Almost every business requires a permit or license. Whether your business is conducted within an industrial construction zone or within your personal home, some permit, license, or registration is needed. Permits and licenses vary depending upon the jurisdiction and so it is important to contact your local government regarding what permits or licenses are required.
Get information specific to your state
Often, the City/County Clerk is the best person to contact. The City/County Clerk should be able to direct you to all the necessary forms needed to legally conduct your business (the City/County Clerk should also be able to advise you on what state and federal permits and licenses are needed, if any at all). All local governments are required to maintain a website and generally have the necessary information for permits and licenses within the site. However, in my experience, most local government websites are convoluted and difficult to navigate. Contacting the City/County Clerk's Office by phone or in person would probably be much more productive than surfing its website. There may be a fee for the permit or license, but these fees tend to be minimal. Any changes in local law may affect the permit or license requirements, however, local governments are required to notify their residents and businesses of these changes, so be aware of any letters or important notifications from your local government. Beyond your local government, www.sba.gov also has a very good database on what federal, state, and local registrations would be required for your business.
Also be aware that home businesses may need special permits to conduct business. The most important local laws for businesses are the zoning laws. Certain local governments have very strict residential zoning laws that disallow almost all commercial activity in the homes within these zones. Some local governments have special permits for home businesses, but others do not. For those that do not have special permits, a home business must obtain a variance that essentially exempts his/her home from the strict residential zoning laws. Once again, this information and information on how to apply for a special permit/variance can generally be garnered from the City/County Clerk.
Although this question is limited to local registrations, be aware that certain businesses will require state and federal permits and licenses. State licenses are often required for the following business types: accountants, appraisers, auctioneers, barbers, bill collectors, building contractors, cosmetologists, private security guards, private investigators, and real estate agents. However, each state can be different and so it is important to notify your local government for more information on what state permits and licenses may be necessary. For a very limited number of businesses (generally those that are heavily regulated by the federal government), a federal license or permit may be required. Some examples include broadcasting; drug manufacturing; ground transportation; investment advising; manufacturing alcohol, tobacco or firearms; preparing meat products; and selling firearms. As above, your local government should be able to direct you on what federal licenses or permits would be required for your business if any at all.