How to Start a Business in Las Vegas
By popular demand, here is the checklist for starting a business in Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Clark County. First, Southern Nevada is a bit wacky in its structure. While it would make sense for there to be three levels of business licensing – state, county, city – that’s not the case here. Every entity doing business in the state of Nevada needs a state business license, then you’ll get a local license from the City of Las Vegas, Henderson, the City of North Las Vegas, Boulder City, or Clark County depending on where your business is actually headquartered.
1. Choose a business name.
Start with my article Naming Your Business or my video on the topic. Make sure no one else has it. Really, make DARN sure. Stepping on another company’s toes in naming your business can have serious and expensive consequences. When you’ve chosen a name, move on to step 2.
2. Figure out your business address.
Whether you use your home address, a virtual office, or an actual office, you’ll need a business address for almost all the paperwork you fill out to open your business. It’s much easier to have this address from the start than to change it down the road. The Nevada Secretary of State alone charges $175 for an address change, not to mention the paperwork involved.
You can have a separate mailing address for most applications, which is handy if you want to use a PO box or your home address, but the business address is what will be public record, so choose wisely.
One final word on a business address. Many businesses somehow get away with a box at a mail store as their business address. Be warned that the city licensing bureaus don’t like to license businesses that just hang their licenses in a mail store and some jurisdictions don’t allow it at all. Double check with your jurisdiction for their rules.
3. Form your entity and get your state business license.
You should consult with an attorney as to the best choice of entity for your business, but here are the basics. You file the documents to form your entity, whether it’s an LLC, a corporation, or a limited partnership, with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office.
You certainly can apply for a business license as a sole proprietor, but without a separate entity, you will personally be on the hook for all of the business’ debts and obligations. Maintaining an entity costs a few hundred dollars a year, but the peace of mind is well worth the price.
You can go the paper route, but the Nevada Secretary of State has a fancy-schmancy new online portal called SilverFlume where you can file all your documents online. You’ll file Articles of Organization (LLC), Articles of Incorporation (corporation) or Certificate of Limited Partnership, then your Initial List of Managers/Members/Officers/Partners and you’ll get your state business license. In just a few minutes, you can establish an entity in Nevada.
There are a few exemptions to the state business license requirement, but as long as you’re an entity, you’ll have to cough up the $200. If you’re a nonprofit, a motion picture company, a particular type of insurance company, or a governmental entity, you can apply for an exemption but you have to mail in the form.
4. Get an EIN number.
The EIN number is like a social security number for your business. With rampant identity theft concerns, it isn’t wise to use your social security number for your business, which is what you have to do if you don’t have an EIN. I’ve written an article on why you should have an EIN. It’s free to apply and takes only a few minutes on the IRS website. You’ll receive a letter from the IRS a few weeks after filing for your EIN. Don’t panic. It’s just a letter confirming your EIN and asking if you want to be treated as a different type of entity for tax purposes, like a subchapter S-corporation. Ideally, you’ll have already consulted with your tax advisor on this decision.
5. Register with the Nevada Department of Taxation.
To apply for a business license, you must provide proof that you’re registered with the Nevada Department of Taxation. You have to apply for a tax permit, either a sales tax permit or a consumer use tax permit. If you’re selling tangible goods, you’ll need a sales tax permit. If you aren’t, then you’ll need a use tax permit. With a use tax permit, if you buy goods for consumption in your business (like office supplies or equipment) without paying tax when you buy them, you’ll have to calculate the tax you would have paid had you bought the items in Nevada and remit that amount to the state. The Taxpayer Information Packet contains all the information you need to get started.
6. Do you need a fictitious firm name?
A fictitious firm name, or a DBA, is required if you’re doing business in a name other than the one registered with the Secretary of State. So if you’re ABC, LLC but the name of your company is Adam’s Weight Training and Cake Bakery, you’ll need to file a fictitious name form with Clark County. Then, whenever you’re asked for the name of your company on an official form, like a contract, you’ll want to list it as “ABC, LLC dba Adam’s Weight Training and Cake Bakery.” Be sure you use the full legal name of your entity in all your contracts as well. DBAs aren’t themselves entities so they can’t enter into and enforce contracts.
If you’ve followed my blog at all and are STILL operating as a sole proprietor (smacking you on the hand), you can be “Adam Charlie dba Adam’s Weight Training and Cake Bakery.”
7. Apply for your city business licenses.
Registering with the taxation department can be tricky, and so can getting city business licenses. First, where is your business located? If you’re in the City of Henderson, you’ll go to their licensing bureau. Same with Boulder City. The City of North Las Vegas doesn’t currently post business license applications online. Instead, you must request an application for your specific business online.
What if you’re in the City of Las Vegas? Are you sure? The lines that separate the City of Las Vegas from Clark County aren’t anything close to straight and make no logical sense. To be sure which license you need, check the Jurisdiction Locater. Look only at the Jurisdiction field, NOT the “Minor Civil Division” field which usually says “Las Vegas Township.” The Jurisdiction field will show you whether you need a license from the City of Las Vegas or Clark County.
What if your business is mobile? If you’re a plumber, carpet cleaner, mobile detailer or other business that services the entire valley, you’ll need a license from every jurisdiction in which you plan to do business. What does “do business” mean? Anytime you are physically in another jurisdiction and accept payment for your goods or services, you are doing business. For food trucks, mobile detailers, contractors, etc., this can be cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive. I sometimes stare out the window, envisioning a world in which you can apply for all your licenses in one location with one application, but until that day, be prepared to do some paperwork.
Have a home based business? Most jurisdictions will require you to fill out a Home Occupation Permit which requires you to acknowledge that you’re either the owner of the home or someone allowed to do business there. Because residential zoning is, well, residential, you’ll have to promise that you won’t create a traffic jam having people park in front of your house and you won’t start hanging neon signs outside your front door advertising your business. Your neighbors would NOT be happy. If you live in a homeowner’s association, be sure to check your CC&Rs to make sure you can list your home address as a business.
The cost of your business license varies with the jurisdiction and the type of business it is. Some businesses even require background checks and those licenses are usually far more expensive.
Don’t forget that it’s your entity that’s applying for the business license, not you as an individual. So, it’s ABC, LLC applying for the license, not Adam Charlie. It’s very important that you remain consistent with your business name. Don’t get lazy and leave off the LLC when listing your business name. On ALL official documents, you must list the entire name of your business, INCLUDING the entity. The entity is part of the official name of your business. Be sure you use it, otherwise you will create a snafu across agencies that is a real chore to untangle.
Are you exhausted yet? Great, because now that you’ve jumped through all the hoops, it’s time to actually DO some business! Good luck!