Summer Check-in on Business Licenses and Permits – Make Sure You’re Operating Legally

Business Licenses

How will you remember the Summer of 2020? It’s probably been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for most business owners trying to ride out the pandemic and still keep their businesses healthy, profitable and in compliance with old and new regulations.

Business Licenses and Permits Requirements

One area you may have fallen behind in is making sure the business licenses and permits you need to legally operate your business are still current. Here’s some information to help get you back on track. 

Pandemic requirements

Although there may not be specific permits and/or licenses your small business needs to reopen during the pandemic, your city or state will have guidelines you need to follow. New York City, which just began “Phase Four of Restart NYC” requires businesses in specific industries to read, understand and sign off on state-issued guidelines for that industry. Businesses not specifically named in Phases One-Three are required to follow executive orders supplied by the Governor and Mayor. In another example, Philadelphia is requiring  each construction site to have a Pandemic Safety Officer with COVID-19 training present to keep workers safe.

Be forewarned: There is no flying under the radar during the pandemic. In Los Angeles County, reopening for restaurants required they adhere to a large number of safety protocols and the restaurants were told they’d be on the honor system, at least in the beginning. By mid-June, when cases of COVID-19 did not decline, the health department started checking on compliance and found at least half the eateries were not following the rules. By the start of July 2020, restaurants were once again ordered to close their doors to indoor dining. 

Reopening your business means you’re taking responsibility to understand and follow the guidelines set forth for your location. In addition to COVID-19 regulations, make sure you know the right licenses and permits required for your industry.

Licenses and permits

Depending on your industry, you may need a federal license or permit if your business is regulated by a federal agency. For example, if you manufacture, wholesale, import, or sell alcoholic beverages at a retail location your business is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Or, if your company includes operating aircraft, transporting goods or people by air, or aircraft maintenance, you must be in compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration.

More likely your business will be required to obtain licenses and permits from the state, county, or city where your business is located. While the amount of the fees and the period of time the licenses and permits last vary from location to location, you can expect your business will definitely be shut down if you don’t acquire the proper permits.

The purpose of licenses and permits is to make certain the businesses in your area are following particular regulations and procedures in their operations. For example, restaurants must have a food and beverage license to serve food and drinks. License holders are required to take a food safety course, so they know the correct way to prepare and store foods. Cafés wanting to serve food outdoors may need to have a sidewalk café permit and there’s a different license to serve spirits, in addition to beer and wine. 

Other licenses and permits you may require include:

  • Security alarm permit
  • Parking lot permit
  • Zoning permit
  • Health license
  • Daycare license
  • Entertainment license
  • Accounting license
  • Barber Shop license
  • Environmental permits
  • And many more.

Specialty business licenses

In some cases, your city or state may require specialty business licenses for certain niche businesses. Having this type of business license shows that you and your employees have specific skills necessary to run a company in a given field. For example, you may have a general contracting license, but specialty licenses include specialties like plumbing, flooring, roofing, solar, landscaping, refrigeration, welding, fire protection, and air-conditioning. 

Other specialty licenses are also required for businesses such as collection agencies, limousine services, nursery retailers and pesticide dealers.

Getting permits and licenses during the current crisis

Limited access to government buildings and employee furloughs in the early days of the pandemic put a heavy burden on government agencies to quickly come up with solutions to meet the needs of consumers and businesses alike. One area of concern are the many permits and licenses businesses need to operate their companies legally.

In general, you can start your search for what licenses and permits you need at the state level by visiting your state’s Secretary of State website. From there you may be referred to your county or city’s business development website or office. You’ll need to provide information such as your Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.

In some communities, the permit process was already mostly online. In others, departments needed to quickly pivot online to meet important needs. Business owners also sought solutions from third-party companies offering help in securing the correct documentation so businesses could remain in compliance. 

Cities across the nation are under a huge burden to help businesses survive and you may find your city has sped up the process for licensing and permits as a way to keep the economy on the right track. In Chicago, for example, special event liquor licenses for patios have been extended from 11 to 180 days. In addition, restaurants can extend café borders beyond their property line, as long as they secure permission from their neighbors. As a business owner, your efforts to maintain the proper licenses and permits means you’re contributing to the local economic health of your community.  

CorpNet offers business formations, filings, state tax registrations, and corporate compliance services in all 50 states. Express and 24 hour rush filing services available upon request. Click here to learn more.


Nellie Akalp Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, recognized business expert and mother of four. She is the CEO of CorpNet, the smartest way to start a business, register for payroll taxes, and maintain business compliance across the United States.