In addition to the sunny skies and year-round warm weather, there are plenty of advantages to starting a business in Florida. For one, it’s one of the most tax-friendly states in the nation, placing 4th in Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index for its lack of personal income tax and low corporate tax rate.
Then, there’s the startup statistics: Florida ranks first in the rate of new entrepreneurs, and in the top five for startup early job creation, according to Kauffman’s Indicators of Entrepreneurship report. Considering Florida’s low taxes and excellent business stats, you’d be hard-pressed to find a state with better conditions for launching a new company.
In order to assist with the task of starting a new business in Florida, we’ve produced this helpful step-by-step guide, which will walk you through all of the necessary paperwork, while providing a plethora of vital resources you’ll need to get your company up-and-running.
Florida small business statistics at-a-glance
- Florida promises a light financial burden on budding entrepreneurs: the state levies no personal income tax, in addition to ranking 9th in corporate taxes and 2nd unemployment insurance tax.
- Florida’s 0.46% share of new entrepreneurs ranks first in the U.S.
- An average of 6.41 new jobs are created by each Florida-based startup, a number bested by only 4 other states.
- 2.5 million small businesses operate in Florida, accounting for an overwhelming 99.8% of the state’s total businesses.
- 3.3 million Floridians are employed by small businesses, adding up to 42.2% of the state’s workforce.
- 926,002 small businesses in Florida are owned by minorities.
- The accommodation and food services industry is Florida’s top small business employer, followed by health care and social assistance, and professional, scientific, and technical services.
Starting a business in Florida in 12 steps
1. Develop an idea
Every successful business starts with a good idea. Ask yourself these questions:
- Which product or service can your business provide that doesn’t already exist on the market?
- How does your business idea refine an existing product or service?
Determine your personal strengths and interests: developing an idea that suits your personality and positive traits will provide motivation to put in the long hours necessary in addressing the myriad challenges you’ll face in getting your business off the ground.
Figure out how to market your expertise: if your business idea is not something you totally believe in and can sell effectively, it will be much harder to succeed.
2. Do the research
Once you have an idea, it’s time to put it through the wringer and decide if it’s viable in the market. Conduct market research to arrive at answers to these key questions:
- Is there a demand for your product/service in Florida?
- Who is your target market?
- Do existing businesses in Florida offer a similar product/service?
- What makes your business unique compared to the competition?
Coming up with satisfactory answers may require refinement, or even a total overhaul, of your original idea. Be patient: you’ll only want to proceed with the next steps after determining that a niche exists in the Florida market for your business idea.
3. Draft a business plan
Now it’s time to write the blueprint of your business. A great business plan should chart the path of your company from infancy to success while being able to attract investors to provide financing.
Your business plan ought to include the following sections:
- Executive summary – An overview of your business and why it will be successful
- Description of business – Explain the advantages of your business and the problems it solves
- Market research – Provide research on your industry, target market, and potential competitors
- Organization and staff – Detail the nuts and bolts of your business; how it’s structured and who will run it
- Product or service description – State what you are selling or offering
- Marketing plan – Explain your strategy for attracting customers
- Fundraising – The money you’ll need in the next five years to grow your business and how you’ll spend it
- Financial forecast – Data and balance sheets providing a financial forecast for your business
- Appendix – An optional section with supporting and/or requested documents like resumes, letters of reference, permits, etc.
4. Secure funding
Every business needs money to get off the ground. In fact 82% of businesses that fail do so because of a lack of cash flow, U.S. Bank found in a recent study. Your business plan should include a detailed estimate of the funds you’ll need to cover expenses for at least a year, so now it’s time to acquire the money.
If you aren’t wealthy enough to self-fund your business, you can choose from a number of other funding options. These include a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, taking out a loan from a commercial bank, launching an equity crowdfunding campaign, or securing funding from an angel investor or venture capitalist group active in Florida.
An angel investor is a wealthy individual who invests their personal finances in a startup, typically in the beginning stages, whereas a VC is a group of investors that will fund a business throughout its existence.
Which route you choose depends on the specifics of your business: angel investors typically invest smaller sums to help get a startup off the ground, while VCs invest larger sums of money in exchange for a greater say in the operations of a business. Smaller startups usually opt to pursue funding from angel investors. Plenty of both types of investors are operating in Florida.
Florida Angel Investors and VCs
- Florida Funders – A highly active investment group boasting a portfolio of 23 Florida companies in which they have invested $17.4 million. Florida Funders reviews 60-80 pitches a month, on average.
- Bridge Angel Investors – An angel investor group with a focus on investing in tech startups in the Sarasota-Manatee region of the state.
- Winter Park Angels – A loose association of Florida-based investors that make their own investment decisions based on entrepreneur applications filed with the group. Initial investments typically range between $25K-$50K.
- Miami Angels – An investment group totaling 100+ investors that have invested $11.2 million in 32 Florida tech companies in the past five years.
- New World Angels – A group of 68 Florida investors, entrepreneurs, and operators that have invested over $14 million in local startups since 2014. On top of funding startups, NWA assists early-stage companies by providing consulting and access to networking services.
Additional Investor Resources
- AngelList: Florida Angel Investors – A broad directory of over 5100 investors with their eyes on funding Florida-based startups. Individual listings give an investor’s professional background, total past investments, and their areas of interest.
5. Decide on a legal business entity
The form of business entity you choose will affect many factors going forward. There are 3 main options to decide from:
- Sole proprietorship – The name for running a business by yourself. Legally, you and your business are one and the same, with no separate legal entity for your business. A partnership is legally identical to a sole proprietorship, except that it comprises two or more people.
- Corporation – A complex legal structure that is a separate entity (providing legal protection to owners) from the owner and comprises directors, officers, and shareholders.
- LLC – AKA “Limited Liability Company”, this is a hybrid entity between a sole proprietorship and a corporation that possesses advantages of both. An LLCs provides the liability protection of a corporation, yet isn’t subject to double taxation as the profits go through your personal tax return.
Nowadays, LLCs are the option of choice for small business owners as they are easy to manage and provide the benefits of a corporation while lacking their complex structure. Taxwise, they operate more like a sole proprietorship.
You may want to consult with an attorney to help decide which entity works best for your business.
6. Register your business
Now it’s time to take the leap and make your business official in the state of Florida. Luckily, the state makes the process simple. The first thing you should do is check the Florida Division of Corporations Entity Name Search to see if the name you’ve chosen for your business is available in the state. After determining that your business name is available, you can proceed to the following steps, which vary depending on the type of entity you’ve settled on.
For sole proprietorships
Those running sole proprietorships do not have to register their business, but you must register a fictitious name if you decide not to operate under your own name. The fee is $50, and you can either file online and pay by credit card, or print the PDF and mail it to the Division of Corporations along with a check.
For LLCs and corporations
Forming an LLC or corporation in the state requires additional paperwork. LLCs must file Articles of Organization, while corporations must file Articles of Incorporation. Again, you can file either form online, or mail in your paperwork.
The total fee for forming a corporation is $70, which includes a $35 filing fee and $35 for registered agent designation. Buying a Certified Copy of the form or Certificate of Status is an optional service that will run you an additional $8.75 for each document. Entrepreneurs forming an LLC can expect to pay a bit more for filing their business: the filing fee is $100 and the required registered agent fee is $25.
As in all states, appointing a registered agent is a required step in the process of forming either an LLC or a corporation. A registered agent receives process notices and other government paperwork on a business’s behalf. As long as you have a physical address in Florida, you can be your own registered agent, although first-timers are advised to hire the services of a professional. Registered agents are relatively inexpensive, costing $50 – $200 a year for their services.
7. Acquire federal and state tax IDs
Now you should obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is like a social security number for a business and allows you to open bank accounts, handle payroll, and file taxes.
Each state has its own laws and taxes regarding businesses, and lucky for entrepreneurs based in Florida, tax rates are generally lower than in other states. Visit the Florida Department of Revenue Business portal for more information on state taxes applicable to your business.
8. Open business banking and credit accounts
Opening a bank account for your business is crucial because it allows you to separate company assets from your personal assets, and makes filing taxes a lot easier. This is a recommended step, even if you are operating a sole proprietorship.
It’s also a wise idea to obtain a credit card for your business because it will help you isolate business expenses and build up credit for your company, which may help in securing investment in later stages.
Banks operating in Florida good for small businesses
9. Get the necessary licenses and permits
Depending on the type of business you are opening, you may need to apply for a number of permits and licenses to operate legally. For example, a restaurant will need a liquor license, and a pawn shop will need a reseller’s license. The paperwork may prove a hassle, but it’s a necessary ordeal that will protect you from fines, lawsuits, and other legal hazards.
Visit the website of the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation for a list of business types regulated in the state and information on which licenses and permits are necessary to operate legally.
10. Choose a location
Whether you are running an online business or opening a restaurant, location is everything. Be aware of the demographics of the neighborhood or town that you are considering: Are the local residents likely to visit your business? Will nearby competitors take a share of your potential profits?
Where you start your business depends on the industry you’re in: many Florida cities have economies primarily based on tourism, while others are more traditional urban environments. Thankfully. it’s hard to find a city in Florida that doesn’t have favorable conditions for starting a business: Verizon recently published a ranking of the 50 best small U.S. cities to start a business in, and Florida accounted for a whopping 23 entries. Three Florida cities cracked the top 5: Sarasota, Doral, and Coral Gables.
11. Get insured
No matter what type of business you form, buying insurance coverage to protect yourself in the case of property damage or legal action is a good idea. In fact, businesses with employees are required by the federal government to have two types of insurance, while others are strongly encouraged are required at the state level, depending on your business type. Consult with a licensed insurance agent to find out which types of insurance you should get.
Required forms of insurance:
- Workers’ compensation: Covers medical costs and disability benefits if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the job.
- Unemployment insurance: Provides benefits to workers after a loss of job through no personal fault.
Recommended forms of insurance:
- Professional liability insurance: Covers losses as a result of property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, and negligence claims.
- Commercial property insurance: Covers property damage to business owned properties and possessions as a result of fire, theft, or storm.
- Disability insurance: Provides short-term benefits for employees suffering an illness or injury. Required in certain states such as California, New York, and Hawaii.
12. Develop an internet presence
Establishing an identity on the web is an important investment in a business’s future development. Here are some key steps in the process:
- Register a domain name for a company website (You can use domain.com, Bluehost, GoDaddy.com, Namecheap.com). Design the website and fill it with content.
- Create profiles on the popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Register a Google profile for your business
- Create accounts on review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, and TripAdvisor
Florida small business resources
- Florida Division of Corporations: Starting a Business – The official state government site where you can register your business.
- Florida Department of Revenue – Includes vital information on state taxes pertaining to Florida small businesses.
- Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation – Get your business licenses and permits here.
- Florida Trend: Small Business – Educational resources for Florida entrepreneurs just getting started.
- Florida Small Business Development Center – An expansive network dedicated to aiding small businesses in Florida. Over 40 SBDC branches are active in the state.
- SBA: North Florida – The U.S. Small Business Administration’s North Florida district office.
- SBA: South Florida – SBA’s South Florida district office, which services the Miami-Dade metropolitan area.
- The Launchpad – A large University of Miami-affiliated incubator program offering consulting, mentorships, and free co-working space.
- The South Florida Accelerator – An accelerator program focused on the areas of life science, cannabis, FinTech, cybersecurity, and IoT. The program has partnered with universities and multi-national corporations in order to expand the resources and connections offered to startups.
Florida SCORE branches
The nation’s leading business mentorship network has many regional branches in Florida: