How to Get a Small Business License in Iowa

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



Looking to start a small business in Iowa? 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.

Iowa Small Business Information

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) provides assistance to small businesses (among other functions). In particular, check out the Entrepreneurial Assistance section of the IEDA website. It has information and links related to financing and licensing your business, as well as things like site locations and supporting innovation.

The Iowa Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provide guidance on how to start, grow, and sell your business. The SBDC also has free online training sessions and confidential business counseling services. There also are regional offices throughout the state. Iowa’s SBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.

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

Get One or More Business Licenses

Not every Iowa business needs a license. Moreover, Iowa does not have a general business license issued by the state. However, many types of business either can or must get one or more licenses or permits. Many of these licenses and permits are considered “regulatory,” and may relate to things such as:

  • the environment
  • health and safety, and
  • building and construction.

Ultimately, however, there is a vast number of regulatory licenses and permits. Different licenses and permits are issued by different state agencies. For help figuring out which regulatory licenses and permits may apply to your particular business, check the Licensing section of the IASourceLink website (IASourceLink is part of the IEDA). You can check for licenses based on the issuing agency or by a keyword.

In addition, some required licenses may be issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. 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 businesses must file organizational documents with the Iowa Secretary of State (SOS). Check the IASourceLink website and Business Entity Forms and Fees section 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 Iowa. The Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau (PLB) oversees the regulatory boards and licensing for about a half dozen professions, including:

  • Accountants
  • Architects
  • Engineering and Land Surveying
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Architects
  • Real Estate Appraisers, and
  • Real Estate Brokers.

Other professional and occupational licenses are handled by other state agencies. For example, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Professional Licensure (BPL) handles licensing for roughly 20 health-related professions, such as Chiropractic, Dietetics, Optometry, and Podiatry. More generally, you may need to do an Internet search for your particular profession or occupation to find the appropriate licensing agency in Iowa.

Example: Julie wants to work as a licensed massage therapist. She’ll need to apply for a license through the Board of Massage Therapy. She can find detailed information by going to the Board’s website. License issues for massage therapists also are overseen by the BPL.

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 Iowa, many businesses that intend to operate under a fictitious name must register that name with the SOS. This includes businesses organized as corporations, LLCs, limited partnerships, and certain other legal structures. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships that will operate under a trade name must file with county recorder in the county where the business is located.

Example: Kevin originally organized his car repair business as an Iowa corporation named Kev’s Des Moines Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Pleasant Hill Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Kevin must file a Fictitious Name Resolution, including the filing fee, with the SOS. He can download a blank resolution form from the Business Entity Forms and Fees section of the SOS website.

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 the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section within Business Services on the SOS website.

Example: Pauline wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Paul’s Mocha Cocoa Buzz Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files an Application for Registration of Mark, including the filing fee, with the SOS. She can download a copy of the form from the Business Entity Forms and Fees section of the SOS website.

Additional Information

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