Whether you are starting up a new pet care business, or you want to make sure you are covering your bases with your existing business, here’s a great checklist for you. Watch for more details on these steps in later posts.
1. Choose a name and protect your mark. Before settling on a name, check for name availability with both the Clerk’s Office for Virginia’s State Corporation Commission and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It’s not enough to make sure that no one is using the name of your business. To fully protect your mark, it is well worth registering your mark on the state level and filing a trademark application with the USPTO. It usually pays off to consult with a trademark attorney at this step.
2. Choose a business entity. The most common entities are a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC) and a corporation. LLCs are a popular choice for businesses due to the LLC’s flexibility. It is often in your best interest to consult with a corporate attorney at this point.
3. Register your business. Corporations, LLCs and limited partnerships must register with the Virginia State Corporation Commission. If you are a franchise, you will also have to register with the State Corporation Commission’s Division of Securities and Retail Franchising.
4. Register any trade names and general partnerships. If you are using a trade name that is other than your entity’s official name, make sure that you register the trade name with your local Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Note that general partnerships also need to register with the Circuit Court.
5. Check on state requirements. Depending on your profession and business, you may have state licensing, registration or other requirements. For instance, veterinarians and veterinary facilities must comply with licensing and registration requirements for the Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine and the Virginia Department of Health Professions. Commercial dog breeders, animal shelters and pounds, and rescues are subject to state reporting and other requirements. Non-profits also have to register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Consumer Protection to solicit as a charitable organization. Various state laws also impact groomers, dog kennels and boarding facilities.
6. Comply with zoning and permitting requirements and code regulations. You will need to check with your local jurisdiction to ensure that you have complied with zoning and permitting requirements. This step is more streamlined in some jurisdictions than others. For instance, the City of Alexandria has created a “Permit Center” as a “One Stop Shop” in an effort to simplify this process. (By the way, in 2010, Alexandria changed its small business zoning to add a new permitted use in the Cameron Station area for pet supplies, grooming and/or training with no overnight accommodations, if you’re looking for a location!) Additionally, be sure to check on all building and other code regulations.
7. Get a local business license. Once you have registered your business and complied with your locality’s zoning and permitting requirements, you need to get a business license. This license must be renewed annually. When you apply for a license, this will also trigger the duty to estimate and pay your local business, professional and occupational license (BPOL) taxes.
8. Comply with tax requirements. Along with your BPOL taxes, make sure you have complied with other local tax requirements, such as business personal property taxes. Of course, you also need to comply with state and federal taxes. If you run a non-profit such as a rescue, make sure that you look into federal, state and local tax exemptions. This is another time when you may want to seek help from a tax attorney or accountant.
9. Get insurance. Look into the many different insurance policies designed to protect your business, including insurance for general liability, professional liability and malpractice, umbrella liability, business property, business income and extra expense, animal bailee, equipment and commercial automobile coverage. A good insurance broker can help you out here.
10. Keep accurate and complete business records. Generally, the privilege of obtaining a state or local license carries with it the state or locality’s right to audit your business and inspect your records. Additionally, as mentioned above, certain businesses such as commercial dog breeders, animal shelters, pounds and rescues have their own obligations to maintain records and report information. The importance of keeping accurate and complete records cannot be emphasized enough.
Too many people think that they can start out on their own with a business such as dog walking, dog training or animal rescue without following these steps. You can’t just wait until you have a solid clientele base before you worry about setting up and registering your business entity, getting insurance and a business license, and complying with these other requirements. If you lack the resources to comply with these requirements prior to taking on your very first client, you should work for an established company for a while first before you take that leap.
This post is not meant to be a full checklist of everything that is required for your particular business, but it is a great starting point to make sure that you have thought of the most important items to start up and protect your business. Another great resource in thinking through whether you are ready to start your own business is the Virginia Department of Business Assistance’s Business One Stop Service.