Do I need a business license? We get this question all the time, and the answer depends on the specifics of the business you run.
Most businesses know they need to register with their state (Nav customers can use the BusinessLauncher tool in their free Nav account to take their business to the next level), but getting a business license may or may not be necessary depending on your business type or your state’s licensing regulations.
We found out that most states don’t have a comprehensive business licensing search website. Some do (such as New York and Oregon), others have a “one-stop” business registration website that includes permitting and licenses, and still others have a dedicated page directing business owners to contact their local town or city clerk for business licensing information.
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Where do I go for a business license?
We decided to compile a list of business licensing resources by state to get business owners across the country going in the right direction. Along the way we found a few other licensing resources worth mentioning:
- CityApplications.com: City Applications has contact info at the city-level for business license and permitting information. This is helpful because the licenses your business will might all be local requirements!
- SBA.com: SmallBusinessAdvice.com has information on starting and running a business, including business permitting and licensing information by state. For some states the information isn’t available, but others, SBA.com will direct you to the appropriate state website for permitting and licensing information.
- SBA.gov: The Small Business Administration has a link to each state’s permitting information. This wasn’t very useful in our case — some of the links are broken, others just lead you to a general state government website, but it does seem useful for some states.
- Your local SBDC or town/city clerk: If you ask a SCORE mentor, they will likely tell you that this is the best place to start, and in many cases this is true. Many of the licenses/permits you may need to start your business are city-level permits. Your city clerk should have a full list of licenses you will need, and this is the best way to make sure you have covered all your bases.
Business licensing resources for each state
- extremely helpful: this is “CalGold” standard — a website along the lines of a searchable database that gives you all the permits you will need for your business.
- very helpful: offer a “one-stop” launch your business portal with licensing information included.
- helpful: offer many licenses/permits online, but are not complete — see your local city clerk for complete license information.
- somewhat helpful: most-likely only helpful for businesses that know what they are looking for — some of these sites offer contact information for your local state department authorities.
- not very helpful: there are very few or no online resources offered — for these websites it’s best to go straight to the county or city clerk.
|State||Resource URLs||Helpful?*||What does the resources offer?|
|Alabama||Alabama Revenue Website: Licensing||Not very helpful||This site just links to other websites or resources. Not comprehensive, need to visit or contact local city clerk’s office|
|Alaska||Alaska Commerce Department: Licensing||Alaska Professional LicensingHelpfulThis Commerce Department website does not have permit forms listed. It tells you that you will need a business license that is specific to your NAICS code. The second link is for professional licensing — it is comprehensive, with licensing info for ~50 different professions, and links to the appropriate license.|
|Arizona||AZcommerce.com||Helpful||This is a small business checklist. It is pretty useful. There is a drop-down menu directing you to choose what aspect of your business you need help with: starting, operating, or growing your business. They offer quick links to licensing offices at the state, county, and city level. They also have FAQs|
|Arkansas||Arkansas.gov: Professional Licensing||Not very helpful||This provides links to downloadable professional license applications — it is a resource for business owners that already know what licenses their businesses need. For beginners seeking Arkansas permits, we would suggest contacting your local city or county clerk for permiting and license information.|
|California||CalGold||Extremely helpful||CalGold is wonderful. It is a comprehensive, searchable database of what your business will need to operate in a specific county of California. We would recommend using this but also double checking with a county/city authority once you are done to make sure you have all your bases covered.|
|Colorado||Colorado Occupational License Database||Helpful||This is pretty comprehensive — select your industry and this site will give you a full list of what you will need at the federal, state, and local level.|
|Connecticut||CT’s Business Response Center||Helpful||This is pretty comprehensive — search by keyword, agency, or trade. Shows a list of what permits/licenses you will need and what department requires the permit.|
|Delaware||Delaware One Stop Business Registration & Licensing||Very helpful||This is a one-stop business registration and licensing website — 100% online.|
|Florida||Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation||Somewhat helpful||This allows you to see permit/license requirements via links. You must choose your business category, this site will not tell you exactly what you need based on your business. Some business categories have an online application process.|
|Georgia||Georgia USA SMB Resource Directory||Helpful||The Georgia Secretary of State has an online licensing application process for many types of businesses. This allows you to do professional (personal) or business (physical) permits online. There is also a small business help website (georgia.org). This is pretty helpful, but a bit confusing (many links to many different pages, unclear what they exactly want, etc).|
|Hawaii||Hawai’i Professional and Vocational Licensing||Helpful||Hawai’i PVL allows you to request professional licenses by industry. There is also Hawai’i Business Express, which allows you to register your business online. They have a technical support chat room available, which was pretty helpful to me. For more info on local permits, they suggest contacting the Business Action Center at 808-586-2545.|
|Idaho||Idaho Biz Help||Very helpful||This page contains a link to Idaho’s “Biz Wizard,” which takes you through a survey about your business, ending in a checklist of items you will need to open your business’s door. NOTE: they mention that their list may not be comprehensive, so it’s best to check with local city clerk as well.|
|Illinois||Illinois.gov: Registration, LIcenses, & Permits||Not very helpful||There is no search function here, just a bunch of links. A lot of the links direct you to city-level websites that contain more specific permit/license information|
|Indiana||Indiana.gov: Starting your Business Requirements||Not very helpful||Indiana has this long, wordy PDF about business licensing information, which may or may not be up-to-date. We would suggest going straight to your city/county clerk for more information about starting a business in your area.|
|Iowa||Iowa Source Link||Helpful||This is a searchable list of license information with links to department contact information.|
|Kansas||NetWork Kansas: Registering a business||Helpful||Kansas has a website sponsored by the Kansas Department of Commerce that is meant to help people start a business. They have a PDF of contact information (by department) for many types of business activities|
|Kentucky||Kentucky One-Stop Business Portal||Helpful||This is a one-stop business registration and licensing website — 100% online.|
|Louisiana||Louisiana.gov: Professional & Occupational LIcenses||Helpful||Searchable list of professional and occupational licenses, with links to the department’s website that requires the license, and the application form if available online.|
|Maine||Maine.gov: Business Licensing||Somewhat helpful||This site has a lot of useful permit and licensing resources. They have links to some common general licenses on the page, as well as a link to the local government portal for local licenses, and a link to business resources by profession.|
|Maryland||Maryland Business License Information System||Helpful||This is pretty comprehensive — search by keyword, industry, or local county resources. Shows a list of what permits/licenses you will need and what department requires the permit.|
|Massachusetts||Mass.gov: Division of Professional Licensure||Not very helpful||These Massachusetts websites essentially direct you to local departments for license and permitting information. There is a link for professional licensing contact information (by department) and local city hall contact information.|
|Michigan||Michigan State License Search||Very helpful||Michigan has a searchable licensing website – start typing the category your business falls under in the search bar and you will see results. The results page will also tell you what other possible licenses you might need.|
|Minnesota||License Minnesota||Very helpful||Select what type of license you need from the drop-down menu (options contain both business and professional licensing) and select your subtopics. The end result is a list of forms you will need and in some cases an online application process.|
|Mississippi||Mississippi Small Business Development Center||Not very helpful||MIssissippi’s online resources aren’t very straight forward — we would suggest going to a Mississippi SBDC office or your town/city clerk.|
|Missouri||Missouri Business Development Program: Licenses and Registration Checklist||Somewhat helpful||Missouri also has limited online information, although they do have a bunch of “business profiles” detailing what license + permits you may need for your specific business. After checking the profiles, make sure to go to your local town clerk to check that you’ve filled out all the right licenses.|
|Montana||Montana E-Stop Business Licenses||Not very helpful||Montana offers a few general state licenses that you can apply to online, but for local/county permits and licenses you will need to visit your local city clerk.|
|Nebraska||Nebraska One-Stop Business Registration Information||Very helpful||This is a one-stop business registration website.|
|Nevada||Nevada Silver Flume Business Portal||Very helpful||This is a one-stop business registration website.|
|New Hampshire||New Hampshire Business One Stop||Very helpful||This is a one-stop business registration website. It takes you through a questionnaire to complete your business registration and permitting.|
|New Jersey||New Jersey Business Portal||Somewhat helpful||There is no information about specific permits on this website, but for many popular business types this is an easy way to find exactly who to contact in your local city about licenses and permits.|
|New Mexico||New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department||Not very helpful||This website offers general state-level online permit/license applications, but local -level permitting will need to be done at the city clerk’s office.|
|New York||New York License Center: Business Wizard||Extremely helpful||New York’s Business Wizard is great, an easy way to search for New York’s business requirements in your area.|
|North Carolina||Business Link North Carolina||Somewhat helpful||Business Link North Carolina just says that the best way to access business licensing info is to contact one of their reps via the phone. Also offers a variety of links by department and a planning checklist.|
|North Dakota||NDSBDC: Starting a Biz in ND||Somewhat helpful||North Dakota has a “business checklist” that directs you to different governmental sites for each step in establishing your business, including a new business registration and licensing site. North Dakota State University also offers a list of license requirements and contact information by governmental department.|
|Ohio||Ohio.gov: Starting a Business||Somewhat helpful||This site has 2 downloadable PDFs to get you started launching your business. You are encouraged to also contact a local Small Business Developement Center.|
|Oklahoma||Oklahoma State Business Registration System||Very helpful||Oklahoma has an online system for you to create an account, answer some questions about your business and determine what licenses and permits you will need.|
|Oregon||LicenseInfo.Oregon.gov||Very helpful||This site allows you to search by keyword for licenses you seek, search popular licenses|
|Pennsylvania||PA Biz Online||Very helpful||This is a one-stop business registration and service licensing website — 100% online.|
|Rhode Island||Rhode Island Dept of Business Regulation||Helpful||Rhode Island has an online licensing process for certain businesses and repair shops, but not all. If you do not find your specified business, you will need to visit a local city clerk’s office for forms and registration.|
|South Carolina||South Carolina Business One Stop||Very helpful||This site offers a business portal for registering your business, as well as a page about licensing information.|
|South Dakota||SDReadyToWork.com: Licensing and Registering Your Business||Helpful||South Dakota has a 60-page business licensing and permiting guide, organized by the department that requires the license. There are no license applications in this document. For applications you will need to contact the department and a local city clerk.|
|Tennessee||Tennessee Smart Start Small Business Guide||Somewhat helpful||Tennessee offers a lengthy, but useful small business guide for new and existing businesses. For licensing, it directs you to a local city clerk’s office for more information.|
|Texas||Texas.gov: Occupational LIcenses & Permits||Not very helpful||This Texas website has occupational licenses and permits for a variety of occupations. The links on this site direct you to a specific state department page with more information.|
|Utah||Utah Once Stop Online Business Registration||Extremely helpful||This is a business “one stop” registration shop, which allows you to organize all registration forms. This is very helpful, because it also provides local licensing information and forms that must be returned to your municipality.|
|Vermont||Vermont Permitting & Compliance||Somewhat helpful||This Vermont resources is a list of professions that require state or federal licenses. Be sure to check with your local clerk to check if there are any additional requirements!|
|Virginia||Virginia Business One Stop||Somewhat helpful||This is a business “one stop” shop, but instead of a questionnaire sheet, this just contains links and step-by-step instructions on how to establish a business.|
|Washington||Washington DOL: Business & Professional Licenses||Not very helpful||This site has “how-to’s” for getting and renewing various professional licenses, although the number of professions they offer information for is limited. We suggest that businesses in Washington go to their local city or town clerk for more information on business licenses.|
|West Virginia||Business4WestVirginia.com||Very helpful||This site allows you to search professional and occupational licenses by category, regulatory permits by category, and all types of licenses and permits by keyword. It is pretty helpful, but it’s not government affiliated so it might not be up-to-date. It’s best to check with your local city clerk after going through this site.|
|Wisconsin||Wisconsin Dept. of Safety and Professional Services: License/Permit/Registration||Somewhat helpful||This Wisconsin website offers professional licensing information, but for your actual business licenses you will need to visit a local city clerk for more information.|
|Wyoming||Wyoming Business Permit Booklet||Very helpful||Wyoming has a 60-page business licensing and permiting guide with a whole slew of contact information for every department and local county offices.|
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