Looking to start a small business in Pennsylvania? 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 information and get assistance for your new or existing Pennsylvania small business by checking with the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). The SBDC website has general information on how to start, grow, and continue your business. It also provides more specific information on planning, loans, taxes, and specific industries, among other things.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is another good resource. The SBA has information for specific regions of Pennsylvania. For example, the SBA publishes a Resource Guide for Small Business: Eastern Pennsylvania Edition. You can access a copy from the SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District Office website.
Not every Pennsylvania business needs a license. However, many types of business either can or must get one or more licenses or permits. Some of these licenses and permits are regulatory, covering matters like sales tax, the environment, and health and safety.
Different types of regulatory licenses and permits are issued by different state agencies. However, you can apply for some of the most important of these licenses and permits by filing Form PA-100, Pennsylvania Enterprise Registration. The form is used primarily to register new businesses with the state but it also contains sections for business licenses. You can complete the form on paper or online.
In addition, some required licenses are issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or town involved. For example, Philadelphia and Harrisburg require that all individuals conducting business in the city obtain an annual business privilege license. By contrast, Pittsburgh and State College do not have this requirement. You can find more details by checking the website for the city where you’ll operate your business. (Some businesses may be exempt from local licensing requirements under state or federal law.)
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 Pennsylvania Department of State(DOS). Check the Business Registration Forms section of the DOS website for more details.
If you’re a member of any one of many professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the State of Pennsylvania. The DOS website has a Professional Licensing section that contains webpages listing state regulatory board contact information and other general information about many of the state’s professional regulatory boards.
Example: Monique wants to work as a licensed cosmetologist. She’ll need to apply for a license through the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology.
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 Pennsylvania, any business that intends to operate under an assumed or fictitious name must register the name with the DOS. There are also publication requirements related to the filing. For additional information, check the Fictitious Names section of the DOS website.
Example: Jerry originally set up his car repair business as a Pennsylvania corporation named Jerry’s Pittsburgh Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Three Rivers Fabulous Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Jerry must file Form DSCB:54-311-2, Application for Registration of Fictitious Name, including the filing fee, with the DOS. He can download a copy of the form from the Registration Forms section of the DOS website.
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.)
Example: Charlotte wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Charlie’s Deep Brown Cocoa Buzz Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files a Form DSCB:54-1112, Registration of Trademark or Service Mark, including the filing fee, with the DOS. She can download a copy of the form from theRegistration Forms section of the DOS website.
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Pennsylvania. 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 Pennsylvania. 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.