you offer, your marketing strategy, your legal and ownership structure, your management team, your human resources plan, and your financial projections. If you seek financing, you will almost certainly need one. Lenders such as banks, angel investors or venture capitalists will almost always require a business plan. One of the most important reasons to write such a plan, however, is that you, as an entrepreneur, will have to engage in a systematic process of thinking through and planning your business.

The length and complexity of your business plan depends upon the use for the plan. If your plan is primarily for your personal use in business planning, a simple plan may be completed in a few weeks.  However, if you need external financing, and therefore a more complex plan, the process could take several months to a year.

  • Traditional banks and many other lenders offer business loans. A good place to start is with your own bank where you have already established accounts and a history. You can also approach friends, family, and others for loans. (Be careful, though, when you borrow from those close to you. Remember that you are putting other peoples' money at risk. Make sure that they are prepared for that fact!)
  • Accion Chicago, a not-for-profit community development lender, lends to start-up businesses and established small businesses. The ISBDC at Harper College is a remote lending partner for Accion.  Make an appointment with a business advisor to learn more about this option.
  • SBA loans are provided for very specific purposes and are provided through traditional banks, with the SBA providing guarantees to the banks. Learn more about SBA loans.
  • DCEO's "Advantage IL" program consists of three programs to spur institutional lending to small businesses and one program to leverage private venture capital in start-ups and high-growth businesses.  Learn more about these programs at Advantage Illinois.
  • Learn more about funding options by meeting with a SBDC advisor.
  • Depending on your business form, you may have to register with the state of Illinois.  Certain other licenses, permits or zoning approvals may be necessary, especially if your business relates to food, alcohol, health, safety, hazardous materials or other regulated industries.
  • Local business licenses are required for most businesses and are handled locally.  Contact your local municipality for business licenses and requirements.  
  • In addition, your business will need a federal tax identification number (FEIN), which will make you liable for federal unemployment, withholding, social security, and corporation/company income tax.  Contact the Internal Revenue Service to register for a FEIN.

Different lenders will require different paperwork. You can expect to be asked for a business plan - especially the financials portion. Also, you will likely be asked for verification of your income and assets, including past tax returns, W-2s, bank statements, etc. They may also have certain application forms that they will want you to fill out. Contact each individual lender for its requirements.

Grants are like gifts. They do not have to be repaid, and they do not require ownership of an asset. In some cases, however, grants may be contingent on the business or organization meeting certain criteria.

Grants are rare and are not a typical source of funding for small businesses.  There are no SBA grants, and almost no other grants, which are available to start or expand a business. Two exceptions are the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR). Don't get your hopes up, however. These programs are highly competitive, merit-based awards for serious Research and Development activities. The SBA does maintain a list of links to grants, but few if any of them would apply to a typical small business.

We are not involved in any way in providing grants, SBA loans or any other type of loan.  We will help you prepare to apply for loans by working with you on your business strategy, business plan and projected financial statements

The answer depends on the balance you seek between complexity of the form, liability limits, the need to raise capital, the need for the business to continue after a death, the number of owners, and so on. If your business is a fairly risk-free "mom and pop" operation operated from your home, then a sole proprietorship or general partnership may be appropriate. For most businesses who plan to grow or engage in activities with risk, limited liability is an important issue. For these companies, an LLC, an LLP, or an S Corporation are probably good choices.  Business form is discussed in our Starting a Business: Next Steps seminar and our Tax Related Issues for Small Business workshop in the Financial Boot Camp series.

  • Depending on your business form, you may have to register with the state of Illinois.  Certain other licenses, permits or zoning approvals may be necessary, especially if your business relates to food, alcohol, health, safety, hazardous materials or other regulated industries.
  • Local business licenses are required for most businesses and are handled locally.  Contact your local municipality for business licenses and requirements.  
  • In addition, your business will need a federal tax identification number (FEIN), which will make you liable for federal unemployment, withholding, social security, and corporation/company income tax.  Contact the Internal Revenue Service to register for a FEIN.

Starting a franchised business can provide access to a known trademark and an established system of doing business. Generally you will have to pay an initial franchise fee and ongoing royalties, plus other start-up costs. In the best cases, you will get ongoing support in management, training, purchasing, advertising, research and other critical areas. In many cases, however, small franchises do not provide significant useful support. Most large, well known franchises are too expensive for many beginning entrepreneurs. Talk to other franchisees before making a decision. In some cases a franchise can be a good place to start, but it is no guarantee for success.

By purchasing an existing business, you can potentially avoid the long lead times involved in launching an enterprise and building a customer base. There should be an established pattern of income and expenses that you can evaluate. Be careful. Many business owners want to sell because they anticipate changing or unfavorable conditions in the future or because there is some underlying trouble with the business. Make sure that you fully understand the business and the future market.

Thomas Cassell  As Director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Harper College, Tom Cassell advises startups, early stage, and mature companies on financing, marketing, strategy, operations and business development. Before his current post, Tom served as Director for two Small Business Development Centers (Chicago Community Ventures and Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago) and was responsible for helping Chicago businesses receive over $10 million in startup and operating capital. He has provided one-on-one business coaching to over 500 businesses across many different industries helping to create/retain hundreds of jobs in Illinois. Tom has owned several businesses including Route 101 Guitars, a company that manufactured custom electric guitars and JB Music, a guitar factory in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Tom’s previous posts include promotion manager at Penguin Publishing (New York) and product/brand manager at Dana B. Goods (Los Angeles). Tom serves on Congresswoman’s Tammy Duckworth’s business advisory committee and is a Fellow for the U.S. State Department’s Small Business Network of the Americas Program.

Anthony J. Baldassano has extensive experience in tax services, business coaching, and financial consulting, including business and estate planning, business evaluation, and management services. His experience includes a broad range of industries, including: real estate, wholesale distributors, trucking companies, retailers, contractors, education, chemical companies, contract manufacturers, farming, and business services. Anthony J. Baldassano graduated cum laude in May 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from Northern Illinois University and Master of Science degree in Accounting from DePaul University. He holds a Certified Public Accounting certificate from the State of Illinois and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He has passed the Investment Advisor licensing exam and holds the Professional Financial Specialist (PFS) credential, issued only to Certified Public Accountants. 

Joan Dubnicka is an experienced entrepreneur and small business owner.  She has experienced the full continuum of the business start-up process and small business management.  Starting with the creation of a business concept, she worked through the concept evaluation, launching a new business and subsequently managing and growing that business. Joan holds a MBA degree from Northwestern University and a BS in accounting from Purdue University.  Prior to opening her small business, Joan worked as a management consultant with Ernst & Young.  Joan began her career as a CPA in public accounting with Ernst & Young. Joan's skills include strategy, marketing, finance, accounting and evaluation of business concepts and business plans.

Miguel Hinojosa is owner of several small businesses in USA and Bolivia. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a small business advisor and university professor of bachelor and master degree programs. He has a  Ph.Dc from the University of Seville, MBA from the Private University of Bolivia, BS in accounting from the Major University of San Simon and is certified in Supply Chain Management from the International Trade Center of Switzerland. He was invited as a speaker in the Latin Congress on Entrepreneurship in Ecuador, Accel Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education Latin American in Puerto Rico and many International Congresses in Bolivia. Miguel's skills include business management, intellectual capital, finance, accounting and entrepreneurship.

Dennis LaPorta brings has over 25 years of sales and small business experience, providing him with an in-depth understanding of the many hurdles facing entrepreneurs in their efforts to launch a successful sales campaign.  Dennis has served as Director of Sales & Marketing and has worked in the following industries:  Consumer Products, Business-to-Business, Service Providers, Computer Hardware, Software, Retail, Finance and Insurance.