Ready, Set, Launch: How to Start a Business in California

Do you dream of owning your own business in the Golden State? You could do anything from launching your own clothing store to building a services firm. But before you start, you need to know how to start a business in California.

If you have a passion for it, now is a good time to carve out your space and think through what you want to achieve. In this post, we’ll explain how you can get your business going and set it up for success.

Why start your business in California?

The state of California shines for small businesses. With a $3.9 trillion GDP, California boasts the world’s 5th largest economy. This thriving environment stems from California’s diverse industries and highly educated workforce. From entertainment to renewable energy, the state sees innovation across multiple sectors. The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development provides resources for finding required licenses and permits.

Starting your business in California grants access to major markets and one of the deepest talent pools globally. The state’s prime location makes it a hub for international trade, while its massive consumer base provides a built-in market. Need funding? California’s venture capital network makes it easier to connect with investors.

Overcoming the challenges of starting a business in California

California’s business climate also comes. Things like a steep cost of living and complex regulatory environment. Here’s what you should know about the challenges and how to work with them.

Costs and resources

Where you ramp up California business impacts costs and resources. Real estate in cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco commands higher rents and overhead. But you’ll also encounter stricter zoning laws and more regulations to navigate.

It is crucial to have business insurance to protect your business and personal assets from unexpected disasters, lawsuits, and natural catastrophes.

On the flip side, smaller suburban or rural areas offer lower operating costs. However, you’ll need to account for potentially longer commute times. Less developed areas may also lack some government resources that bigger cities provide.

Then, you need to think about pay. California’s minimum wage is $15.50 per hour despite the business size. In the past, businesses with under 25 employees paid a lower hourly rate compared to larger businesses. Now, all businesses are expected to pay the same minimum wage despite their size (with some exceptions).

Taxes and zoning

Rent and operating costs aren’t the only concerns. There are also taxes. California’s rates rank among the highest nationally. Strict zoning laws and environmental regulations add lucrative costs and time-consuming red tape.

Business type

Your specific industry also plays a role when starting a California business. Regulations and operational needs may vary. For example:

  • Restaurants must meet health codes
  • Manufacturers face zoning restrictions on industrial activities
  • Professional service firms require specialized California business licenses
  • Retail stores need to factor in sales tax

Additionally, obtaining a business license and permits in California is essential for businesses to operate legally. This may include specific permits such as an alcohol beverage control license, seller’s permit, and general business license.

Before launching, consult your local jurisdiction and related state agencies. This will help you understand all applicable rules for your industry. With preparation, you can get your business on the right path.

How to start a business in California in 7 steps

Every business is different. But there are some things that every business will need to do to get started. Not sure where to start? These steps will help you build a solid foundation for your business in California.

Setting up a business bank account is crucial to maintain liability protection and streamline financial responsibilities. Choosing a distinguishable and memorable business name and complying with state regulations is essential. Complying with California Secretary of State’s requirements for business registration is also important. Registering a fictitious business name (DBA) is required for businesses operating under a name that isn’t the legal name. Understanding the benefits and structure of a limited liability company (LLC) and its advantages for small business owners can be beneficial. Knowing the tax obligations of different business structures in California and understanding how to pay taxes is vital. Protecting personal assets by separating personal and business finances is necessary. Separating personal finances from business finances by setting up a business bank account is also important.

1. Develop your business idea

Your entrepreneurial journey begins with an idea. Identify the product or service you’ll offer. Then pinpoint your target market and research the competition. Assess current market conditions and demand to validate the idea.

2. Write a business plan

A business plan is a written document that defines your business and outlines your business strategy, future goals, and how you plan to reach those goals. Every business can benefit from having this type of document.

The key elements of a business plan are:

  • Executive summary: This section introduces your company and the people involved.
  • Products and services: Describe your products and services including price and benefits.
  • Market analysis: This is where your competitor research and industry research go.
  • Financial projections: You’re going to need to estimate what your business is going to spend money on and how much money you’re going to make. Think of it as the foundation of your venture.

3. Choose a business structure

How you legally structure your business impacts everything from taxes to personal liability. Each has its own unique pros and cons. It’s important to understand all your options before you commit to one.

Here are some of the most common business structures for small business:

  • Sole proprietorship is the most common business structure for solo entrepreneurs. In this business structure, the company and the owner are considered the same.
  • Partnerships are used when starting a business with more than one individual. A partnership requires a partnership agreement.
  • Limited liability companies or LLCs can be owned by one or more people and limit your personal liability for business debts. The benefits and structure of a limited liability company (LLC) include liability protection, pass-through taxation, and simplicity of maintenance, making it advantageous for small business owners.
  • Cooperatives are businesses or organizations that run to benefit those using the services.

4. Register your business

Now you can register business in California. Choose a name for your business and make sure it’s available. It is important to choose a distinguishable and memorable business name and comply with state regulations. Next, file the required formation documents like articles of incorporation or organization with California’s Secretary of State. Make sure to comply with California Secretary of State’s requirements for business registration. You’ll also need an employer identification number (EIN) to handle taxes.

Remember the local and county-level requirements too. You may need operational licenses or permits to operate legally. Additionally, you must register a fictitious business name (DBA) for businesses operating under a name that isn’t the legal name. It’s important to complete all of these tasks and paperwork before you open your doors. Taking care of the legal stuff the right way now will save you headaches later.

5. Fund your operation

Before going forward, think through your one-time and recurring expenses. This could be everything from rent to license fees. The number you come up with determines how much capital you’ll need. It’s important to know if you can self fund or if you need investors. 

6. Marketing strategy

You’ve built it, but will they come? Develop a marketing strategy to reach your target audience. Plan to build an online presence on your own website and social media. But don’t underestimate the power of networking and word-of-mouth. 

7. Build your team

If you need employees to support your vision, consider who you’ll need to hire to start the business. For a restaurant, you may need wait staff and cooks. For a law firm, you may work with additional partners or an assistant. 

Why use Homebase for your business

Starting a business can be a complex process. But with the right solution, you can get through each step with ease. Here’s how Homebase can help.

Capabilities for California businesses

What sets Homebase apart is its features supporting businesses navigating the state’s complex regulations. The platform guides you through labor law compliance areas like overtime and break requirements.

Homebase also automates tax withholdings. It helps you manage direct deposit payments. This way, you can take the stress out of staying in compliance with employee rights. It also helps you avoid costly errors. 

Optimize scheduling

Managing staffing levels well is important. This will help you deliver a positive customer experience. With Homebase, you can create optimized team schedules tailored to your specific needs.

Use forecasting tools to predict hourly traffic and sales volumes. Then, you can build schedules that meet your needs. Homebase makes it easy to copy over schedules week-to-week. You can also view employee availability and requests to avoid scheduling conflicts.

Connect time and payroll

The Homebase platform combines time tracking with payroll processing. You can allow employees to easily clock in and out from a tablet or their mobile device. Their worked hours are automatically synced to timesheets.

Our solution also takes a lot of complexities out of payroll. No manual data entry is necessary. With just a few clicks timesheets turn into paychecks. You can set up paid time off policies and track balances and accruals right in Homebase.


Control labor costs

Homebase helps you maintain control over labor spend. Custom reporting and forecasting tools provide visibility. You can easily compare labor budgets versus actuals. That empowers you to make informed decisions.

Improve team communication

Update your team with messaging capabilities from Homebase. You can use messages for everything from announcing new policies to communicating about shifts. All messages are securely tracked and documented to create a single source of truth. 

Homebase puts all the tools you need to manage your operations into one powerful platform. You can feel confident automating processes and delivering a better experience for employees and customers.

It’s time to streamline your California business.

Now you know how to start a business in California. You can take this knowledge and use it to make your dreams a reality. With the right information and systems in place to support you, it’s easier to get your idea off the ground.

Using Homebase, you get everything you need to take control of your business. Designed for hourly work, Homebase will help you schedule your team, track their hours, and run payroll seamlessly.

You’ll also have a team communication app that keeps you and your employees on the same page. Homebase even has expert H.R. guidance to help you comply with government regulations without an in-house H.R. team.

Homebase is the all-in-one management app that simplifies running your small business. Get started now for free.

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