Are you thinking about starting your own business but not exactly sure what to do first? Our easy-to-follow checklist covers the major steps, such as selecting a business structure, obtaining the necessary licenses and permits, and more, so you don’t have to figure it all out all by yourself.
Steps To Start A Business In Florida
Step 1: Choose a Business Idea
Kicking off a business in Florida starts with one key step: coming up with a good idea. Whether you’ve got a solid idea already in place or you’re still tossing options around, our collection of business ideas will give you more details on hundreds of different types of businesses, costs to get started, helpful advice, and much more.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
Once you’ve chosen your business idea, the next step is to put together a business plan. Think of this plan as more than the document a bank is going to ask for if you need funding. More importantly, the business plan helps you work through how much starting your business will cost and look at the numbers to see if your business idea can really work. It’ll also help you outline what you want to achieve and the steps you’ll take to get there.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Find the Money
Starting a business can get expensive, and a common obstacle is finding the money. This brings us to the next step of figuring out where the money will come from to get it off the ground. Given the number of choices, it’s important to understand the various funding options available for new businesses.
One of the most common sources is by using personal funds. This could include savings, investments, or other financial resources. If personal savings isn’t enough, outside sources will be needed.
A common source of outside funding for businesses in Florida is traditional bank loans. These loans typically require a personal investment of 15%-25%, sufficient collateral, and pretty strict repayment terms and conditions.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loan guarantees for businesses in Florida. The SBA’s programs help small businesses secure financing from traditional lenders by providing a government-backed guarantee to the lender, reducing their risk to make loans.
Another avenue is microloan programs, available through organizations such as the South Florida Regional Planning Council, Apalachee Regional Planning Council, and others that provide small loans with fewer restrictions and more flexible repayment terms than most banks to help entrepreneurs start their businesses.
Finally, investors provide capital to fund businesses in exchange for ownership. A few angel investment groups in Florida include New World Angels, Bridge Angel Investors, and Gold Coast Angel Investors.
Step 4: Select a Business Structure
A business structure (also called a business entity) is the form of ownership used to conduct business operations. The four main types of entities that can be created in Florida include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).
A sole proprietorship is an individually owned business in which the owner is responsible for all actions and liabilities. This type of business structure is easier and less expensive to start than the other entities, as there is little to no paperwork to start one.
One common registration for a sole proprietorship and partnership operating under a Fictitious Name (sometimes referred to as an assumed name, trade name, Doing Business As, or DBA) is the Fictitious Name Registration.
A general partnership is a structure that allows two or more persons to operate an unincorporated business and share in the profits. While easy to start, it also comes with downsides that are similar to a sole proprietor, as each partner’s personal assets are potentially at risk. This means that if the business were to incur any debts or be involved in legal proceedings, each of the partners would be held liable for it, and all of their personal possessions could be at risk.
Related: What is a partnership?
A corporation is a separate legal entity that is owned by shareholders. It offers the benefits of limited liability, which means that shareholders are generally only responsible for the amount they have invested in the company, even if things don’t go as planned. While corporations offer the benefit of personal liability protection, they are the most complex and expensive to start.
Related: How to form a Florida corporation
An LLC, or Limited Liability Company, is a popular business structure that combines the benefits of a corporation with the ease of operation as a partnership or sole proprietorship. Its popularity is because the LLC offers flexibility in management and taxation while providing limited liability protection to its owners (known as members).
Related: How to form a Florida LLC
Forming a corporation or LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular formation services include:
IncFile - Great service and free registered agent the first year.
Northwest - Privacy-Focused: Free registered agent and private business address for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Easy to use and free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 5: Register the Business
With the business structure taken care of, next, we need to take care of any licenses and permits needed to make the business legal to operate. Every business will have different requirements, which are based on the business’s activities and location. Some common registrations include:
- Business licenses: There is no general state of Florida business license; however, many cities require a business license to operate.
- Employer Identification Number: An EIN is a nine-digit identifying code the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns businesses. Not all businesses need this number, but it is commonly needed for certain business entities or if hiring employees.
- Sales tax permit: Businesses selling products and certain services will need to register for a sales tax permit with the Florida Department of Revenue.
- Professional licensing: Some services, such as physical therapists, interior designers, detectives, cosmetologists, barbers, architects, and massage therapists, require licensing in Florida. In Florida, there are two main licensing agencies for “skilled trades”: The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS).
Step 6: Open a Business Bank Account
Now that the business is set up and registered, you will have the paperwork necessary to open a business bank account. Even though a personal account can be used in many cases, separating your personal and business funds makes it easier to track income and expenses, which not only helps with record keeping and tax time, but gives more protection in the event of an audit.
Step 7: Hire Employees
The next stage of starting a business may include hiring employees. There are several responsibilities new employers need to pay attention to. Starting with registrations, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS, in addition to a Business Tax Account and Reemployment Tax Number from the Florida Department of Revenue.
There are also several state and federal requirements to be aware of, such as reporting new hires to the state, verifying employees are eligible to work in the U.S., income tax withholding, unemployment insurance, unemployment taxes, and payroll withholding taxes, including Social Security and Medicare.
Step 8: Obtain Business Insurance
Researching insurance coverage to protect your business is another important step when starting a business. Depending on the type of business you are creating, there may be various risks to look out for.
Insurance isn’t mandatory for all businesses; however, workers’ compensation insurance is required for any business in Florida with six or more regular employees or twelve or more seasonal workers in certain circumstances.
Step 9: Set up a Bookkeeping System
Another step to take care of is getting a bookkeeping system in place. A good bookkeeping system enables you to track revenues, expenses, and cash flow, allowing you to make informed decisions about your operations so you can stay on top of the business’s finances.
Secondly, a good system simplifies filing state and federal taxes by providing organized records of all taxable transactions, deductions, and credits. This organization allows you to accurately report your income and expenses, minimizing the risk of errors or discrepancies that could lead to tax penalties, interest charges, or audits.
Related: Setting up accounting for a business
Common Questions When Starting A Business In Florida
What are the steps to starting an LLC in Florida?
How much does it cost to start an LLC in Florida?
The fee to submit the Articles of Organization with the Florida Department of State, which is the paperwork required to start an LLC in Florida, is $125.
What are some good business ideas to start in Florida?
While one person’s good idea is not necessarily a good idea for someone else, here is a list of popular small businesses to consider starting in Florida based on the state’s economic strengths, growing industries, and tourism appeal:
Tour or excursion services: Capitalize on Florida’s tourist appeal by offering guided tours, eco-tours, boat excursions, or adventure experiences.
Retail store or boutique: Start a retail business specializing in niche products, such as a souvenir shop, local crafts, or specialty foods.
E-commerce: Set up an online store to sell products or services, leveraging Florida’s strong infrastructure and access to national and international markets.
Home-based elderly care: As Florida has a large elderly population, providing in-home care, companionship, or specialized services can be a fulfilling and profitable business.
Water sports rental and lessons: With abundant coastline, water sports rentals, and lessons (e.g., kayaking, paddleboarding, or surfing) are in high demand.
Specialty cafe or bakery: Open a cafe or bakery that offers unique products, such as specialty coffees, healthy menu options, or gourmet baked goods.
Of course, when selecting a business idea, it’s essential to consider your interests, skills, and the local market’s needs to maximize the chances of success, but these are just a few examples of popular small businesses to start in Florida. For more ideas, check out our library of business ideas.
Does a sole proprietor need a business license in Florida?
In Florida, the need for a sole proprietor to have a business license depends on their specific business activities and location, not the business structure.
For instance, state-specific licenses from relevant boards are required if your business falls within certain professions, such as hairdressing, accounting, or construction. Additionally, local regulations may mandate obtaining a license or permit to operate in certain cities or counties. Sole proprietors using their legal name do not need to register with the state, but those using a different name should register a Fictitious Name with the Florida Department of State.
It’s also important to consider other permits, like a sales tax permit or a health department permit, based on your business needs.
Florida Small Business Resources
There are 3.1 million small businesses in Florida, which is 98.8% of all businesses in the state,1 and almost 3.6 million people are employed by these small businesses.2 Because of the economic impact of small businesses, there are a number of small business resources to help Florida businesses start and grow. Some of these include:
- Florida Small Business Development Center Network: The FLSBDC provides small business assistance through business consulting, training, and access to business research resources.
- Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council: Enhances the growth of minority-owned businesses across Florida by cultivating networks and facilitating relationships between minority businesses and their corporate and government buyers.
- Florida Women’s Business Center: The FLWBC empowers women to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams by offering support to start, manage, and expand successful businesses.
- Office of Supplier Diversity: Housed within the Florida Department of Management Services, this resource assists businesses owned by women, veterans, and minorities in Florida.
- Service Corps of Retired Executives: SCORE is a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring services to entrepreneurs and small business owners, drawing on the experience of retired business executives.