Start a Business

Do I need a Business License as a Sole Proprietorship?

As a sole proprietor, you have the freedom to work independently and be your own boss. But one thing that you might not realize as a sole proprietor is that there are certain legal requirements for running a business lawfully. One of these important requirements is obtaining the right type of business license -- so it begs the question: do I need a business license if I'm running my own business as a sole proprietor?

In this guide, we'll take an in-depth look at what types of licenses you may need depending on where you're located and the activities being conducted in your particular region. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to grow your existing small business, learning what types of business licenses are necessary can help set up secure foundations for future success!

New call-to-action

Overview: What is a Sole Proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship offers an uncomplicated yet effective way to launch a business with minimal legal and financial complexities. In a sole proprietorship, you, as the business owner, hold complete responsibility for the company, enjoying both the freedom to make key decisions and the privilege to claim all profits.

Along with effortless handling of legal paperwork and greater flexibility, this business structure enables you to have full control of the brand you create. However, a sole proprietorship also comes with the burden of personal liability for business debts and potential losses.

Related Reading: What is the Difference Between a Sole Proprietorship and a Limited Liability Company?

What is a Business License? 

A business license serves as a form of official permission granted by a government or regulatory body that enables you to conduct business legally within a specific jurisdiction. Securing a business license not only safeguards you and your business from potential fines and penalties but also demonstrates your commitment to operating within the boundaries set by the relevant authorities.

Acquiring a business license adds credibility to your business operations and reassures customers and partners that they're collaborating with a duly recognized entity. If you do not obtain the right licensing for your business, it could lead to unnecessary fines, legal ramifications, or even the closure of your business.

Do Sole Proprietors Need a Business License?

As a sole proprietor, yes, you might need a business license depending on your industry and the federal, state, county, and city regulations in which your business operates. Sole proprietors should check federal, state, county, and city requirements for the specific licenses and permits they may need, as it will vary by location. From there, each of those entities will have its own set of requirements and stipulations based on factors such as your product, service, or industry.

What are the Different Types of Business Licenses for a Sole Proprietorship?

Examples of common licenses and permits include health and safety regulations, tax registration, and zoning permits, which grant the necessary approval for specific business practices. Again, business licenses and permits will vary depending on your industry and federal, state, county, and city regulations where your business operates. There are a variety of business licenses you may encounter, but let's take a look at these 5 common ones.

Federal Business License

While most businesses merely require state and local licenses, certain industries warrant a federal business license to ensure compliance with specific regulations that affect the public interest. For instance, businesses dealing with firearms, commercial aviation, the production and distribution of alcohol or tobacco, and those engaged in activities related to wildlife and fisheries must secure a federal business license.

State Business License

A state business license serves as legal authorization for a business to operate within a specific state, ensuring that it adheres to the state's rules and regulations. While requirements and procedures vary across states, obtaining a state business license is important for businesses operating in certain industries, such as restaurants, retail, and medical establishments. Moreover, businesses that require professional licenses, like engineering, law, and accounting firms, will also typically need a state business license.

the friday fund

City/Local Business License

Again, this licensing will vary by location and industry, but many cities will require you to obtain licensing to legally conduct your business. Many businesses that are operating within city limits will need to obtain a general business license, but there are some businesses that will need to obtain specific licenses. For example, if you own a food truck, you might need a permit from your local health department in order to sell your food. Additionally, you might need to obtain special parking permits depending on your city's or county's regulations.

Professional License

Certain industries require you to obtain professional licensing in order to operate your business, which can be in addition to any federal, state, or local licenses you may need. If you are a sole proprietor who is operating as a professional in these service areas, you may need to obtain a professional license:

  • Lawyer
  • Accountant
  • Makeup Artist
  • Pest Control

Home-Based Business License

A home-based business license is a legal permission granted by the local government that allows you to operate your business from your residence. This license may be required depending on the nature of your business and the local laws and regulations in your area. While certain small-scale pursuits like freelancing or consulting may not necessitate a license, businesses dealing with product manufacturing, food preparation, or providing services to clients on-site might require one.

It is always recommended to research your own state, county, and city regulations or consult with legal counsel to find out what exactly your business needs to obtain.

How much does a Business Licenses Cost for a Sole Proprietor?

The cost of a business license can differ significantly depending on various factors, such as the type of business, location, and state regulations. Generally, for small businesses, the price of obtaining a business license may be as low as $50 or increase significantly for large-scale operations.

It's important to keep in mind that the fees can recur annually, so be sure to check with your local government office to understand the specific pricing structure for your business. By being conscious of these costs and understanding the requirements, you'll not only ensure legal compliance but also invest in the financial well-being of your company.

How do I Apply for a Business License as a Sole Proprietorship?

When applying for a business license as a sole proprietor, begin by identifying the business licensing requirements specific to your location, as these can vary by city, county, and state. This information can typically be found on your local government or the SBA website.

Once you’ve determined the necessary prerequisites, gather essential documentation such as your business name, federal tax ID, and any zoning or occupancy permits, and complete the application form provided by the relevant local agency. It's important to be mindful of deadlines and fees associated with your application, so you can keep your business operations running smoothly without missing a beat.

Your Next Steps to Obtaining a Business License for Your Sole Proprietorship

In conclusion, even if you are a sole proprietor, yes, you may need a business license to keep operating. If you have been operating your business as a sole proprietorship but haven't obtained a business license yet - now is the time to see what type of licensing you may need to keep your business operating legally. Understand what licenses and permits you may need by starting your search through the SBA.

New call-to-action