Many entrepreneurs form their small businesses in the Buckeye State. If you're one of them, you'll need to take some steps to legally begin operations at your Ohio location. Before you start doing business, make sure you've got all the necessary business licenses and permits.
Here's a look at the licenses, permits, and registrations you might need to start your Ohio small business.
When starting a business in Ohio, you must:
The types of licenses and permits your business must apply for depends on your business structure, industry, and location. The main types of business licenses, permits, and registrations are:
(For more general guidance, see our article on the legal requirements for starting a small business.)
Ohio, like many other states, doesn't require businesses to have a general license at the state level to do business. Instead, Ohio considers you registering your business with the SOS as a type of general business license. You don't need to register your business if you're a sole proprietor or general partnership.
Apart from this registration, almost all businesses will need to obtain some sort of license or permit to legally operate in the state. In general, the type of business license you need will depend on your location and business type.
The Ohio state website has a checklist in its start a business section. After choosing your business type from the dropdown menu and selecting "submit," a checklist of the requirements and regulations related to your business needs is generated. The list includes details such as:
For example, if you choose "beauty salon" from the list, the checklist will direct you toward:
In addition, your city or county might also require you to obtain a license or permit for your business. Typically, the associated fee depends on the license type.
For example, the City of Cincinnati issues licenses by business type. For example, you can find applications for antique dealers, massage establishments, skating rinks, and other businesses on the city website. In addition, the City of Cleveland requires licenses for some businesses, such as food vendors, car repair garages, and secondhand dealers.
You should contact your city and county to check the specific business licensing requirements in your area.
Depending on your profession and occupation, you could be required to get special licensing or certification for you and your business. If you're a member of one of the professions or occupations that have special requirements, you'll need to make sure you apply for and obtain the proper authorizations before you start practicing in your chosen area.
The licenses and permits section of the state website provides a comprehensive list of the occupations and professions that require special licensing, permitting, certifications, or registrations. The list includes links to:
When you click on the link to the license, permit, or registration, you're taken to a webpage with information about that regulatory requirement. For instance, when you click on "wrestling permit," you're directed toward the Ohio Athletic Commission website which oversees licensing and regulations for wrestling and other combat sports.
You can apply for and renew most professional licenses through eLicense Ohio.
While extensive the list on the Ohio state website isn't exhaustive. You'll need to check with the board, commission, or agency in charge of your profession or occupation.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has its own list of licensed occupations. The list includes the occupation, licensing agent, and licensing agent's contact information. Much of this list overlaps with the list on the Ohio state website.
If your business will make retail sales of tangible personal property or taxable services, you must apply for a vendor's license. If your business will have more than one location, you'll need a license for each fixed place of business. A vendor's license allows your business to collect and pay sales tax in Ohio.
You can register for your vendor's license in one of two ways:
If you register through the Ohio Business Gateway, you must first create an account. As of 2023, the fee for this license is $25.
For more, see the register for a vendor's license or seller's use tax account webpage.
Your city might have additional registration or reporting requirements. You should contact your city's tax or finance division for information about your business's tax obligations.
If you'll be constructing a new building or altering a current space, then you'll probably need special zoning and building permits from your city or county. Typically, your plan to build or improve a space must be approved if you'll be performing major work. After you finish construction, you'll generally need to have your building inspected.
For example, the City of Cincinnati requires you to get a permit if your proposed commercial space will undergo:
Major repairs, alterations, or additions typically include changes to the building structure as well as plumbing, electrical, or mechanical work to the building. You'll also likely need separate permits for elevators, fire alarms, parking lots, HVAC, signs, fences, and other similar work.
Many cities and counties require you to have a certificate of occupancy, certificate of use, or a similar document before you can start using your space. A certificate is usually required when you make alterations to a commercial space or when the use or occupancy of a space changes.
Zoning laws. If your type of business isn't in line with the zoning code, you can find another space or potentially apply for a special use permit. A special permit can provide your business with an exception to the current use laws.
Building code. You can work with local departments and agencies to apply for building and construction permits. You'll likely need to have inspections related to your space's structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing features.
A business uses a trade name (also known as a "DBA") when the name it does business under is different from its legal name. A business's legal name depends on its entity structure:
Ohio's laws around trade names are a little unusual. Under Ohio law, fictitious names also exist. Essentially, a "fictitious name" is a trade name that hasn't been registered. Under Ohio law, you can—but don't have to—register your trade name. You might even be prohibited from registering your trade name. For example, you can't register a trade name that's indistinguishable from another business name that's on record with the SOS. (Ohio Rev. Code § 1329.01 (2023).)
But if you use a name that's different from your legal name, you must register it—either as a trade name or as a fictitious name. If you register your name as a trade name, then you're also claiming a right to exclusive use of that name. In other words, no other business can use a name that's indistinguishable from your trade name. (Ohio Rev. Code § 1329.01 (2023).)
For example, suppose Nancy Thompson handmakes Halloween costumes under the name "Nightmare on Elm." Nancy's business name doesn't include her full personal name, so her business name would be considered a "trade name" or "fictitious name." After searching the SOS's business records, she finds that no other names match "Nightmare on Elm." So she can register her business name as a trade name with the SOS.
If you have a general partnership, you can instead register your fictitious name by filing a Statement of Partnership Authority with the SOS.
For more, check out the SOS's guide to name availability.
Apart from the licenses and permits discussed above, you could be required to comply with other laws and regulations. For instance, your business might need to obtain special licensing or follow special rules related to public safety, health, or the environment. If your industry is highly regulated, expect to obtain multiple licenses, permits, and registrations.
While this article has focused mainly on Texas laws, you should also check federal laws and regulations that might relate to your business. If you need help identifying which laws apply to you, talk to an Ohio business attorney. A lawyer can help you determine which permits and licenses you need for your business and walk you through the application process. They can also answer questions specific to your business.
The beginning of the publication includes a one-page quick reference guide. The guide provides an overview of the four main steps and considerations for forming a business in Ohio.
The SOS has a frequently asked questions webpage for businesses and an online library of business publications. The SOS provides business guides for different entity types, including how to start a business for corporations, LLCs, nonprofits, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. You can also find a checklist for starting your Ohio business in the publication list.
Read the other articles under our website's small business section for more guidance on how to start and run your business. If you'd like further education, you can also read Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold (Nolo), and The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo (Nolo).