Starting a Legal U.S. Business 101

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(This business start-up assessment is geared for U.S. business operations and may be different for each county, state, & other countries. The below should not be construed as legal advice and is meant simply as an informational article to help get you started in your research. We advise that you do all you own research and consult with a licensed business consultant for up to date and accurate process information.)

Introduction to starting a U.S. Business 101
For the most part, business licenses, permits, and assumed name certificates can be handled by yourself, however some instances might require the help of a attorney. So before you get started, it's normally a good idea to line up a business attorney. An excellent method of locating a reliable business attorney is to ask your accountant, associates, or other business owners for recommendations. If you are unsure about needing assistance with business establishment, get a free attorney consultation and ask first (most attorneys offer a free first visit consultation). Your legal fees investment can help you avoid much bigger problems at a later down the read.

Do I need any form of license to conduct business?
Normally the answer to that question is "yes" (Every situation is different though). Without a business license, you might be conducting business illegally. Just about (not all) all businesses need a county or city license in the U.S.. There might be local, county, state, and or federal licensing requirements, depending on the type of business model you start. The fees associated with getting a business licensed are normally minimal.

Local Business Permits and Licensing
A businesses local licensing / permit requirements will vary for each city / county. Some examples of these variations are shown below:
  • Zoning compliance permits might be needed prior to opening for business. So, be sure the business space you lease / own is properly zoned for the specific type of business you'll be starting.
  • Special licenses may apply if you're conducting business out of your home, These special circumstances are normally for home businesses that have 1 or more of the following criteria: Clients that come the home, Employees that work out of your home, Physical merchandise / products stored at your home like a warehouse.
  • Remodeling permits may also be required if you intent to make alterations to an office building so that the government can insure it still passes building codes.
  • Additional licenses / permits / certifications may also be needed, please check your local, state, & federal requirements.

State Business Licenses and Permits
Businesses and professions may also require a state license / permit. Normally State licenses / permits are required for the following fields of occupation:
  • accountants
  • appraisers
  • auctioneers
  • barbers
  • bill collectors
  • building contractors
  • cosmetologists
  • private security guards
  • private investigators
  • real estate agents

A State may also require that you have a special license for selling certain products such as but not limited to: firearms, explosives, gasoline, chemicals, liquor, lottery tickets, etc.. Be sure to check with your local and state government to find out if your business will require any type of special licensing.

Federal Business Licenses and Permits
A few businesses may require additional federal licensing. Below are a few types of business models that may require additional federal licenses.
  • Broadcasting
  • Drug manufacturing
  • Ground transportation
  • Investment advising
  • Manufacturing tobacco, alcohol, or firearms
  • Preparing meat products
  • Selling firearms

Where can I find information to get a license in my state / county?
Generally you'll want to start at your local city hall, courthouse, or county clerks office. Maybe visit your city's county clerk first, they should be able to steer you in the right direction. You could also call the city or county clerk's office with your business questions, or maybe check your local phone book for municipal government offices. You could even try to search online for "Your city hall / county clerks office" to see if they have answers posted on their website(s).

Tell me more about working from home since I'm a domainer
Since every state, county, country is different, you'll need to investigate your local zoning ordinances that cover home based businesses. Some counties residential areas have very strict zoning restrictions that can prevent you from doing any form of business out of your home. However, it may still be possible to get a special variance or conditional-use permit to conduct business from home. No worries, in most areas these days attitudes toward a home business are becoming more acceptable, making it much easier to obtain a variance or not need any permits at all. Keep in mind that some apartment complexes, condominiums, assisted living, and planned communities might have some bylaws that restrict your ability to conduct business out of your home.

For more research you may want to check the following resources to see what requirements you may have in your area (U.S.):

What is a DBA?
A DBA (E.G. Doing Business As) is a legal name, other than the owner's name, you decide to give your business.

Do I need a DBA for my business?
The most common answer to that question is "yes," and this is certainly something you want to research and find out. A majority of states / counties require that you obtain a DBA. Both Sole proprietors and general partnerships operating their businesses under assumed names might need to apply for DBA certification in the county where your business is physically located. You can't legally enforce any contracts you sign under your business name unless the name is filed with the county clerks office as a legal assumed name. Registering your assumed name also helps you protect yourself from other businesses that may want to file for the same name in your county.

Are there benefits in having a DBA?
Below are a few important benefits when you establish a legal DBA:
  • Operate and advertise under your business name.
  • Prevent other businesses from using the name within your state.
  • Operate with a bank account under your business name.
  • Accept checks written out to your business name.
  • Gain a more professional image.

Ok, sounds good, but what's the process to get a DBA?
You'll need to visit your local county clerk's office to ask about the specific requirements and fees associated with an assumed name certificate (DBA). There's normally a small registration fee when you file. The county clerk's office normally conducts an assumed name search for the intended dba name you want to make sure it's not already taken. There should also be several online resources available to conduct a search for your intended business name as well.

Some states have a requirement that you have to place a assumed name notice in a local newspaper for a specific amount of time. The costs for this are usually minimal, and the newspapers may even file the necessary papers with the county for you. Consider checking with different local newspapers to see what they offer if this is a requirement in your state.

For the majority of states, corporations are not required to file assumed name certificates unless they do business under a name other than their own. Incorporation documents have the same effect as assumed names filed for partnerships and sole proprietorships.

Business name Banking
Now days the majority of all banks will not allow you to open a business account unless you show proof of a filed assumed name certificate (DBA). Business accounts are important so that you can accept payments written out to your company name (Much more professional to). You might want to consider checking with different banks to see the different services they offer and the requirements they have to set up a business account.

Should I Trademark my business name?
It's not required by law to register, however registering your name as a federal trademark is always a good idea. It can provide you with added protection in case another business tries to use your business name or a name that is easily confused with your business name. It's smart to file for a federal trademark if your company will be doing business in several states. You are not required by law to do this but registering your name as a trademark is always a good idea. It provides you with protection in case another business tries to use your business name or a name that is likely to be confused with your business name. It may be smart to file an application for a federal trademark if your company is doing business in several states. Run a search with the government or through a service to determine if your name is taken. You can run a search for other registered federal Trademarks here. It's important to know that there are 2 different kinds of Trademarks. Filing a registered Trademark provides the best protection and is identified with an encircled (R) next to the brand name, however the second type of Trademark is a self appointed mark identified by a TM next to the brand name. Self TM's are legal in a court of law and can still assist in winning cases based on usage.
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