Licensing and Regulations
Financial brokers, insurance brokers, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, attorneys, pharmacists, and certified public accountants are among the many professionals who are required to have a license. Likewise, many companies must be licensed in order to conduct their business. It's up to you to contact either the town hall, the records bureau, the secretary of state, the Department of Consumer Affairs, or other governing body to determine which licenses you need to conduct your business. The Small Business Administration (SBA) can also help. Go to www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/start/getlicensesandpermits/index.html for basic licensing information. Many cities now provide this kind of licensing information online as well.
Trade associations and professional associations are useful resources for licensing and compliance information. They are composed of members who are all in the same business so they are used to answering typical questions from individuals starting out in that line of business. They may also provide training for compliance with various regulations.
In most cases, business licenses are not costly, but they can make the difference between staying in business or being shut down—and even a temporary shutdown can cost you a lot in revenues. It can also damage the reputation of your new business. Certain cities make it clear that you must have a business license in order to operate. For example, any business of any type in the city of Chicago will need a business license. There are nearly 200 different types of business licenses in Chicago, and your business will certainly fall under one heading if not several. So if you're starting up a business in Chicago, make a visit to city hall.
Along with having a city, state, or county license, you'll need to address other responsibilities that come with owning a business. Businesses selling or preparing food, including vendors, will need special licenses or permits or both and will have to follow the codes set forth by the health department. Outdoor cooking or selling of potentially flammable objects will be closely watched by the fire department and you will need to adhere to their local ordinances. The local sanitation bureau and various other departments may have regulations that you'll need to comply with—or risk facing fines or even being shut down. The local chamber of commerce is a good place to inquire about such local regulations.
Some businesses need to adhere to federal regulations. Radio stations, for example, must follow Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules. Internet-based businesses have presented many gray areas in regard to application of standard regulations set forth by governing bodies such as the FCC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Thus far, it has been difficult to impose restrictions on the Internet because websites are based in different states and different countries and can, therefore, cross national and international boundaries. For example, you cannot open up an online casino based in most areas of the United States. However, you can start a casino outside the United States and U.S. citizens can play for real money at your website.
Most business licenses have expiration dates. Don't forget to make note of the date your license expires and what the renewal process entails. That way you won't be scrambling around at the last minute trying to find what you need to get your license renewed.
It's in your best interests to be aware of all regulations and licenses necessary for your profession, your business, and your community. Here's a to-do list for licensing:
Obtain any and all required federal, state, and local licensing.
Familiarize yourself with all zoning ordinances and local regulations.
Establish a system to periodically check the expiration dates of all licenses.
Post all licenses that require posting, and put all others in a safe place.