How to Get a Small Business License in Kentucky

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



Looking to start a small business in Kentucky? 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.

Kentucky Small Business Information

The Kentucky OneStop Business Portal has sections on planning, starting, operating, and expanding your business. The portal is part of Kentucky state government and includes links to the most important business-related government websites. The portal also has links to other useful resources.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development (CED) provides assistance to small businesses (among other functions). The Small Business section of the CED website has information on entrepreneurship and innovation. It also has links for things like the Kentucky Innovation Network, information on business incentives and financial programs, and a database that helps links small businesses to buyers from government and large businesses.

The Kentucky Small Business Development Center (SBDC) provides guidance on how to start, fund, and grow your business. The website also has information about free online training sessions and confidential business counseling services. There also are more than a dozen SBDC regional offices throughout the state. The Kentucky SBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.

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

Get One or More Business Licenses

Not every Kentucky business needs a license. Moreover, Kentucky 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. Kentucky sometimes refers collectively to all of these licenses and permits as “occupational.” This covers both licenses and permits related to particular business activities (sometimes called regulatory licenses and permits) and, as discussed below, also professional licenses.

Regulatory licenses and permits may cover particular types of business services, the sale of particular products, health and safety, and the environment, among other things. 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 Occupational Licenses/Permits section of the Kentucky OneStop Business Portal.

In addition to state licenses, some business licenses may be issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. For example, the City of Lexington has its own business license 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 Kentucky Secretary of State (SOS). Check the Business Filings 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 Kentucky. The Occupational Licenses/Permits section of the Kentucky OneStop Business Portal lists many—though not all—of these professions and occupations. By clicking on a listed profession you can get a link to the website for the relevant state regulatory board or agency. By going to the board or agency website you can find information on licensing requirements. For professions not on the list, such as physicians and attorneys, you’ll have to do a separate Internet search for licensing information.

Example: Nora wants to work as a licensed dietitian. She’ll need to apply for a license through the Kentucky Board of Dietitians and Nutritionists. She can find detailed information by clicking on Dietitian on the OneStop Business Portal listing and then going to the Board’s website.

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, real 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 Kentucky, most businesses that intend to operate under an assumed name must register that name with the SOS. This includes any business organized as a corporation, LLC, or partnership. Sole proprietorships that will operate under an assumed name must file with county clerk in the county where the sole proprietor is a resident.

Example: Daniel originally organized his car repair business as a Kentucky corporation named Dan’s Best Local Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Jeffersontown European Auto Repair, Inc. Daniel must file a Certificate of Assumed Name, including the filing fee, with the SOS.

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 Trademarks and Service Marks section of the SOS website.

Example: Rosario wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Rosie’s Mocha Cocoa Crunch Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files a Trademark/Service Mark Application, including the filing fee, with the SOS.

Additional Information

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