Are You a Legal Professional?

State and Local Small Business Licenses for Start-Ups

State and local authorities often require even more small business licenses and have more issues to consider than the regulations imposed by the federal government.

When you start a business, there are federal and state rules and regulations that the company must abide by in order to legally operate. State and local governments have more wide-ranging regulations for businesses, and there are more local issues for small businesses to consider when starting up. For example, in addition to federal and local requirements for businesses to obtain licenses, small business owners must also consider other local issues such as zoning ordinances, building codes, and lease considerations.

State License Requirements

Business licensing requirements differ from state to state, but most state governments typically require the following types of licenses and permits:

  • State business license. 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.
  • Tax registration. For states with a sales tax, you will have to submit an application for a sales tax license to charge customers.
  • Occupational licenses. All states regulate certain professions and require practitioners of those occupations to obtain (and maintain) licenses in order to do business. States require licenses for doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, private security guards, funeral directors, private investigators, barbers, and many other professions. To confirm whether your state requires your business to have an occupational license, contact your state's licensing authorities.
  • Licenses for selling certain products. States require businesses to have licenses to sell products such as liquor, firearms, and gasoline.
  • Unemployment insurance. For businesses with employees, most states require the business to purchase into their system of unemployment insurance. Contact your state's Department of Labor to find out more.

Local Requirements and Issues

  • Register your business name. You'll have to register your business name with local (and likely state) agencies such as the county clerk, along with the business address. You'll need to take care to pick a name that isn't being used by another business. If the business is an LLC or corporation, the business name will be registered with the state when you submit the articles of incorporation. If you're a sole proprietor, the default name will be your name, but you can apply to use a fictitious name (also known as a DBA—"doing business as") with the city or county. Partnerships can also apply for a DBA with the city or county.
  • Local business licenses. In addition to state or federal licenses where applicable, almost all businesses will need a license from the local government (city or county) to lawfully operate within their jurisdictions. These local licenses are typically very easy to obtain and require paying a fee.
  • Zoning permit. A zoning permit demonstrates that the location of your business is approved by the city or county for your business' usage. Zoning laws are locale specific, and can vary even from block to block. The laws regulate things like the type of business that is allowed in an area, waste disposal, the size and placement of signs, and even the appearance of the store front (if, for example, you're in a historic district). If your specific location isn't zoned for your type of business and you've signed a lease, you have trouble on your hands. So before signing a lease, be sure to confirm that the area is zoned for your usage and that the lease accurately reflects the type of business.
  • Health permit. If you'll be preparing food as part of your business, you'll need to get permits from the county to do so.
  • Building permits. If you want to remodel or build a new space, you must get building permits from local agencies to ensure safety and to confirm that the remodeling or new space conforms to local ordinances. Depending on the type of work that's being done, you may also need permits for plumbing, electrical, and heat or A/C work. Be sure to consult with a licensed, experienced contractor to determine what types of permits you'll need as well as how much it will cost to get your business up to local requirements.
  • Environmental permits. In addition to state and federal agencies that cover environmental issues, local agencies also regulate the environmental impact of businesses, including issues such as air quality, water quality, and waste disposal. For example, the number of local air quality boards is increasing, as is their activism in maintaining or improving air pollution in their locale, with a particular focus on businesses.
Next Steps
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you
navigate the process of starting a business.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution