Starting an online business requires acquiring many of the same permits and licenses that are generally required for a traditional business. Generally a business, including an “e-business” or a company that operates on the web, requires a business license before it begins to operate. When a city grants a business license, it permits the business to operate within that city. A business license also registers the business for tax purposes.
Certain cities and counties may also require additional permits to operate a business in that location. Different types of businesses also have different license and permit requirements. The California Secretary of State can provide all the requirements for starting a business. Also, certain trades require professional or occupational licenses. For example, contractors, doctors, accountants, real estate agents, and lawyers must all acquire the required license before they may begin to practice. Each occupation has specific procedures and requirements for obtaining the required licenses. The respective licensing agencies provide the standards and procedures for these requirements. Licenses may also be required based on the products the business sells. For example, selling alcohol, firearms, or gasoline requires specific licenses.
Businesses that operate on the Internet may also be required to collect sales tax if the business maintains a physical presence in the state. Without a physical presence, such as an actual store or warehouse, an e-business is not required to charge sales tax. Some states do not have a sales tax or tax exemptions for specific items such as food or clothing. Before a business can sell taxable goods on the Internet, the business must obtain a certificate allowing the business to collect sales tax. In order to properly charge sales taxes, businesses must also be familiar with the appropriate tax rates. Online businesses may use programs that calculate sales tax for each transaction based on the items and applicable rates. Examples of these licensed shopping carts, or e-commerce platforms — include Magento, LemonStand, and IBM WebSphere Commerce. In an effort to improve tax-collecting efforts for businesses, some states have passed the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. This Agreement aims to pass federal regulations that will make tax collection across the country more uniform in order to simplify the process.
Businesses that operate without a license run the risk of being fined or being forced to cease operations entirely. Regulatory agencies such as the California Secretary of the State or the Internal Revenue Service may discover that a business is operating without the necessary licenses by simply reviewing tax returns. You may also visit the District of Columbia Business Resource Center to learn more about the process of obtaining a business license.
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