Individuals wanting to start home-based businesses are often so eager to get started that they overlook the task of making sure that they have all the necessary licenses and permits required to legally operate their new businesses. This can cause major problems in the future. The last thing you want is to get your business up and running well, and then have it suddenly shut down by a government authority because you lack a necessary permit. It's well worth the time and minor investment required to make sure that you have all business licensing requirements squared away right from the start.
Specific licensing, zoning and permit requirements vary according to locality. You can check the Small Business Administration (SBA) site to obtain specific requirements for your state. However, the basic licensing and permit requirements are fairly consistent from one state to another.
1) General Business License
Any type of business, including home-based businesses, must obtain a local city or county business license. This is a basic license to engage in business activities within the local jurisdiction. If your city or county doesn't have a specific business licensing department, then you can obtain information on obtaining a basic business license at your local tax office. The license may be designated as a business tax certificate, reseller's certificate or license.
In addition to obtaining a general business license, check that your business is in compliance with local zoning ordinances. Sometimes this is certified when you apply for your business license, but in other areas, you need to double check with the city or county zoning department. Neighborhoods, usually in the form of homeowners associations, also tend to have restrictions on the operations of home businesses. If your business does not meet local zoning ordinances or neighborhood requirements, it is possible to obtain an exception or variance, but go through the proper channels to do so.
2) Professional License
Certain types of home-based businesses, such as day care centers, hairstyling, legal services or financial advisor services, require state or federal professional licensing or certification. Contact your state business office or visit the official state website to obtain a list of all occupations or businesses that require professional licensing.
3) Health and Safety Permits
Depending on the type of business you intend to operate, you may need to obtain an inspection and permit from the local fire department. This is most commonly required if customers or clients actually come to your home to conduct business. It is not usually required if your home-based business only provides goods or services online, unless you keep an inventory of potentially flammable products at your home.
Less commonly required are environmental licenses or health department permits. Such licenses or permits are most commonly required for businesses engaged in the wholesale or retail selling of food and beverage products. In any event, it's easy enough to check with state environmental protection agencies or local health departments to find out if your business requires any type of environmental inspections or permits.
4) Sign Permit
If you're planning to put out a sign where you live to advertise your business, make certain that you are in compliance with all local ordinances. Nearly all cities or counties have specific sign ordinances in effect that govern the size, type and location of business signs. Lighting of signs is also usually restricted. In addition to city or county laws, many homeowners associations, condos or apartment complexes have their own restrictions on commercial signs. If you own your home, look over your deed and check with your homeowners association. If you rent, obtain permission from your landlord.
5) Sales Tax License
In some localities, a sales tax license is part of the general business license. However, in other areas, a separate sales tax license is required in addition to a local business license. The local department from which you obtain a business license from can tell you if you must obtain a separate sales tax license and where to get the license at either the state or local level. Make sure that you have this covered; in some jurisdictions, operating a business without a proper sales tax license is a criminal violation.