This is the third post in my series on legitimizing your business by getting all the proper licensing (for U.S. businesses). If you would like to read the first two posts click the links:

Get legit ! #1 Getting your EIN#
Get legit ! #2 Your neighborhood

For our International Team Members, sorry, I don't know about getting licenses in your country, but you may still find some of this information helpful.

Remember, we are just taking baby steps.

At this point in the process take time to do the research on exactly what (if anything) you will need to do at City, County and State levels.

Calm down.

Look at this serene photo and take a deep breath.


No need to panic. All you are doing is gathering forms and getting information on fees. You can divide it up and tackle just one per day. It will probably only take you a few minutes each since most business license and tax forms and information are available on-line these days.

NOTE:  You'd think you would apply first to your City and then your County before tackling the big guys at the State level, but I've discovered that's not the way it usually works. You almost always have to get your State paperwork done before other levels of government will even consider your application.

The reason I'm telling you to go ahead and gather ALL your forms at once is because every state has different laws governing which agency and level of government does what. Some states have no sales tax so you don't even have to bother with that. In some states you will file a fictitious name statement at county level, in others it's at state level (more on that coming up).  Right now you are just on a fact finding mission.

Need another soothing picture?


Let's go on.

I mentioned before that I have held business licenses in Texas, Alaska, Nevada and now Utah. In each and every place the process was different. With the sole exception of City of North Las Vegas in Nevada, the process was also always surprisingly easy AND inexpensive. Let's face it. They want you to collect sales tax and pass it on to them. They want you to pay your licensing fee instead of working under the radar. They generally make it easy and affordable. They are almost always eager and willing to hold your hand and help walk you through the process. I'll give you an idea of what my experience was in all four states.

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My first business license was in Texas.  Texas isn't a fan of big government. All I had to do was walk into the Regional Courthouse with my application, look up to see if the business name I wanted was already being used, pay them $50 and sign in front of a notary. That took care of everything--all licenses, sales tax, etc.

In Alaska I got the form from the State, filled it out and mailed it in with a small check. Since I lived on a military base and had permission from them and since there was no sales tax, that's all I had to do.

In Nevada at the State level everything was very easy. They were nice and helpful. Since I had a small home business I didn't even need a state license.  I just had to get my Sales and Use tax ID# so I could collect sales tax and remit it to them quarterly. I paid $15 for the paperwork fee and another $100 deposit for sales tax which they are returning to me since I stopped doing business there. At the county level I filled out a fictitious name statement and mailed it to them with a check for $25.

The city was a totally different matter. I had to go in person to collect an application package which was many pages long. I had to go to the City Planning and Zoning commission in person and get permission from them which took a couple of weeks before I could return and pick up my packet and then I had to return to the City Business License office and turn in my packet and pay various fees for my business license which expired every six months and had to be renewed (by mail with a check and financial forms). I will stress to you that this is the exception to the rule. Most places will not put you through all that!

Here in Utah, where I just received my business license, I was able to complete the State application process on-line with a $22 fee and then go to my City's website and print off their application on-line. Since the City offices are nearby I took it in with my $40 check and they approved it and sent me my official license in the mail a week later.

I've done all these over quite a few years so I'm sure the process has changed in some places.

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WARNING: If you are looking up business license info and forms on the internet, be warned that there are services out there that will pop up looking like they are your state's official website. These basically try to get you to go through them to get your business license and will charge you a lot of money for it. You don't need them. You can certainly fill out all the forms yourself. You may wish to have your lawyer or accountant look them over, but they would probably charge you a lot less than these services charge. My accountant will look them over for free since I pay him to do my yearly taxes. And remember that the agency you are applying to will also usually be extremely helpful if you have questions. I gave the prices that I paid for my licenses above to give you a gauge of what to expect.

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Time for another break?
FICTITIOUS NAME STATEMENT: At some point in the process, whether it be at state or county level, you will most likely need to fill out a fictitious name statement. It may be a separate form and a separate fee or it may be combined with your state application. This is a simple statement saying that you personally are doing business under a business name. This links you to your business name in the records. The only way you can really get around this is if your business name is the same to the letter as your full name.

For instance:  

If your name is Janet Smith and your business name is Janet Smith you don't need a fictitious name statement.

If your name is Janet Smith and you are doing business under the name Jan Smith Enterprises or anything other than Janet Smith, you will need one.

My name is Susan Runyon and my business name is Sue Runyon Designs so I had to fill one out.

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Note that if you have sales tax in your state you will be dealing with both the Business License and the Sales Tax agencies at the state level. Sometimes they work together and use one application, most of the time you'll have two. In Utah it was all done on-line in one process with prompts taking me to different pages depending on the type of business I was setting up.

OK, we're done.

After all that you deserve a smile.  This always does it for me:

Remember--take baby steps.

Next time we'll discuss how to tackle those state forms. It'll be a short one. You've already done all the hard work!

Comments (7)

On September 28, 2010 at 12:45 PM , MYSAVIOR said...

Sue - you are amazing and I truly love the pictures.

I bought a baby hat from Baruchs in that color. Very beautiful.


On September 28, 2010 at 12:58 PM , bbrunophotography said...

Sue, thank you for showcasing my hummingbird photo! I sat on my patio for over an hour until he (she?) arrived, and was soothing for me, too!

You've done a lot of research on licensing, and I know everyone is going to appreciate this post. It's one of those subjects that can be a pain, but you've laid it out well. Thank you.

On September 28, 2010 at 2:21 PM , v + s + m + i + a + c said...

Wow, great article, Sue! You are so clever. :) Thanks for including our little smile-producing kitty hat!

On September 28, 2010 at 4:23 PM , watercolors said...

Sue, Thanks for ALL your research and information.

I have a business license in Florida and it's not that expensive.

On September 28, 2010 at 7:57 PM , pfd said...

Sue - great info. We need to be legit even in our hobbies if we are selling.Thanks for keeping us on track!

On September 28, 2010 at 10:07 PM , Beantree Designs said...

Thank you so much for these articles, I'm getting to that point where I want to do this seriously and can use all the information I can get.
And thank you even more for using my photo!

On September 29, 2010 at 9:52 PM , sweetybird09 said...

Thanks for the information sue, and great pics too!