Small Business Basics: Permits and Licenses

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

A person completes forms to acquire the small business licenses that are needed to run a business

Do you need permits or licenses to run your business? You might, depending on your line of work, location, and certain government rules.

In this article, we’ll break down some of these federal, state, and local requirements you may need to meet. We'll also direct you to agencies that can help you with your permit and license needs.

 

Federal small business permits and licenses

Some lines of work call for a federal license. This is the case for any business that's regulated by a federal agency.

In this list, you'll find links for the federal agencies you'll need to connect with if you work in transport, mining, broadcasting, or any other regulated field:

Agricultural import or transport

Contact: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Alcohol production, wholesale, import, or sale

Contact: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Aviation operations, transport, or maintenance

Contact: Federal Aviation Administration

Firearms, ammunition, or explosives production, sale, or import

Contact: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

Fish and wildlife activities, which may include the import or export of wildlife or wildlife products

Contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Commercial fishing

Contact: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service

Maritime transport or cargo transport by sea

Contact: Federal Maritime Commission

Mining and drilling for natural gas, oil, or mineral resources on federal lands

Contact: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Nuclear energy production, distribution, or disposal or operations as a fuel cycle facility

Contact: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Radio and TV broadcasting, which may also include wire or satellite broadcasts

Contact: Federal Communications Commission

In many cases, you'll need to apply for a license to operate. The web links we shared should tell you how to work through the process and obtain the application you need to get started. Pay close attention to these points:

  • The fee you'll need to pay for a license
  • The rules and restrictions you'll need to follow as a license holder
  • How often you'll need to renew it (and the cost for doing so)

 

State and local small business permits and licenses

States regulate many other activities. Here is a list of the ones you might see regulated in your state:

  • Transport and logistics
  • Construction
  • Auctions
  • Farming
  • Trade work
  • Salon service
  • Pet care
  • Food service
  • Dry cleaning
  • Retail

.

Every state has a website (or part of one) that walks business owners through the state permit and license process. You can find a link to your state's site (and a direct phone number) here:

Alabama

(334) 242-9600

Hawaii

(808) 586-2727

Massachusetts

(617) 701-8600

New Mexico

(505) 476-4500

South Dakota

(800) 872-6190

Alaska

(907) 465-2550

Idaho

(800) 225-3815

Michigan

(517) 241-9221

New York

(518) 485-5000

Tennessee

(615) 741-8914

Arizona

(602) 845-1200

Illinois

(217) 782-7500

Minnesota

(800) 310-8323

North Carolina

(800) 228-8443

Texas

(512) 936-0100

Arkansas

(501) 682-3409

Indiana

(317) 233-0800

Mississippi

(601) 359-1633

North Dakota

(701) 328-5300

Utah

(800) 530-6701

California

(916) 653-6814

Iowa

(866) 537-6052

Missouri

(573) 751-0293

Ohio

(614) 466-2711

Vermont

(802) 828-2386

Colorado

(303) 894-7855

Kansas

(785) 296-3481

Montana

(406) 444-6900

Oklahoma

(405) 815-6552

Virginia

(804) 367-8500

Connecticut

(860) 713-6100

Kentucky

(502) 564-3490

Nebraska

(402) 471-8606

Oregon

(503) 986-2200

Washington

(360) 705-6741

Delaware

(302) 577-8778

Louisiana

(225) 925-4704

Nevada

(775) 684-5708

Pennsylvania

(833) 367-2762

West Virginia

(304) 558-8000

Florida

(850) 487-1395

Maine

(207) 624-9670

New Hampshire

(603) 271-0658

Rhode Island

(401) 462-9500

Wisconsin

(608) 224-5012

Georgia

(404) 962-4000

Maryland

(410) 767-1350

New Jersey

(800) 537-7397

South Carolina

(803) 898-5690

Wyoming

(307) 234-6685

.

As with federal licenses, you may need to apply for a license to operate. The state links we shared should help you find the first steps to take and offer an application for getting started. Whether you're on the state site or speaking with a state contact, try learning more about these three points:

  • The fee you'll pay for a license
  • The rules and restrictions you'll need to follow as a state license holder
  • How often you'll need to renew it (and the cost for doing so)

 

Next, contact your city or county office to learn about the other requirements your business and building must meet. Start with your local zoning board. This group should walk you through zoning concerns and building and signage permits that might affect your business. Then, reach out to your area commerce board to learn about other local requirements.

Need help finding your local zoning board? Your local town hall could be a great resource. You can find the contact info for your town hall at Townhallproject.com.

 

What’s next?

There are lots of steps to starting a business. Log into your owner’s portal for a free step-by-step guide to make your new venture a success.

Want to take on other tasks?

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