Although a business plan should be at the top of your “to do” list, you can’t realistically complete one until you have made four crucial organizational decisions: (1) how to structure your business; (2) what to call your business;
(3) where to locate your business; and (4) which licenses/permits you will need to get your business up and running. Each decision relies on elements established by the previous one, so start with structure, then move along step by step, basing individual choices on what you believe to be in the best interest of your business.
Choose a structure for your business.
This isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. Businesses are typically structured as one of four types: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company. Which one is best for your business depends on your personal tax situation, the type of business you want to start, number of owners and whether or not you plan to have employees.
For information on corporate filing fees and to register your business name online, go to sunbiz.org. Registration must be renewed every five years and re-registered if ownership of the name changes. For questions regarding online registration of fictitious names, call (850) 245-6059.
Naming Your Business
Selecting a name is one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make, and it is not a task to be taken lightly. Here are four tips to get you started:
Brainstorm Gather friends and family for a brainstorming session. Come up with keywords that relate to you, your business and the products or services you provide. Look to pop culture and literary devices for ideas.
Be Concise Many of the business names we know best — Apple, Exxon, Google, Mattel, Citibank and Starbucks — have fewer than 10 letters, making them easy to remember, search and slip into a 140-character Tweet.
Keep Your Options Open You might want to one day enlarge your product line or expand into new locations, so give your company a name that allows you the flexibility to do that.
Consider trademark The name you ultimately choose is no good if it’s already taken. Before you order signage or letterhead, do an online search (www.uspto.gov or www.trademarkia.com) to see if another company is already using the name.
If you intend to conduct business under a name other than your own, even if the name seems very similar, you must file a Fictitious Name registration application with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. For details, see dba FloridaTM.
Find the right location.
If your business will depend heavily on customer traffic for success, choosing the right location may be equally, if not more, important than choosing a name. In addition to customer exposure, be sure to consider these factors when choosing a site:
Zoning Is the area zoned for your type of business?
Affordability Are rents in this location consistent with your budget?
Condition Is the site ready to be occupied or will renovations be needed?
Competition Are surrounding businesses complementary or competing?
Suppliers Can suppliers find you easily?
Potential Employees Does the area offer a labor pool you could draw from?
Safety What is the crime rate? Will your employees feel safe alone in the building?
Image Is the location consistent with the image you want to project?
Know the permits and licenses you need.
Unless you are a sole proprietor with no employees, working from home, you will likely need one or more of the following licenses and permits in order to legally open and operate:
Beverage Licenses Businesses in Florida that sell alcoholic beverages must apply for a beverage license through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Retailers and wholesalers of beer, wine or liquor are subject to federal occupational tax and must register with and obtain a control number from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Business Tax Receipt (aka Occupational License) Required by most Florida counties and cities. If you are located within your city limits, and the city and county issue separate business tax receipts, contact your municipal and county government offices to determine if you need one or both.
Environmental Permits Required for any business that is an actual or potential polluting source; one-time construction permits and renewable operating permits are also required. Apply through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Health Permits and Licenses Required for public lodging and public food service businesses and available from the Division of Hotels and Restaurants. Licenses for retail food stores, food processing plants and food storage/distribution businesses may be obtained from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Retail Establishment Licenses Required by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation for any business financing the sale of goods or services sold by installment contract or revolving charge account to a retail buyer. Also subject to licensing and regulation: collection agencies, consumer finance companies, mortgage brokers, securities dealers and investment advisors, and mortgage business schools.
State and Professional Business Licenses More than 200 job categories/businesses require a license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Health-related professions/businesses are licensed and regulated by the Florida Department of Health.
Zoning Permit Required by most Florida counties and cities and must be obtained prior to receiving a business tax receipt. For addresses within city limits, contact the city zoning department; outside city limits, contact the county zoning department. Some jurisdictions require both.