How to Get a Small Business License in Illinois

Learn the steps required to obtain a business license in Illinois.



Looking to start a small business in Illinois? 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.

Illinois Small Business Information

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (IDOC) website has a wealth of information for people who want to start or manage an Illinois small business. The site includes links to a step-by-step guide to starting a business as well as various other publications and business guides. You can find help on financing, marketing, and buying a business. The website also covers, or has links to, information on many other matters.

The Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) can provide one-on-one business advice and management assistance. They can also help you with business plans, marketing information, and financing, among other things. The Illinois SBDC works is part of a national network of small business development centers. In Illinois, the SBDC also works very closely with a state government agency—IDOC—and, unlike in other states, its website is incorporated directly into the IDOC website as IDOC’s homepage.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in Chicago. The office’s website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses. The SBA also publishes an Illinois-specific Resource Guide for Small Businessthat you can download from the SBA website.

Get One or More Business Licenses

Not every Illinois business needs a license. However, many types of business either can or must get one or more license or permits. Many of these licenses and permits are what might be called regulatory in nature. They can cover things like environmental and employment issues. Different regulatory licenses are issued by different state agencies. For example, environmental permits may be issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and employment-related licenses may be issued by the Illinois Department of Labor. Check the Registration, Licenses, & Permits section of the state government’s illinois.gov website for more information.

In addition to licenses and permits issued by the state, some required business licenses are issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. For example, the City of Chicago has its own licensing requirements. You can find more details by checking the website for the city and county where you’ll operate your business. (Some businesses may be exempt from local licensing requirements under state or federal law.)

File Records For Your Form of Business

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 Illinois Secretary of State (SOS). Check the Business Servicessection of the SOS website for more details.

Obtain Professional Licensing

If you’re a member of any one of many professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the State of Illinois. Nearly all of these professions and occupations are regulated by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). (Each profession and occupation also is more directly regulated by its related state regulatory board.) The IDFPR website has a section covering Professions Regulated by IDFPR. The site lists dozens of such professions and occupations. By clicking on an item on the list you can get detailed information about licensing requirements.

Example: Arthur wants to work as a licensed speech-language pathologist and audiologist. He’ll need to apply for a license through the IDFPR. He can find detailed information and a copy of the license application by clicking on the link for Audiologist on the IDFPR regulated professions webpage.

Register an Assumed or Fictitious Business Name (Trade Name)

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 Illinois, businesses structured as corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships that intend to operate under an assumed business name must register the name with the SOS. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships must register assumed business names with the county clerk in each county where they do business. For additional information on state requirements, check the Assumed Name Adoptions section of the SOS website. For information on county requirements, check the website for your county.

Example: Lawrence originally organized his car repair business as an Illinois corporation named Larry’s Chicago Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Windy City Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Lawrence must file a Form BCA-4.15/4.20, Application to Adopt, Change or Cancel an Assumed Corporate Name, including the filing fee, with the SOS. (If Larry operated as a sole proprietorship, he’d instead have to file with the Cook County Clerk.)

Register a Trademark or Service Mark

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 theTrademark/Service Mark Publications/Forms section of the SOS website and downloading Registration and Protection of Trademarks and Servicemarks: A Digest of Illinois Law.

Example: Carmela wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Carmie’s Espresso Cocoa Buzz Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files a Form TM/SM-15, Trademark or Service Mark Application, including the filing fee, with the SOS. She can download a copy of the form from the Trademark/Service Mark Publications/Forms section of the SOS website.

Additional Information

This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Illinois. 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 Illinois. 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.

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