Looking to start a small business in New York? 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 New York small business questions by going to the following state-run websites:
These websites provide information on topics such as:
Apart from the latter items, the sites also have information on licenses and permits.
Not every New York business needs a license. However, many types of business either can or must get a license. Apart from licenses related to professions and occupations (see below), your business may need licenses or permits relating to such things as agriculture, food, the environment, or sales of certain products (such as liquor).
The New York State License Center lists the various licenses issued by the state, including many related to businesses. Click on the Center’s link for the Business section for more information. The site also links to the state’s online Business Wizard, where you can enter details about your specific business and automatically generate a list of the licenses and permits you’ll need.
The Business Wizard site also has a list of state agencies that issue business licenses, including what licenses each agency issues. Be forewarned: The full list is quite extensive. Along with listing available licenses, the site allows you to click on links that let you apply online.
You may also need to get business licenses at the local level. For example, New York City has its own Business Wizard website. Like New York State’s website, the NYC site allows you to enter information about your business and then get a list of required local licenses. It’s always a good idea to check the website for the city and county where your business is located for possible additional licensing requirements.
In addition to licenses and permits, some legal forms of business, such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), must file organizational documents. More specifically, corporations, LLCs, and certain other types of businesses must register and file with the Division of Corporations, State Records and Uniform Commercial Code(DOC) of the New York Department of State (DOS). You can find detailed information on the DOC website.
If you’re a member of any of a large number of professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the State of New York. The state makes a limited distinction between professions and occupations. You can get information on licensing for most professions from the Office of the Professions (OP), which is a division within the New York State Education Department (NYSED). The OP’s website has a list of many of the state’s licensed professions including links to detailed information and licensing requirements. (Doctors and lawyers, among other professions, are not included in the OP list.)
The New York Department of Labor (DOL) has a section of its website listing dozens of state-licensed occupations as well as professions. Some of the listed items, such as Architect, overlap with the OP’s listing of professions. The section also lists the state agency that regulates each listed occupation and, like the OP site, has links to more detailed information.
Example: Phil wants to work as a licensed occupational therapist. He’ll need to apply for his license through the NYSED. He can find information about getting the license by going to the Occupational Therapist section of the OP website or the Occupational Therapist section of the DOL website.
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”). New York corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships using an assumed name must file a form with the state. Other business entities that use an assumed name—such as sole proprietorships and general partnerships—must file a form with the county clerk in each county where the entity conducts business.
Example: Donna originally organized her car repair business as a New York corporation named Donna’s Great Garage, Inc. She now wants to operate the business under the name Southern Tier Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Donna must file a Certificate of Assumed Name, along with the filing fee, with the DOS. (If Donna were operating as a sole proprietor in Ithaca, New York, she’d instead need to register with the Tompkins County Clerk.)
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, including forms, on the DOC website. Click on the link for Trademark Registration or Service Mark Registration. Also be sure to check the DOC’s Trademark FAQs page.
Example: Gerald wants to sell his fruit-flavored chewy candies under the name “Big G’s Empire State Gum Drops.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—he files Form DOS-0241-f-l-a, Original Application to Register a Trademark, including the filing fee, with the DOC.
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in New York. 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 New York. 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.