Starting a Business in Florida

When you want to sell products or services in Florida, you'll need to create a business entity and register with the state. You may also need to register with county and city governments in those places you intend to conduct your business, depending on the type of business you are starting, and on local regulations and ordinances. Here’s a look at the steps you will want to follow to get your business started on the right track:

  • Do Your Research: Once you’ve decided what kind of business you want to start, you will need to put in some real time and effort to research the wheres, whens and hows to make your new business a success. This means putting together a business plan that includes such items as financing, goals and objectives, location, your target market, analysis of your competition, etc. The more detail, the better.

Remember that the success or failure of most businesses is determined in its initial planning. If you think you need help, don’t hesitate to seek out the advice of a competent and experienced business law expert.

  1. Choose the Right Business Structure: You will next need to decide on the type of business structure you want to use. Your choice of business entity will affect numerous aspects of your business, including how you will seek out financing, what legal protections will be in place, how your business will be taxed, etc. Common forms of business entities include: sole proprietorships, DBAs, limited and general partnerships, corporations, S corporations, and limited liability companies (LLCs).

  2. Choose Your Business’s Name: You will need to check to make sure that the name you want hasn’t already been chosen. You can visit this Florida Secretary of State website to determine if your name choice is available.

  3. Register with the Florida Secretary of State: Most businesses may file online at Sunbiz.org, the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporation’s official website. Follow the instructions for the type of entity you choose. Nominal registration fees apply. Be sure to seek out the assistance of an attorney if you have any questions or concerns about the registration process.

  4. Register your Fictitious (DBA) Name: Forms and fees for registration can be found here. Registration of a fictitious business name is optional when forming a corporation, LLC or limited partnership. In addition to filing the proper forms and paying a fee, the fictitious (DBA) name registered must be advertised at least once in a newspaper within the county where your principal place of business is located.

  5. File for your Business’s Tax ID Number: Apply for your federal tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.

  6. Register with the Florida Department of Revenue for your sales and use tax certificate.

  7. Pre-employment Taxes: Determine if you are required to pay re-employment tax, formerly known as unemployment tax. Register with the Department of Revenue if you are required to do so.

  8. Corporate Income Tax: Determine whether you are subject to Florida’s corporate income tax.  Common entities required to file corporate income tax returns with the state include: corporations; banks and savings associations; LLCs; homeowner and condominium associations; S corporations; and others. A full entity list, as well as other important information on state corporate taxes, can be found here.

  9. County and City Business Licenses and Permits: Some county and city governments require licenses and/or permits to conduct business in their jurisdictions. Check with your county and city to determine what licenses or permits your business may need.

  10. Specially Regulated Businesses and Professions: Many types of businesses are subject to specific licensing and/or regulation by state and local governments. Examples of specially regulated businesses include those involving alcohol, tobacco and firearms, barbers, construction, cosmetology, farm labor, hotels and restaurants, real estate, veterinary medicine, and many others. For a full list of specially regulated businesses, check the  Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s website.

  11. Open a Business Bank Account: You will need a copy of your incorporating documents and your identification to open your account. Some banks may additionally want to see a copy of your business plan.

  12. Consider Building a Business Website: Having your own business website is almost a business necessity today. A well designed and up-to-date website is a great way for potential customers to find out all about who you are and what you do.

Reasons to Consider Starting a Business in Florida

  • Florida is a business-friendly state that offers tax incentives and other benefits for small business owners.

  • Florida makes it easy to start a business by providing consumers with online registration for most businesses.

  • If your business is a specially regulated business, and you have to file with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, customers will be able to check the legitimacy of your business. You will need to show evidence of any professional or commercial certifications.

Reasons to Consider Not Starting a Business in Florida

  • The state of Florida, as well as many of its counties and cities, require application for any number of  tax certificates,licenses and permits, depending on the type of business you are starting, resulting in confusion. Consult with an experienced business or tax attorney if you need help.

  • The cost of the licenses and taxes may be prohibitive for those starting out on a limited budget.

  • If you choose to register as a DBA, the name of your business may not be unique to you in the state. Further, your business will not enjoy limited liability status, which means that your personal assets may be exposed in a lawsuit against your business.

Common Mistakes

  • Failing to file your business’s required annual report with the Division of Corporations. Florida requires an annual report be filed each year, along with the requisite filing fee, for your business entity in order to maintain its "active status" with the Department of State. The purpose of the annual report is confirm your business’s information on file with the state. The annual report must be filed whether any changes to that information have been made. Failure to file by the May 1st deadline will result in the imposition of a $400 late fee. Failure to file an annual report by the third Friday of September will result in the administrative dissolution or revocation of your business entity, requiring the filing of a reinstatement application and the payment of additional fees.

  • Not choosing the appropriate business entity. If your business is at a high risk for lawsuits (such as an automotive repair facility, for example,) registering as a DBA may be a poor choice.

  • Not keeping business and personal records or finances separate. For example, it is not a good idea to use your business bank account for personal financial transactions, or vice versa, even if your business operates as a DBA.

  • Never assume that your city or county doesn't require business, occupancy, or other forms of licenses or permits. If your principal place of business changes from one jurisdiction to another, be sure to check with the local governments in your new jurisdiction regarding licensing requirements.