Now that your analysis is finished and your business plan is under way, it’s time to build your business.
Choose Your Structure
One of your first decisions as a business owner is to determine how your company will be structured — as a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company. Each has its own legal and tax implications; choosing your best fit depends on your personal tax situation, type of business, number of owners and whether or not you plan to have employees. Official descriptions of these legal structures are included in the “dba Florida” section from the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. The taxes related to each are described in “Manage It.”
Naming Your Business
What’s in a Name?
A good deal of thought, we suggest. Choosing a name is one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make, and it’s a task you shouldn’t take lightly. Plenty of advice about how to name your business is available online, but here are three tips to get you started:
The shorter your company’s name, the better. Many of the business names we know best — Ford, Apple, Exxon, Google, Mattel, CitiBank and Starbucks — have just 5-10 letters. Not only do these names roll off the tongue easily, they fit in a 144-character tweet.
Choose a name that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce and — here’s the really tough part — identifies your business without being too limiting. You might want to one day enlarge your product line or expand to new locations, so give your company a name that allows the flexibility to do that.
The name you ultimately choose is no good if it’s already taken. Before you order signage or letterhead, search one of the free sites available online (www.uspto.gov or www.trademarkia.com) to see if another company is already using it.
Of course it’s perfectly okay to use your own name as the name of your business; many sole proprietorships do. However, 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 with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. Corporations do not have to file, unless doing business under a name other than their corporate name.
For information about filing fees and to register a name online, visit sunbiz.org. Registration must be renewed every five years and re-registered if ownership of the name changes.
Take note: Registration does not reserve a fictitious name against future use by other business owners.
Permits and Licenses
Forms and More Forms
Launching a business typically involves paperwork. Unless you plan to go it alone — as a home-based sole proprietor with no employees — you will probably need to obtain certificates, licenses and permits in order to legally operate. Here’s an overview of what you might need.
Required by most counties and cities in Florida and must be obtained prior to receiving a business tax receipt. For addresses within city limits, contact the city zoning department; for addresses outside city limits, contact the county zoning department. Note: Some jurisdictions require permits from both city and county.
Business Tax Receipt
(formerly occupational license) Required by most counties and cities in Florida. If you are located within city limits and the city and county issue separate business tax receipts, you may need two. Contact the municipal and county government offices in your area for details.
State and Professional Business Licenses
Close to 200 job categories/professions require a state license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. In addition, more than 100 businesses require a license, permit or registration from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Costs vary depending on the profession; applicants must meet established criteria to be licensed. Health-related professions and businesses are licensed and regulated by the Florida Department of Health.
All businesses in Florida selling alcoholic beverages must apply for a beverage license through the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Fees are based on types of beverages sold or served. Retailers and wholesalers of beer, wine or liquor also are subject to federal occupational tax and must register with and obtain a control number from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Health Permits and Licenses
Required for public lodging and public food service businesses and are 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 Affairs.
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.
Permits are required for any business that is an actual or potential polluting source; one-time construction permits and renewable operating permits are also required. Permitting is mandated for such activities as dredge and fill, storm water construction, water treatment, sewage treatment and drainage well construction. Apply through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Locating Your Business
Location, Location, Location
For businesses that depend heavily on customer traffic for success, choosing the right location may be more important than choosing a name. Aside from customer exposure, some factors to consider include:
Image Is the location consistent with the image you want to project?
Zoning Is the area zoned for your type of business?
Competition Are surrounding businesses complementary or competing?
Potential employees Does the area offer a labor pool you could draw from?
Suppliers Can suppliers find you easily?
Safety What is the crime rate? Will your employees feel safe alone in the building?
Affordability Are rents in this location consistent with your budget?
Condition Is the site ready to be occupied or will renovations be needed?
For More Info
Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Licensing
Division of Hotels and Restaurants
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Licensing
(800) 435-7352 (Florida only)
Florida Department of Health
Florida Office of Financial Regulation
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
U.S. Department of the Treasury