Legalizing your Small Business: Permits, Licenses, Certifications, oh my!
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: June 9, 2009, 7:58 am
- Updated: October 25, 2011, 10:20 am
Aside from questions about loans, grants and generally getting started in small business, one of the most commonly asked questions on the Small Business Administration (SBA) Web site is 'How do I get a business license?'
The answer, posted here, loosely points small business owners to their state or local government. And while your local jurisdiction is often the source of business licenses and permits, the federal government also oversees the licensing of federally regulated small businesses.
It’s a confusing arena, and even the simplest licensing requirements - such as getting a permit for your home-based business - are often overlooked by eager entrepreneurs.
Below are some simple pointers to help you understand basic business licensing requirements and take the steps towards obtaining and maintaining the correct licenses for your business type.
What Business Licenses do I need and how do I Apply?
The quickest and easiest way to find an answer is to take advantage of an invaluable tool developed by the government - 'Permit Me' . Simply enter your zip code and business type and the Web-based tool will match your profile information to the federal, state and local permits, licenses, and registrations you’ll need to run a business in your locality.
The results page also provides links to forms and information about how to go about licensing your small business. Even better, it integrates information from the government about other business registration and legal requirements such as employer obligations with regard to workplace posters, business insurance, income tax withholding, and employee eligibility verification.
What if my Business is Involved in Activities that are Supervised and Regulated by a Federal Agency?
Federal business licenses are diverse and are regulated separately by a variety of government agencies and departments, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (for the transportation of livestock and plant life), Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (for manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and retailers of alcohol beverages), the Federal Communications Commission (for those involved in media broadcasting), and so on.
The good news is that you can find most of the information you will need to know about federal business license requirements in one place.
Business.gov’s Federal Licenses for Regulated Businesses lists the types of business activities licensed by the federal government and provides direct links to all the forms and information you’ll need to comply.
As a rule, if you are involved in any of the following business areas you will need to verify what federal licenses, permits or excise taxes apply to you before you even start your business venture. Business activities licensed by the federal government are:
- Agriculture - Specifically the import and transportation of livestock, animal products, biologics, biotechnology and plants.
- Alcoholic Beverages - Whether you import, export, produce, wholesale, or retail alcoholic beverages, you will need a license.
- Aviation - Airmen, aircraft, airports, airlines, aviation mechanics, and medical aviation services are all regulated.
- Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives - Manufacturers, dealers and importers of firearms and ammunitions are subject to licensing standards and must also pay excise taxes.
- Fish and Wildlife - If you are engaged in any wildlife related activity, including the import/export of wildlife and derivative products, you’ll need a permit.
- Commercial Fisheries - Regulated by NOAA, you’ll need a permit for any commercial fishing venture.
- Maritime Transportation - The Federal Maritime Commission’s Office of Transportation Intermediaries issues licenses for ocean freight forwarder and non-vessel-operating common carrier.
- Mining and Drilling - Businesses involved in the drilling for natural gas, oil or other mineral resources on federal lands may be required to obtain a drilling permit from Minerals Management Service.
- Nuclear Energy - If you are involved in the development, distribution and disposal of nuclear materials, you’ll need a license.
- Radio and TV Broadcasting - Radio, television, wire, satellite and cable is licensed by the FCC. Internet service providers, however, are not.
- Transportation - Oversized vehicles of a certain weight require a permit.
If your business touches one or several of these activities, Business.gov connects you with the appropriate licensing process and forms here.
Maintaining Your Business License
Licenses aren’t indefinite, so keep track of renewal dates and be sure to display any appropriate license and permit paperwork at your premise. More tips here.
- Essential Government Forms - This directory categorizes forms by what you’re trying to accomplish (starting a business, operating a business, etc.).
- Licensing Your Small Business: Quick Tools at Your Fingertips - Whether you are in the early exciting stages of starting your own business or are already well established, you are required to meet both general and business-specific government licensing and permit regulations. Here is a quick checklist of common licenses.
- Doing Business in Your Town: Navigating the State and Local Government Maze - Tools and resources provided by the government - from seminars, to in-person assistance - that can help you start-up, build and operate a successful, and compliant, business.
- Operating a Restaurant within the Law: A 101 in Compliance (Part 1) - Focusing on minimum wage, tips, and overtime.
- Operating a Restaurant within the Law: A 101 in Compliance (Part 2) - Focusing on understanding and achieving compliance with restaurant-specific labor laws, food safety and nutritional labeling, working with immigrants, and taxes.
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General small business tips and tricks.