File the Necessary Paperwork
When you’re a brand-new business owner, every step you take toward opening your doors to the public for the first time is exciting. In reality, however, most of what you have to do upfront is just a lot of paperwork. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate every milestone in the process of building your business. Just don’t expect your friends and family to be as pumped as you are. In all likelihood, the things you have to do to officially declare yourself “in business” won’t seem particularly significant to anyone but you.
In Florida, you may officially consider yourself “in business” once you have completed the following five steps:
01 / Choose a structure
Select from these four options: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability. The correct structure for you to choose depends on the type of business you envision and whether you intend to hire employees or go it alone. See dba Florida™ for guidelines and detailed descriptions of each.
02 / Choose a name
What will you call your business? The most obvious choice is your own name. That works well for professional firms, but for a restaurant, retail site or specialty business, you might want to think more creatively. Just keep in mind that the best names for a business are:
- Concise – fewer than 10 letters
- Flexible – adaptable to new products and/or locations
- Original – not already in use (search trademarkia.com or uspto.gov to be sure)
Note: If you plan to conduct business under a name other than your own, you must file a Fictitious Name registration application with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. See dba Florida™ for details.
03 / Choose a location
Finding just the right site for your business is important. So, before you fall in love with a particular neighborhood or sign a multi-year lease you might later regret, ask yourself a few pointed questions:
- Is the area zoned for my type of business?
- Are surrounding businesses complementary or competitive?
- Is there a labor pool I can draw from?
- Will I feel safe here?
- Can I afford the monthly rent?
- Do I even need a dedicated location or could I simply work from home?
04 / Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
In order to pay federal, state and local taxes, you must have an official federal ID number. If you are operating as a sole proprietor with no employees, your Social Security number is sufficient; otherwise, visit irs.gov/businesses to obtain a free Employer Identification Number (EIN).
05 / Secure Necessary Permits and Licenses
Unless you are working from home as a sole proprietor, you will likely need one or more of the following to legally open and operate your business.
- ZONING PERMIT Must be obtained before receiving a business tax receipt. Apply at either the city or county zoning department depending on your location; some jurisdictions require both.
- BUSINESS TAX RECEIPT (aka Occupational License): Cities and counties typically issue separate business tax receipts. If your business is within city limits, you may need both. Contact your municipal and county government offices for clarification.
- STATE AND PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS LICENSES: Many job categories/professions require a license from either 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. Costs vary and applicants must meet established criteria.
- HEALTH PERMITS AND LICENSES: Required for public lodging and food service businesses; available from the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants. For licenses pertaining to retail food stores, food processing plants and food storage/distribution businesses, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
- BEVERAGE LICENSES: Businesses that sell alcoholic beverages must apply for beverage licenses through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation; fees depend on type of beverages sold or served. Retailers and wholesalers of beer, wine or liquor must pay federal occupational tax and obtain a control number from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
- RETAIL ESTABLISHMENT LICENSES: Required by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation for any business financing the sale of goods or services to a retail buyer. Also subject to licensing: collection agencies, consumer finance companies, mortgage brokers, securities dealers, investment advisors, mortgage business schools.
- ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITS: Required if business is an actual or potential polluting source; one-time construction permits and renewable operating permits are also required. Permitting is mandated for dredge and fill, stormwater construction, water treatment and sewage treatment activities. Apply through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.