10 Steps to Starting a Business
||Get Assistance and Training|
An abundance of resources are available to help you through the process of starting a business. The following are just a few of these valuable tools:
Sonoma Small Business Development Center offers one-on-one, no-cost professional consulting in business planning, loans and financing, marketing, taxes and bookkeeping. Call (707) 595-0060
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), counselors to America's small business, is a nonprofit association dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with free, confidential face-to-face and email business consulting. Call (707) 571-8342.
A well-written business plan is critical to starting and running a business. Business plans are generally required when applying for business loans and seeking investors, but are also essential in estimating costs and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal.
Conduct Research and Develop a Business Plan
Here are just a few of the many business planning resources available:
Find out which financing options are best for you – business loans, research and development grants, venture capital, or other options! Here are a few guides:
Seed and venture capital financing
Determine Your Business Location
Before you sign a lease or purchase a commercial building, contact the Planning Division at (707) 543-3200 to be sure that your business is allowed in the zone or area you've selected. The Planning Division can tell you if your business meets the zoning requirements and whether you need any other type of City review or permit, such as a Design Review or Use Permit.
Additionally, the Planning Division has information about signage and parking requirements that may apply to your business and location. Remember that home-based businesses also need to check on zoning! The Planning Division is located in room 3, City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Avenue.
Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business
Decide whether you are going to form a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation, non-profit or cooperative. SBA’s guide on determining business structure is a good resource.
If you will be starting a corporation or a limited liability company, you must contact the California Secretary of State’s Office and they will supply you with all the information and forms that are necessary. It is optional for general partnerships to file with the Secretary of State and sole proprietorships are not required to file.
If you will be using a fictitious name for your business (a name other than your personal legal name), you will need to check with the County Clerk to be sure no one else is using that name before completing a Fictitious Business Name Statement.
The Sonoma County Clerk is located in Santa Rosa at 2300 County Center Drive, Suite B-177. You may also call the County Clerk's office at (707) 565-3800.
All new businesses employing one or more persons must apply for a State Employer's Identification Number. Contact the State's Employment Development Department by calling (888) 745-3886, or stop by the Santa Rosa office at 50 D Street, Room 415, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Get Your Federal and State Identification Numbers
You'll also need a Federal Identification Number if you're employing one or more persons. Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Business Tax Line at (800) 829-1040, or stop by the Santa Rosa office at 777 Sonoma Avenue between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also call (707) 523-0924.
Obtain a Business Tax Certificate and Necessary Permits
Whether you're operating from home or a storefront, office or industrial park, you'll need a Business Tax Certificate (sometimes referred to as a "Business License"). Business Tax Certificate applications are managed by, and available through the MuniServices online. Applicants must submit proof of zoning clearance along with the application for the Business Tax Certificate and can get this clearance at Community Development, 100 Santa Rosa Avenue. Check here for hours of operation. Zoning clearance will be issued over the counter; there is no charge for this clearance.
Remember to submit your application several weeks before you open for business and be sure you've secured all of your necessary planning approvals. Business Tax Certificates are renewed annually.
- Building Permit: When You Need One/Where to Go: Building permits are required to modify the space your business will occupy, including improvements or changes to the building's structure, electrical, mechanical or plumbing systems. You can contact the Building Division at (707) 543-3200 for information on applying for a permit.
- Seller's Permit: When You Need One/Where to Go: If you plan to sell or lease retail or wholesale goods, you'll need a Seller's Permit or "resale number". Contact the State Board of Equalization by calling (707) 576-2100, or stop by the Santa Rosa office at 50 D Street, Room 230, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Selling Alcoholic Beverages: You must first ask the City's Planning Division if your business is located within a zone that allows for alcohol sales. Once you have determined that your business location allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages, you may apply to the State of California's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) office, which issues the actual license.
- Serving/Selling Food: Any type of retail food sales requires a permit from the County's Department of Environmental Health. For new facilities, you will need to submit building plans to both the City's Community Development Department and the County's Department of Environmental Health. For more information, call (707) 565-6531.
- Downtown Street Vendor Permit: When you Need One/Where to Go: Are you interested in operating a vendor cart downtown? Small carts are allowed with a permit in Courthouse Square, Fremont Park, JeJu Way, and Comstock Mall. Carts must be stationary during operating hours in the area specified on the permit, and removed each evening. Vendors are allowed to sell food, non-alcoholic beverages, cut flowers, and/or art or crafts made by the vendor. More information and application.
There are a number of legal steps you will need to follow before your business hires employees. Here is a guide to this process.
Find Out What Your Employer Responsibilities Are
With over 1,100 members, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to the success of business and works to build a dynamic local economy, one that sustains its members while attracting new businesses and investors. Call (707) 545-1414. There are also many other local business partners that can provide key support to your business.
Get Connected With Local Infrastructure and Support Networks
Utility Billing/Utilities: If you would like to open a new account for water and/or sewer service, please call the Utility Billing Division (707) 543-3150. For new sewer and sanitation hook-ups, call the Utilities Department at (707) 543-4200. Both offices are open Monday - Thursday: 7:30 am - 5:30 pm, Friday: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (Alternate Friday: Closed).
North Bay Corporation, operating as Santa Rosa Recycling & Collection, Inc., is the solid waste and recycling contractor for the City of Santa Rosa. Their customer service department can be reached at (707) 586-1478, Monday through Friday from 7 am - 6 pm and Saturdays from 7 am - 1 pm.
Gas and electric services in Santa Rosa are provided by Pacific Gas & Electric. Contact PG&E at 1-800-468-4743 for more information.