Looking to start a small business in Virginia? 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.
Virginia’s Business OneStop website provides plenty of information for small businesses, whether you’re just now considering a new business in Virginia or actually starting, running, or expanding that business. The Starting a Business section in particular is quite useful.
The Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has guidance on how to start and grow your business. The website includes sections on free counseling, training and workshops, and programs for specific types of businesses. There are also links to other small business resources. The Virginia SBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in Richmond. The office’s website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses. The SBA also publishes a Virginia-specific Resource Guide for Small Business that you can download from the SBA website.
Not every Virginia business needs a license. However, many types of businesses either can or must get one or more licenses or permits. Different licenses and permits are issued by different agencies. For example, certain permits related to environmental regulations are issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. In addition, various professions and occupations also need state-issued licenses.
Many other licenses are issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. For example, the City of Virginia Beach, the City of Norfolk, the City of Richmond, and Fairfax County all have business licensing requirements. You should check the websites for the city and county where you’ll operate your business for more information. The state’s official government website, virginia.gov, links to a privately-run website to help you figure out what licenses might be necessary. 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 Virginia State Corporation Commission(SCC). Check the Forms and Fees section of the SCC 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 Virginia. Most of this licensing is handled through the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR). The DPOR website has sections listing the various professional regulatory boards and regulated professions and occupations. By clicking on an item on one of these lists, you’ll go to a website with detailed licensing information for that profession or occupation.
Some professions are not handled by DPOR. For those professions, such as physicians and attorneys, your should do an online search to locate the relevant state regulatory board.
Example: Sharique wants to work as a licensed cosmetologist. She’ll need to apply for a license through the Virginia Board for Barbers and Cosmetology. By going to the Board’s website, she can get information about forms, fees, license renewal, and many other matters.
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 legal name, 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 Virginia, all businesses operating under a fictitious name must file a certificate in the clerk's office of the circuit court of the jurisdiction in which the fictitious name is to be used. Some localities use alternate terms, such as assumed name. In addition, corporations, LLCs, and limited partnerships using a fictitious name must file a copy of the certificate with the SCC’s Clerk’s Office.
Example: Rajiv originally organized his car repair business as a Virginia corporation named Raj’s Norfolk Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Atlantic Coast Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Rajiv must file a Form CC-1050, Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name, including the filing fee, with the Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Because his business is a corporation, he must also file a copy with the SCC. He can download a copy of the required form from the Circuit Forms Section of the Virginia Court System 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.) For more information, check the Trademarks/Service Marks section of the SCC website.
Example: Leon wants to sell his peanut butter chocolate candy bars under the name “Leon’s Sweet Nut Cocoa Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—he files a Form TM-1, Application for Registration of a Trademark or Service Mark, including the filing fee, with the SCC’s Division of Securities and Retail Franchising (SRF). He can download a copy of the form, including detailed instructions, from the Trademark Service Mark Registration Instructions section of the SRF website.
This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Virginia. 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 Virginia. 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.