Ten Steps to Start Your Business

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Congratulations on launching your business in Sonoma County! We know there’s a lot to get done, so be sure to review the information below to get started.

1. Initial Research

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Starting a business carries risks. As an entrepreneur, you can diminish these risks by performing some due diligence as part of the initial planning stages. In Sonoma County, there are plenty of resources available to guide entrepreneurs through these stages.


    Our Small Business Development Team provides a host of services to help your business get up and running. 

    For detailed information on how we can help, visit our  Business Development Services page.


    At every stage of business formation and growth, it can be helpful to consult local resources that offer business counseling and informative workshops. The following organizations offers direct assistance to Sonoma County businesses. To access their services, call or go online.


    Local chambers of commerce can provide additional assistance that can be of particular use for a business owner looking to locate in a specific city or region. For a list of chambers of commerce in Sonoma County, visit our  Business Services Around the County page.


    The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) has a comprehensive online resource guide for entrepreneurs. The website offers assistance with local resources and mentoring, government contracting, and loans and grants available to small businesses. The San Francisco District office can be reached at:   <a>(415) 744-6820 or  www.sba.gov

2. Develop your Business Plan

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Document your business goals and develop a roadmap to profitability.


    Your business plan communicates what your business does, your vision for the future, and the steps you will take to reach those objectives. Generally, the business plan should include:

    1. An executive summary
    2. A marketing plan
    3. An operations plan
    4. The proposed organizational structure
    5. Financial Projections

    Your developed business plan should also include the following:

    1. The legal structure of your business

      You have probably heard the terms Sole proprietorship, General Partnership, Limited partnership, and Type C or S Corporation. The determination to form a company under a particular structure has much to do with the business activity, location, and organization. Information about each structure can be found at the California Secretary of State website:   www.sos.ca.gov.

      Since the legal structure of the business will dictate many of the entity’s operational functions, and tax liability, entrepreneurs are encouraged to seek legal advice when considering these choices. More information can be found at:   www.Business.USA.gov.

    2. The business name

      Any business must register its name with the California Secretary of State’s office. Information on searching   name availability and   filing requirements can be found on the   Secretary of State website.


3. Finance your Business

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Ensure that you have enough capital to finance your operations. Once you have developed a business plan, that are several resources for small business financing. 


    Here are a few considerations for entrepreneurs seeking financing:

    1. Project Costs

      Your “project” includes everything needed to open for business. Building, leasing costs, inventory, equipment, vehicles, marketing, etc. These details should be outlined in the business plan.

    2. Collateral

      Do you have cash or other assets that you will be investing in your business? Generally speaking, lenders like to see some “owner-participation” with regards to financing. This demonstrates a commitment to the business and its success.

      Simply put, equity in the neighborhood of 20 – 30% is generally requested by lenders. If total project costs are equal to $150,000, then an owner should expect to contribute around $30,000-$45,000 in cash and/or assets.

    3. Pre-application

      Lenders often cite that applications are denied simply because they are not complete, or the prospective borrower did not fully understand application requirements.


    When you are ready to pursue financing, you will want to visit our  Finance your Growth page for a complete list of banks, credit union, alternative lenders and angel investors/venture capital.


    You will also want to check out  alternative loan financing available through EDB's partner organizations.

4. Local Licensing Requirements

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Find out what local licenses and permits you need to operate. 

5. Register your Business

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Register your business correctly with federal, state, county and city agencies. 

    This should be done after you determine the most appropriate operating structure for your business, and have determined its name. All documentation must be approved by the State of California before the business can become a legally-recognized entity.


    Registration requirement and forms may be found at the California Secretary of State website:  www.sos.ca.gov/business-programs

6. State Licensing Requirements

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Your business might require additional state licenses, depending on your product or service.


    If your new business involves providing a service or specialized product, there is a chance that the State of California will require you to carry some form of occupational or professional licensing.

    Online licensing is available for a variety of activities and professions. The appropriate agencies and requirements may be found on the state’s  CalGold website, which offers a wealth of information on licensing and permitting requirements – including contact information – sorted by location and business type.


    If your business will offer products for sale, and/or specially regulated items such as alcohol and/or tobacco (includes nicotine products), the State does require a seller’s permit and special taxing considerations. Both can be applied for online.

    Alcohol Sales:

    For more information about licensing and permits, including seller’s permits and use tax information, contact the California State Board of Equalization at:
    Santa Rosa Field Office 
    50 D Street Room 230 
    Santa Rosa, CA 95404

    Tobacco Products Sales:
    A CA state license is required to sell any tobacco product; this includes all electronic cigarettes and any product containing nicotine (except those that are FDA approved as a cessation medication). Contact the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration to complete an application and obtain a license. Licenses are renewed annually and there is a fee.

    A local license may be required. Several communities in Sonoma County have license requirements. Contact the County of Sonoma Health Services, Impact Sonoma Tobacco & Nicotine Prevention Team to determine if a local license is required, (707) 565-6680, preventioninfo@sonoma-countyorg, sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Public-Health/Healthy-Communities/Tobacco-Prevention/Compliance/Retailers/ to determine any additional requirements.

7. Zoning and Permit Requirements

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Check to ensure that your business location meets zoning requirements. 

    Sonoma County is comprised of nine incorporated cities, and the unincorporated area is governed by the County of Sonoma. Each jurisdiction is charged with regulating permits and ensuring compliance within its own boundaries. Various state agencies also regulate air quality, water quality, food safety, employee safety, energy efficiency, and the like.

    Once you have a business location in mind, check with the local permitting and zoning authority to ensure your business use complies with regulations, and to determine the necessary steps involved in establishing the business location. Contacts for each of the planning, health, and development agencies in Sonoma County are below:

    Jurisdiction WebsitePhone
    County of Sonoma (unincorporated)(707) 565-1900
    City of Cloverdale(707) 894-1726
    City of Cotati(707) 665-3637
    City of Healdsburg(707) 431-3348
    City of Petaluma(707) 778-4470
    City of Rohnert Park(707) 588-2236
    City of Santa Rosa(707) 543-3200 x2
    City of Sebastopol(707) 823-6167
    Sonoma(707) 938-3681
    Windsor(707) 838-1021


8. Tax Requirements

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Make sure that your business is set up to handle your tax requirements.

    Businesses are likely to be subject to federal, state and local taxes. Entrepreneurs are strongly advised to consult with a tax professional as they consider business activity, organizational structure and location. For reference, federal and state taxing agencies are described below.


    All for-profit ventures are subject to federal income taxes. Further federal tax information can be found by contacting the IRS at:

    777 Sonoma Avenue
    Santa Rosa, CA 95404
    <a>(707) 523-0924 or www.irs.gov/Businesses


    Businesses in California are subject to various taxes based upon activity, size, and employment, among other factors. The following websites can provide information on California Business Tax requirements, forms, filing dates and other important information:

    The California Tax Service Center: https://www.taxes.ca.gov/

    The California Franchise Tax Board: <a>800-852-5711


    The BOE monitors special taxation items such as fuel, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as the collection of California State sales tax and use taxes. More information may be found at: www.boe.ca.gov or by calling <a>800-400-7115

9. Employer Responsibility

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If you plan to hire employees, get help with our EDB staff.

10. Additional Business Resources

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Get the inside scoop on all the business assistance services in Sonoma County.

Contact Information

Economic Development Board
Business Hours
Monday – Friday
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Contact us by Phone
141 Stony Circle, Suite 130
Santa Rosa, CA 95401