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Starting a Business

Make it happen

Start by researching your business idea with San Rafael data. Create a space and place that is right for you.

1. Develop a Plan

To help you clarify your goals and create some action steps, develop a solid business plan.  One that identifies potential issues, estimates costs, and provides concrete action items and milestones for your business.

Check out these resources to get you started

2. Research Zoning Requirements

If your business requires a commercial location,  contact our Planning Department before you sign a lease. You'll need to know the zoning regulations for the building or location you're considering so you don't get stuck with a space that you can't use.

The planner will discuss these five key questions with you:

1. Is your type of business allowed at the address where you want to locate?

2. Will your business prompt any parking requirements?

3. Will your business require a use permit?

4. What is the process for getting any other required permits?

5. Do I need a sign permit?

3. 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 can 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 California.

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.

Another great resource for entrepreneurs is Marin Sonoma Impact Ventures

4. Take these steps to make it legal.

Name your business

If you're not doing business under your name you'll need to file a Fictitious Business Name through the County of Marin.

Register your business

If you choose a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company (LLC) as your business structure you must register or incorporate with the CA Secretary of State.

Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service.

Before hiring your first employee, you must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This number is used for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS, as well as for reporting information about your employees to state agencies.

The EIN is also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, Employer Tax ID or Form SS-4.

You may want to consult with an attorney on any other legal considerations for your new business.

Business License (Tax Certificate)

If you plan to conduct business within San Rafael city limits or your business is based in San Rafael, you must obtain a business license. When you register for a business license (also known as a Business Tax Certificate) you'll automatically pay your business tax. Remember though to renew your Business Tax Certificate each year.

5. 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.

Local business banks and credit unions operating in California:

California Bank & Trust

Citizens Business Bank

Golden 1 Credit Union

CIT Bank

6. Talk with us about your project

If you anticipate construction, even if minor, or a change in use from the previous occupancy at your location, it's important to understand the permit requirements and potential cost. After meeting with your architect or contractor to review your plans, contact our Building Division to discuss your project. Once we provide comments on the plans, you'll revise them and resubmit them to us. If there is a change in use at the proposed site, the Fire Department may also need to review the plans.

Make sure you discuss with a design professional the requirement regarding the  California Building Code, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Fire Code. Depending on the nature of your project you may need approval from the Design Review Commission and/or the Planning Commission. 

7. If you're starting a restaurant, take these additional steps

You'll need to take a few extra steps to get your restaurant ready in order to provide a safe and sanitary dining experience for your customers. Check out our Restaurants page to get more information on the steps listed below.

1. Make sure you comply with Marin County's health permit process

2. Submit construction plans to the County first and then to the City

3. Find out the water rates for your proposed location

 4. Find out the status of the Grease Collection System

 5. If you're selling alcohol, get a liquor license.

6. Apply for a Seller’s Permit

8. 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 or 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.

9. Taxes and Regulations

You'll  need to register with the state and federal government and comply with all regulations related to corporate, payroll, income and sales taxes. Contact the state Franchise Tax Board and the federal Internal Revenue Service for their requirements. If you sell a product, the California Department of Tax & Fee Administration will help you determine whether you need a Seller’s Permit.

10. 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, Bluehost,, 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

11. Reach out for some help

We know that starting a business is overwhelming. Check out these organizations that can assist you with training, networking and other resources to help get you on your way to starting and managing a successful business.

For general questions, contact our Economic Development Department

For training and advice contact the Small Business Development Center 

For marketing, networking and advocacy contact the local chambers of commerce including:

12. Enroll in recycling services for organic waste

Click here for more information.

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