The short answer to that question is—I have no idea. Every city, county, and state has different laws, but it’s your responsibility to know what those laws are. A quick call to your town’s city hall should answer the question for you.
My particular Georgia city requires me—author and editor—to have one. This is a recent discovery for me, but one I didn’t mind making. Obtaining one actually moved my career forward in a way I never would have expected.
Today, let’s talk nuts and bolts. Before getting into how to get a license, let’s discuss what it IS.
WiseGeek.com defines a business license this way: A business license is a type of legal authorization to operate a business in a city, county, or state. Typically issued in document form, a business license gives a business owner the right to conduct entrepreneurial activities as set forth in the license application. In most cases, there is a fee charged to obtain a business license. Requirements for a business license vary by state and municipality. Some locations require anyone conducting a business to obtain a business license. On the other hand, some areas allow smaller home businesses to operate without the need for a business license. Such small businesses could include consulting, web design, or typing services.
When I set out to get a license, I had no idea what the process involved. You might be in the same boat, so let me share with you how MY town does it. After making a call to my local city hall and discovering I did indeed need a license, I made my merry way there to collect the necessary paperwork. On the same visit, my name was put on the books for my license to be discussed at the next town council meeting. I had a week to fill out the paperwork, which consisted of some basic, personal information and a section requiring me to describe what I do.
The part I did NOT expect was having to visit seven of my immediate neighbors asking them permission to conduct my business in my home. The conversation went something like this… “Hi, I’m here asking if you wouldn’t mind signing this form giving consent for me to sit at my desk and type on my computer.” "You're kidding, right?" To the last one, they laughed, shook their heads in wonder, and happily signed. Of course, if I was a machine repairman who wanted to fix washers and fridges in my garage, they might be thanking the city for making people get their neighbor’s permission…
Forms complete, I turned them in and waited for the city to deliver my lawn decor. Yep, lawn décor. The city placed a “public hearing notice” in my yard that had to remain in place for three weeks—until the actual hearing. This was to inform the rest of the neighborhood that they were welcome to come to the town council meeting and protest, if they so desired. The evening of the council meeting came, and I made my obligatory appearance. Just like they do at such meetings on TV, I was asked to come to the podium and speak into a microphone. Way cool. The chairman asked me to state my name, address, and give a brief description of what I do. After that, he asked if anyone wanted to object to the town allowing me to conduct "said business" on "said property." No one did. Shocker. I was allowed to leave the meeting and advised to pick up my license in two days. I did. But not before forking over the pro-rated fee of $64.00. Come January, along with the rest of the business owners in town, I’ll renew my license. It should be around $120/year. It feels like a lot for someone who earns as little as I do, but when I swiped my little business debit card, I did so on the faith that, soon, $120 wouldn’t be a suffocating, drain-your-account kinda number.
Give your city hall a buzz and ask what your local laws are. What did you learn? I'd love to know!
--April W Gardner is an award-winning author, an editor,
and the founder of the literary contest site, Clash of the Titles