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Where to Find Permits and Licensing Requirements to Start a Business

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Remember when you could start a business by making a pitcher of lemonade, setting a table up on the sidewalk, and designing a pretty sign?

Today, starting a business means paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. Big brother (the government) wants to be able to track your business for tax purposes and to protect the public. So, to start a business you'll likely need a permit or license.

Where can you find permit and licensing requirements to start a business?

Required Licenses

Licensing and permit requirement vary among states, counties, and cities. The type of business you have may also dictate what kind of permits you need. Here are a general list of common required business permits and licenses:

  • Business operation license -- You will need to get a business license from the city where your business is. Some cities may not require one.
  • Federal employer identification number -- This is your tax identification number. You may be able to use your own social security number if you have a sole proprietorship.
  • Fictitious business name permit -- Also known as a "doing business as," get this if your business name isn't also your name.
  • Zoning and land use permit -- You may need this if you're operating a home based business.
  • Health department permit -- Does your business make or sell food? Check with your local health department for permit requirements.
  • Sales tax license -- You'll need this if you sell any products. Some states also require sales tax for services.
  • Product specific state permits -- Most states require special permits if you sell liquor lottery tickets, gasoline, and firearms.
  • Service specific state licenses -- Certain industries require special licenses such as cosmetology, legal representation, auto repair, real estate sales.
  • Federal permits and licenses -- If you make and sell tobacco, alcohol or firearms, you may need a license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. If you make meat products, you may need to contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Where to Find Them

With all these licensing and permit requirements, where do you go to find the proper forms?

Go to the U.S. Small Business Administration website. The website has a list and links to all state business license offices, and federal licenses and permits that you may need for your specific industry. The site is also a great resource on starting, funding, and operating a business.

Don't forget your city or county though. Take a look at websites for your local entities to make sure you are properly permitted. For example, the City of San Francisco has a special business portal online with access to all the local permits as well as resources to help owners grown and manage their businesses.

Alternatively, if you want to spend your time focusing on operating your business instead of doing paperwork, an experienced business attorney can help you get all the required licenses and permits for your business.

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