Are you ready to start an online business in Florida? You're in luck, as Florida consistently ranks as one of the best states for business. Of course, this doesn't mean everything will be easy — starting and growing a business is a long process, but there's plenty of opportunity to be had. We've created this guide to help you understand how to start a business in Florida and ensure you begin on the right track.
Florida is very friendly to business, and has a history of innovation that includes everything from NASA to Walt Disney's EPCOT. Naturally, there are still rules and regulations you need to follow, and your business needs a solid foundation built on a detailed plan. This guide will help you with both planning and compliance so you can build and grow your business while avoiding as many problems as possible.
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If you want to start an online business, chances are you already have a business idea. However, you should still read this section to find out how to refine your idea and determine how well it can work for a business. It's crucial to fully develop your idea and create a strategy to bring it to life.
One of the most important tips is to choose an industry you're passionate about. This passion can take many forms: maybe you're deeply interested in the products themselves, or maybe solving a certain problem for your customers is more important to you, with the products only being secondary. Maybe it relates to a hobby you've had throughout your life, or maybe you only discovered it recently but want to contribute to the industry. No matter its source, true passion will keep you focused and help you establish yourself in your field. Customers can recognize both sincerity and expertise when they see them.
Regardless of your industry, your next step is always market research. Investigate your competition and look for any unsolved problems or unmet needs — these give your business a place to step in and provide what other businesses don't. This will help you identify your unique value proposition (UVP) or unique sales proposition (USP). The UVP or USP is a concept describing the unique element that makes your business stand out from others in the same field, and can be anything from your store policies to your branding and voice. What's important about a UVP is that it needs to differentiate you from your competitors and be constantly present throughout your business.
Naming a business can be exciting and fun, but also difficult. It feels great to finally put a name on something that, until then, had just been an idea. However, the name of your business is important and can have a strong influence on how customers perceive you, so some entrepreneurs feel a lot of pressure to choose the right name. It has to be memorable, brandable, and help customers understand what you offer — and of course, you need to be sure your desired name isn't already taken!
Another concern is that you're also going to need a domain name (URL) for your website, and it's always better for your domain name to be the same as your business name. Some variation is fine, such as an abbreviation if it helps keep your domain shorter, but don't make it different enough to be confusing. Your business's social media accounts (which can include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and more) should ideally all use the same username to make you easier for customers to find, and for the best possible results, that username should match your URL. This is why many businesses choose their name and their URL at the same time, even searching for available URLs and usernames before deciding on the name of the business. possible results, that username should match your URL. This is why many businesses choose their name and their URL at the same time, even searching for available URLs and usernames before deciding on the name of the business.
You'll also need to determine if your business name is already taken in Florida. The Florida Division of Corporations lays down the following simple rules for naming a business:
Finding out whether your desired business name is taken as a URL is as easy as entering it into a domain registrar's search box, and fortunately, it's just as simple to learn if your business name is already taken in Florida. The Florida Department of State's Division of Corporations website (familiarly known as Sunbiz.org) makes it easy to search for all types of Florida businesses by name, as well as fictitious names (DBA) and more. Tips for using the Sunbiz.org search feature can be found in their FAQ. (They also have a great resource list for starting a Florida business that you can refer to for additional resources as you follow our guide.)
You should also check to ensure your desired business name isn't already in use as someone else's trademark. You can do this with a quick search on the US Patent and Trademark Offices' Trademark Database. Unlike business names, trademarks can use similar names as long as your business provides a completely different product or service than the existing trademark. You also don't need a trademark just to do business, only to protect the names of your business or any unique products. The USPTO website has resources to help you learn about trademarks and when/if you need one.
Every business needs a solid plan in order to succeed. The better your business plan, the greater the chance you have of meeting all your goals and growing your business at the pace you want. Fortunately, there are plenty of guidelines available along with templates to help you learn how to write a business plan. In short, you need to cover the following:
tructure also has its own specific requirements. A business structure should always be chosen based on both the short-term needs and long-term goals of the business, including the level of growth you want to strive for.
There are four main business structures: sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, and corporation. Each structure is meant for a different size of business with different needs and goals. There are also subcategories of business structure including limited partnerships, C corporations, S corporations, and others. The basics are:
• A sole proprietorship is a one-person business in which the business and its owner are considered the same entity. This is the easiest type of business to set up, but since it's synonymous with an individual, it's meant to remain small and has a limited lifespan. There's also no liability protection, so the business owner's assets are exposed if the business itself gets into legal trouble.
• A corporation is owned by shareholders and managed by a board of directors. The board can be chosen by the shareholders, based on the business's charter. Corporations have the biggest legal requirements and the most rules and paperwork, and are frequently too much for a small business. The advantages include liability protection and the ability to sell stock in the business, the latter of which brings large, publicly-traded corporations to mind.
• A limited liability company (LLC) brings together some of the best advantages of all the other business types, including liability protection and a small workload (more than a sole proprietorship but less than a corporation). The only disadvantage is that an LLC can't sell stock, but new businesses don't usually consider this a problem. In fact, an LLC is the most popular structure for a new business.
The business structure you choose should match the needs and goals outlined in your business plan. You can't go wrong by consulting a business attorney or tax advisor before you decide, and the Florida Division of Corporations has more information about business structures as well. It's crucial for you to make an informed decision here, so we've also written up a detailed guide to business structures in our free ebook below.
Once you've chosen your business structure, it's time to register your business to start establishing yourself in the state of Florida. Registration is fairly straightforward and can be done electronically through Sunbiz.org. Simply visit their e-filing page and choose the type of business you're registering.
You'll then be brought through the process starting with instructions and also covering any necessary fees you'll need to pay. If you need to file a fictitious name (also known as a DBA, or doing-business-as), you can find a link to the instructions on the same page.
Every business needs to collect sales tax on sold products. Some business owners can use their own social security number to file, but even then, many prefer to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to preserve privacy and avoid needing to use their personal SSN on business documents. Your EIN is also needed when you get a business bank account and if you apply for a business loan. You can apply online for an EIN by following the instructions on the IRS website.
In Florida, you'll need to pay additional taxes besides the federal income tax. A majority of Florida counties impose a local business tax that also functions as your occupational license, i.e. gives you the right to do business from that location. You can learn the details about all Florida business taxes, from federal down to city, on the Florida Department of State's website.
You also need to register with the Florida Department of Revenue, which provides a centralized online interface for understanding and paying all your business's necessary state taxes and fees in the form of their General Tax Administration Program. You can register with the Florida Department of Revenue on their website and access other resources to help you understand the taxes your business will be responsible for paying. Be sure to check out their New Business Start-up Kit.
Your business will need the correct licenses and permits to operate legally, but the ones you need depend on your type of business and where in Florida you are located. Some licenses and permits are required only for businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location for customers to shop, so if you don't have plans for a physical store, you won't need those. However, you still need to investigate to be sure your business is fully licensed.
Several Florida agencies provide licensing for businesses. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) handles regulated industries like alcohol and tobacco as well as certain skilled trades (they provide a list on their website). The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) licenses many other types of businesses. To find other licensing agencies, check out Florida's State Agency Directory.
The idea of setting up a business bank account can seem intimidating for some people — after all, there are fees to deal with, and choosing the right bank isn't always easy. However, using your personal bank account for a business is a bad idea. Even if you're a sole proprietor, your business's funds should never be commingled with your personal funds, as this can make accounting and taxes harder and can harm your liability protection.
Besides the best practices, there are other reasons a business needs its own bank account. Many payment processors and other financial services can only work with a business account, and you'll also need a business account to secure a business loan or get a business credit card. Fortunately, many banks are very friendly to businesses and are interested in helping you grow. Choosing a bank for your business account should be an informed decision based on the needs of your business. Fundera has a great guide for small business owners in Florida trying to choose a bank.
Once you've completed the other steps in this guide, your business will have the necessary foundation to operate legally and efficiently. Now, it's time to build your online store so you can officially "open" and start selling! Of course, your goal when you build an eCommerce website is not just to set up a shopping cart for customers to purchase products, but also to create an online presence that helps establish and identify your brand. Your best course of action is to choose a website builder that's focused on eCommerce as a core part of its functionality, rather than using a generic website builder and attempting to add a shopping cart to it later. This ensures you'll have the best tools right away, so you can streamline the work you do and get started right away on growing your business. If you'd like to know more about creating an eCommerce website, check out our free guide: