You may need licenses and permits before opening shop, depending on the type of business, where you plan to operate and a number of other factors. Almost all businesses will need a business license. But you might also need a property use permit or a liquor license, to give a couple examples. The "Licenses & Permits" resources in FindLaw's Small Business section will help point you in the right direction.
Federal Business Licenses
If your business is involved in activities supervised and regulated by a federal agency – such as selling alcohol, firearms, commercial fishing, etc. – then you may need to obtain a federal license or permit. For instance, if you manufacture, wholesale, import, or sell alcoholic beverages at a retail location, you will need to register your business and obtain certain federal permits (for tax purposes) with the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Local Business Licenses
Local licensing and permit requirements vary widely depending on your city or county, and the type of business you will be operating. In addition to local licensing and permit requirements, your business will also need to comply with all applicable state and federal licensing and permit requirements.
State Business Licenses
State licenses are frequently required for occupations as varied as building contractors, physicians, appraisers, accountants, barbers, real estate agents, auctioneers, private investigators, private security guards, funeral directors, bill collectors, and cosmetologists. Essentially, a state business license is used to track and monitor businesses for tax purposes and are required for businesses to operate lawfully in the state. Most states have agencies specifically created to deal with issuing state licenses.
Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Much like a Social Security number for individual taxpayers, an Employer Identification Number, also called a Federal Tax Identification Number, is how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identifies your company. Business owners use their EINs to conduct activities that would otherwise require a Social Security number. While applying for an EIN, the IRS requires that you disclose the name and taxpayer ID number (SSN, TIN, or EIN) of the person whose responsible for the business. This should be the company’s principal officer, owner, trustor, general partner, or grantor and is similar to a registered agent for a state entity.
Property Use Permits
If you start a business that involves manufacturing, or if you decide to begin operating a business out of your home, depending on your location you may need to obtain a land use permit from your city or county's zoning department. Property use permits assures that the business is allowed in the zoning district where it is located. It also verifies that the structure was built for the proposed type of business.
Hiring a Business Attorney
What are the costs of dealing with the myriad of issues facing business licensing and permits? Good lawyers are not cheap, but then again neither is any other consultant critical to your business. A brief consultation with a lawyer can often determine what a business' legal needs are. An investment of a lawyer's time, like a fire code inspection or medical checkup, can help prevent major problems down the road.