Q: I'm getting ready to start a low-cost business. Do I need a business license? If so, where do I obtain one?
A: Provided by Robert Sullivan, author of The Small Business Start-Up Guide, $16.95, and United States Government--New Customer!, $27.95 (Information International, 800-375-8439).
Depending on your type of business, you may need local, county, state or federal licensing. To determine local licensing requirements, contact your city or county government offices. Nearly all businesses need a county or city license, which is easy to obtain and normally requires only a short visit to the local courthouse. Fees, if any, are minimal.
If you intend to operate from home, be sure to check local zoning requirements and property covenants (again, at the courthouse). Zoning requirements regulate how property can be used and may restrict various activities.
Certain businesses and professions also require a state license. Examples include barbers, contractors and most businesses serving food. Each state has an agency dealing with these types of businesses. Contact your local government offices to see if your particular business requires a state license. Another good source of state-specific licensing information is your local library. Inquire at the reference desk.
For a very few businesses, federal licensing is required. Examples would be a business providing investment advice or dealing with firearms. In general, federal licensing is required if the business is highly regulated by the government. In such cases, it's best to consult an attorney.