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Florida can be a great place to start a business. The Sunshine State is ripe with ideas in a business-friendly atmosphere, whether you’re interested in Miami mercantile or building a business in Key West.
Thousands of Shopify store owners are operating in Florida. The business landscape is as varied as the scenery, with popular industries including apparel and accessories, health and beauty, and a strong presence from food and beverage, furniture, and sporting goods. There is lots of room for your unique and original ideas, too. We’ve put together some resources around how to start a business in Florida.
How To Start a Business in Florida
1. Choose a business idea
The first step is coming up with a great idea. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about one for a long time, or maybe you haven’t found the inspiration yet. Either way, it’s important to develop your business idea so you can be confident there’s a market for it, that it presents a viable business opportunity, and that it’s the kind of business you want to own.
2. Name your Florida business
Almost all of the subsequent steps on our starting a business in Florida checklist require your business to have a name. There are some naming requirements imposed by the State of Florida that can be found in the Fictitious Name FAQ, such as using your own name for your business, or advertising requirements. The Shopify Business Name Generator can help you find inspiration, and come up with a name that is catchy and memorable.
Assemble a short list of potential business names that appeal to you, then do an online search to check if businesses are already using the name online. Next, search the United States Patent and Trademark Office database and the Florida Division of Corporations to check if anyone has trademarked the names you like best. You can use the Shopify Domain Name Generator to see if a corresponding web address can be purchased for your business names.
3. Create a business plan
You may not have to submit a business plan to the State of Florida as part of the business registration process. However, a business plan is still a recommended box to tick while starting a small business in Florida. A business plan is a great way to keep yourself organized, stay focused on your goals, and understand how your enterprise can grow into the future. If you need to apply for a bank loan, the loan officer will likely want to see a business plan.
A business plan is a document that outlines:
- Company description
- Market analysis
- Management and organization
- Products and services
- Customer segmentation
- Marketing plan
- Logistics and operations plan
- Financial plan
4. Choose a business structure and get started
If you’re working through the process of starting a Florida business, you probably know that there are different types of business structures. The three most common structures are sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at the three structures and some of the steps during the registration process.
Sole Proprietorship in Florida
What is a sole proprietorship?
Sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure in Florida. It’s an unincorporated business owned by just one person, requiring the least amount of administrative work and the lowest startup fees. Since you’re the only owner, you keep all the profits. A drawback can be that sole proprietors are required to file their business income as part of the personal income tax, which could mean that you end up paying more taxes than you would under some of the other business structures. Additionally, because your business and personal assets are lumped together, a sole proprietorship provides no protection from liabilities such as lawsuits or debts.
Is a sole proprietorship right for you?
If you’re interested in starting a small business in Florida, a sole proprietorship might be right for you. This structure is best for individual producers or service professionals who don’t intend to hire employees or drastically expand their operation. Common examples of sole proprietors include accountants, artisans, musicians, and consultants. This may also be ideal for you if you’re looking for an affordable way to start a business in Florida, since the cost of registration is quite low.
Register a fictitious name
In order to register a sole proprietorship, Florida requires that you register a fictitious name if you intend to do business under anything other than your own legal name. This is a declaration that you are conducting business under a name other than your own legal name, allowing the public to identify you and pursue legal action if the situation should arise. You can find more information about how to register and naming requirements in the Fictitious Name FAQ.
Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
When looking into how to start a small business in Florida, you should note that every business in the state is required to file for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An EIN functions similarly to your Social Security Number (SSN) except it’s for your business. The online registration process is free and features a straightforward, interview-style application. You can also register by fax, mail, or telephone.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Florida
What is an LLC?
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a hybrid business structure that offers some of the simplicity and low cost of sole proprietorship, balanced by some of the legal and debt protections of a corporation. They demand less administrative work than corporations as well, though your LLC will be subject to both state and federal taxation, which can require more paperwork.
Is an LLC right for you?
Small to medium-sized businesses that require employees are great candidates for LLC status. An LLC could also be a good option for early-stage startups that want to launch quickly without the hassle and cost of setting up a corporation.
Get an EIN
Common to all business structures in Florida, you must register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It serves much of the same purpose as your Social Security Number (SSN) except it’s for your business. Don’t forget to have your personal SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) ready before starting the interview-style registration process on the IRS website or registering by fax, mail, or telephone.
Register your LLC
Registering your LLC is accomplished by filling out and submitting your articles of organization, which is called a statement of information in some states. This document provides details about your organization to the state government, such as official name, contact information, address, and more.
Choose a registered agent
A registered agent is sometimes called an agent for service of process, and is the person or corporation that you designate to receive court documents on your behalf. This is one of the features of an LLC that protects your personal assets from business liabilities such as debt collection and lawsuits. In Florida, you can serve as your own registered agent or you can choose from many law firms and businesses offering this service for a fee. Declaring your registered agent is accomplished by including the information on your articles of organization submission.
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Pay state tax
Businesses in Florida pay a state corporate income/franchise tax administered by the Florida Department of Revenue. This is a flat-rate tax that can vary from year to year, so be sure you understand what the current rate is.
The Florida Department of Revenue also manages the sales and use tax program, which imposes a flat tax (with a few exceptions) on sales of most goods and services in the state. Many counties also collect an additional discretionary sales surtax, or county tax, on businesses making sales in their region.
Florida also offers a range of tax incentives to enterprises to help encourage commerce and bring more entrepreneurs like you to the state.
Prepare an operating agreement
An operating agreement describes how your LLC will be managed, who the stakeholders are, and how profits are allocated. In Florida, you are not required to submit an operating agreement as part of the LLC registration process. However, if you do not create an operating agreement, state default laws may apply to your business, which may or may not be to your advantage. There are online templates that can help you write your operating agreement.
Corporation in Florida
What is a corporation?
A corporation separates the individual owners from the business, which helps protect the personal assets of owners from liabilities like lawsuits and debt collection. Florida corporations usually enjoy a lower tax rate than sole proprietorships or LLCs and tend to be easier to sell or transfer ownership. One of the main distinguishing features of a corporation is the ability to issue stock, which allows a business to raise money from investors, offer more varied compensation packages to skilled staff, and can attract experienced board members. The downside to a corporation is that it is the most complicated and costly business structure to set up and maintain.
Is a corporation right for you?
A Florida corporation could be right for you if:
- You plan on raising funds from investors
- You’re starting a very large operation
- Your goal is to build up a company and then sell it
- You’re especially interested in protection from liabilities
Get an EIN
Corporations are not exempt from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirement to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which serves a similar purpose to your Social Security Number (SSN) except it is for your business. Applications are free and accepted via either an online, interview-style process or by fax, mail, or telephone.
File articles of incorporation
In order to register a corporation, you will need to submit articles of incorporation to the Florida Division of Corporations. This document includes specific details about your business, such as:
- Your corporate business name
- Your office location, and
- Whether your operation is for-profit or non-profit
Choose a registered agent
Like an LLC, a corporation is required to designate or appoint a registered agent, also known as an agent for service of process. This agent accepts court documents on behalf of your corporation and is one of the features of a corporation that separates and protects your personal assets from liabilities incurred by your business. In Florida you can be your own registered agent or choose an individual, corporation, or a business that provides this service to be your agent. Declaring your registered agent can be accomplished by filling out and submitting your articles of incorporation.
Prepare corporate bylaws
Corporate bylaws are a document that determines the structure and governance of your operation, including details such as:
- Annual meetings
- Quorum (minimum number of voting board members or stockholders)
- Document handling
- Conflicts of interest
Appoint directors and hold board meeting
Corporations in Florida are required to assemble a board of directors to assist with oversight and management. Rules regarding who can be a director can be found in the Florida Business Corporation Act. Your directors can be valuable assets, so think carefully about who you would like to bring on board. Once you’ve appointed a board of directors, you’ll need to host your first board meeting to make it official.
Stock is a tool afforded to corporations as a way to distribute ownership, raise funds from investors, and potentially incentivize experienced staff and advisors to bring their talent to a company. Stock is normally issued during the first board meeting. Extensive information on the regulations that apply to stock, how to issue stock, and more, is available in the statutes of the Florida Business Corporation Act.
Pay state tax
Corporations in Florida have similar tax obligations to LLCs, including a flat-rate corporate income/franchise tax administered by the Florida Department of Revenue, as well as a sales and use tax that applies to most types of sales transactions in the state. In addition, county governments are allowed to impose a discretionary sales surtax, or county tax, on sales transactions in their respective jurisdictions, so be sure you understand which taxes apply to your business based on your location.
The State of Florida is also interested in encouraging commerce, and offers a range of tax incentives that can help you mitigate both the corporate income tax and sales tax, depending on your industry.
5. Obtain a business license and permits
A general business license in Florida is not required, as it can be accomplished by registering as a specific business structure. However, there are licensing requirements for businesses in certain industries. Common licenses include:
- Alcohol sales
- Weights and measures
- Waste discharge
Licensing is managed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as well as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It’s also possible that you will need a license to operate from one of Florida’s state agencies or from one of these other licensing agencies. There is no unified licensing system in Florida, so be thorough when looking through these sites for licensing information that applies to your business.
6. Examine insurance options in Florida
Although both LLCs and corporations offer many legal and financial protections, it’s still prudent to have some insurance for your business. Common business insurance types include:
- General liability
- Professional liability
- Worker’s compensation
Insurance in Florida is privatized and managed by the Office of Insurance Regulation.
The State of Florida requires that businesses with employees have worker’s compensation coverage. More information is available from the Florida Department of Financial Services.
7. Understand financial considerations
Whether you’ve chosen to set up a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation, it’s a good idea to separate your personal and business assets and financial tools. Open a business bank account, apply for a business credit card, and consider retaining a business accountant, whose experience is likely to be valuable throughout the course of your business journey.
It’s also possible that you’ll need additional capital during startup or operation of your business. You can apply for a bank loan at a number of financial institutions, or you can consider Shopify Capital.
8. Market your business
Now it’s time to take a break from filling out applications and poring over government statutes to do something more creative but equally critical—marketing. Showcasing your business in just the right way for your ideal customer is the last step before you can launch, so be sure to set aside some time to make it happen.
Brand your business
Many customers will encounter your brand logo or marketing before they learn about your product or service, so it’s important that your brand represents your business in a way that is recognizable, memorable, and demonstrates the true value of your offerings. Branding includes:
- Your company logo. Try Shopify's Logo Maker for easy logo creation.
- Official company colors and imagery. Online tool Paletton is a great way to coordinate colors.
- A catchy slogan or tagline. Check out Shopify’s Slogan Maker for inspiration.
- Official fonts or typefaces
- The tone and voice used in company communications
- Your brand positioning and brand persona
Branding is a great way to infuse your own personality and sense of creativity into your business, so don’t hesitate to experiment, try new things, and keep refining your brand elements until they are beautiful and effective.
Build a business website
Nearly every business, even those that don’t sell products online, can benefit from a website. A website can help people discover your business while searching online, and is often the first place potential customers will go after learning about your products and services. Your website should be branded, easy to navigate, informative, and provide a great experience. These days, a website can be built quickly without requiring coding skills. You can launch a website using a platform like Shopify, without any design or development experience.
To get started, you’ll need:
- Digital logo files in different sizes that suit your front page, footer, and anywhere else you want to brand your new website. These can be created and downloaded using Shopify's Logo Maker, Shopify’s logo creation tool.
- Brand colors, so you can personalize your website theme and create a consistent color scheme across products, services, print materials, and more
- Attractive product photos and imagery that engage users visually
- Coordinated fonts to create a consistent look and feel across all of your promotional materials
- A site map that outlines the page structure and makes it easier for you to organize all of the information you want to communicate to your customers
- Your public contact information
Promote your business
As you near your launch date, you should schedule time to create a marketing plan that can help you promote your business and sell more products and services. This document can go a long way toward helping your business find an audience, grow your customer base, and keep your promotional efforts on track over time. Marketing plans often include:
- An executive summary that summarizes your overall plan
- A mission statement that outlines your overarching goals and business philosophy
- Objectives that detail the specific things you want to achieve through your LLC
- A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis that can help you identify what you’re doing right and what needs to be refined
- Market research that helps you understand your industry, potential customers, and competitors
- A market strategy that details your plan of attack
- A budget that keeps your finances under control
For inspiration, check out these marketing plan examples.