Looking to start a small business in Alabama? You may need to obtain one or more state licenses or permits, or complete one or more kinds of state registration, as part of the start-up process. Here's a quick look at some of the main informational resources available and a few of the steps you may need to take.
The Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) publishes Starting a New Business: An Educational Brochure for Alabama Taxpayers. The brochure, which runs approximately 70 pages, is available for download from the ADOR website. Among other things, the brochure provides information about how to register a new business with various state agencies.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in Birmingham. The office's website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses. The SBA also publishes an Alabama-specific Resource Guide for Small Business that you can download from the district office website.
The Alabama Small Business Development Center (ASBDC) has guidance on how to start, grow, and fund your business. The ASBDC website also includes information on training and small business events. There are multiple ASBDC locations throughout the state. The ASBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.
Most Alabama businesses are required to have one or more business privilege licenses. In Alabama, the term business privilege license actually is a blanket phrase that applies to any of a large number of state and local licenses that a business may be required to have. Each business privilege license covers the period October 1 through September 30 and must be renewed annually. In effect, the annual renewal of licenses is an annual business tax. You apply for licenses from the probate judge or license commissioner in the county where your business is located. In addition, you'll generally also need a license from every other county where you conduct business. For your convenience, the ADOR has an online listing of county probate offices.
Beyond obtaining required licenses or permits, some legal forms of business, such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), are required to file records with the state. More specifically, corporations, LLCs, and certain other types of business must file organizational documents with the Alabama Secretary of State (SOS). Check the Business Services section of the SOS website for more details.
If you're a member of any one of many professions and occupations, you'll need to be licensed by the State of Alabama. The official website for Alabama state government, alabama.gov, lists the regulatory boards for many professions and occupations. You can click on any item on the page and be taken to the website for the relevant regulatory board.
Example: Jessica wants to work as a licensed real estate appraiser. She'll need to apply for a license through the Alabama Real Estate Appraisers Board. She can get details by clicking on the link for Real Estate Appraisers Board on the alabama.gov Professional page.
Many small businesses don't simply operate under the names of their owners. Instead, they operate under a business name. In addition, some businesses, such as corporations and LLCs, may originally register with the state under one name (sometimes called the registered name, actual name, or true name), but later choose to operate under another name. Depending on where you're doing business and how your business is structured, this alternative business name technically may be known as an assumed name, a fictitious name, a trade name, or a DBA (for “doing business as”). In Alabama, most businesses that intend to operate under a trade name must register the name with the SOS. For additional information on state requirements, check the Trademarks section of the SOS website.
Example: Leon originally organized his car repair business as an Alabama corporation named Leon's Birmingham Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Cahaba River Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Leon must file an Application to Register Trademark, Service Mark or Trade Name in Alabama, including the filing fee, with the SOS. He can download a copy of the form from the Trademarks section of the SOS website
There are separate legal definitions for trademarks, service marks, and trade names. However, speaking very generally, trademarks, service marks, and trade names are used to uniquely identify goods (products), services, or a business. This includes distinguishing a product, service, or business from potential competitors. Trademarks and service marks can be registered with the state. (This is distinct from federal registration.) You can find more information by going to the Trademarks section of the SOS website.
Example: Lucille wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Lucy's Deep Brown Buzz Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn't already in use—an Application to Register Trademark, Service Mark or Trade Name in Alabama, including the filing fee, with the SOS. (This is the same form used in the above example covering trade names.)
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Alabama. You can find much more information in the many other articles in the Small Business section here on Nolo.com. Many of those articles are part of 50-state series—so you can get plenty of information that's specific to the State of Alabama. You can also find expanded information in many Nolo books, such as Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold, and The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo.