Looking to start a small business in Massachusetts? 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.
You can find answers to many Massachusetts small business questions by checking the website for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED). The Starting a Business section of the website links to a step-by-step guide for starting a Massachusetts business.
You also can find additional information through the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network (MSBDC). MSBDC offers an array of advisory and training services. Start by checking out the MSBDC website. The MSBDC has separate offices for different regions. For example, there is a Boston Regional Office & Minority Business Center (affiliated with UMass Boston) and an office associated with UMass Amherst.
General licenses needed to operate a business are handled at the town or city level. You should contact the town or city office where your business is located for more information. You can find information for a particular town or city office through the Licensing and Regulation section of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) website. The section includes a link to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, whose website in turn has links to city and town websites.
Many legal forms of business, such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), must file records and certificates with the state. More specifically, corporations, LLCs, and certain other types of business must register with the Corporations Division of the Massachusetts Secretary of State (SOS).
If you’re a member of any of dozens of professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the State of Massachusetts. Among the many professions requiring state licensing are: doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, architects, engineers, nurses, and veterinarians. You can find information about professional and occupational licenses in the License Types, Forms & Requirements section of the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) website.
Example: Sanjay wants to open a day care center. He’ll need to apply for a Family Child Care (FCC) license with the Executive Office of Education.
Many professions in Massachusetts are regulated through agencies listed with OCABR’s Division of Professional Licensure (DPL). You often can find the information you need through the DPL website.
Many small businesses don’t simply operate under the names of their owners. Instead, they operate under a business name. Depending on where you’re doing business, this technically may be known as an assumed name, a fictitious name, or a DBA (for “doing business as”). Most forms of small business in Massachusetts, such as corporations and LLCs, must file a form with the state if they intend to operate under an assumed or fictitious name.
Example: Gwyneth has formed her medical supplies business as a Massachusetts corporation. The business will operate under the name Cape and Islands Medical Product Supply, Inc. Gwyneth must file an Application of Reservation of Name with the Secretary of State. She may also need to file a DBA Certificate with the town where her business is located.
There are separate legal definitions for trademarks, trade names, and service marks. However, speaking very generally, trademarks, trade names, and service marks are used to uniquely identify goods (products), services, or a business, including distinguishing a product, service, or business from potential competitors. Trademarks, trade names, and service marks can be registered with the state. You can find more information, including forms, in the About Trademarks and Service Marks section of the Secretary of State website.
Example: Gus wants to market his saltwater taffey under the name “Atlantic Choo-Choo Chewables.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—he files a trademark application, including the filing fee, with the Secretary of State.
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Massachusetts. 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 Massachusetts. 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.