Steps to Get Started

So you've decided you want to be your own boss. Maybe you're consulting or doing freelance work as a graphic designer, marketer or other creative venture. This guide will walk you through the process of getting your business up and running on the right track. You'll learn about the permits you need and tools and resources available specifically for freelancers and consultants.

Business Plan

Creating a business plan can help you to focus your ideas, outline goals, and develop a strategy for reaching them. Even if you plan to keep your business small it will be helpful to start from a strong foundation.

Online Business Resource, SizeUp Business Analytics, can provide you with data on how your business will stack up against potential competition and can help up inform your business plan.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a great resource that can match you with a business consultant who can provide feedback and help you to focus your business plan to achieve your goal.

Business Structure

Choosing the right business structure is important for legal and tax purposes. There are several different types of structures that might work for your business. As a one-person show, you may want to structure your business as a Sole Proprietorship where you alone own the company and are responsible for all its assets and liabilities. This is the most basic type of business to establish and offers you complete control and easy tax preparation with the lowest rates.

We recommend you talk with an attorney and a CPA to ensure you understand the legal and financial implications of the business structure you plan to operate.

​Choosing a Name

Choosing a name for your business is an important decision. It has to fit and feel right for your brand and business identity. Your name also needs to be registered properly to protect you for the long term. Some things to consider when choosing a name: How will your name look on the web or in a logo? How internet friendly is it? Does it reflect your business philosophy, values, and brand?

You can check if the name you want is available and reserve an available name by mail with the CA Secretary of State. Learn more about this process at

Choosing a Location

You may have more location options than you would think as a solopreneur. You can always work from the comfort of your own couch, but there are also lots of local co-working spaces offering high speed internet and lots of networking opportunities. Getting a membership or even the occasional day pass to NextSpace, CruzioWorks, or Satellite Coworking Space can be a great way to get out of the house and be apart of a community of one-person businesses just like you!

Fictitious Business Name

Registering your business name involves a process known as registering a Fictitious Business Name, also known as a “Doing Business As (DBA)” name or trade name. This process shouldn’t be confused with incorporation and it doesn’t provide trademark protection. Registering your DBA name is simply the process of letting the state government know that you are doing business as a name other than your personal name or the legal name of your partnership or corporation. You will file your Fictitious Business Name through the Santa Cruz County Clerk's Office.

If you are operating under your own name, then you can skip this process.

How to Get Your Fictitious Business Name:

Address:Santa Cruz County Clerk, 701 Ocean Street, Room 210
Hours:8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday
Fees:$45 plus the fee to advertise the name in a local newspaper
Processing Time:4 weeks
Information Needed:Business name, owners contact information, business structure and Articles of Incorporation if Corporation or Partnership
Forms:Fictitious Business Name Application

More information about registering a Fictitious Business Name is available here.

It might be a good idea to apply for Trademark Protection as well. A trademark protects words, names, symbols, and logos that distinguish goods and services. Your name is one of your most valuable business assets, so it’s worth protecting. You can file for a trademark for less than $300. Learn how to trademark your business name.

Zoning Clearance

Once you’ve found a location—whether it’s a traditional brick and mortar or your kitchen table—you’ll need to visit the Planning Counter to obtain your Zoning Clearance. The Zoning Clearance is a one-time process, with a one-time fee, that the City uses to ensure your business type is permitted to operate in your chosen location.

You’ll need your Zoning Clearance before you can get a business license through the Finance Department, so it’s important to take care of this step first. Ready, set, go.

A Home Occupation Zoning Clearance is required to operate a business out of your residence. As a consultant or a freelancer providing professional services where you use your residence as your primary office, this is for you. The Home Occupation Zoning Clearance is a simple, over-the-counter form where you provide information about your business and acknowledge receipt and understanding of the Home Occupation regulations by signing a Zoning Clearance form. The fee is $142 (and is subject to change), but you only pay this once for the life of the business operating in that specific location.

(1) Your business can not use more than 400 sq ft, (2) employees cannot work out of your home, unless they also live there, (3) you can’t display advertising, (4) your business cannot generate more than 6 trips [3 round trips] per day including deliveries and clients, and, (5) beware that operating a home business could violate your lease or Homeowners Association (HOA) charter.

A Non-Home Occupation Zoning Clearance is required to operate a business out of all other non-residential locations for standard commercial locations. This means that if you are operating out of a coworking space or other commercial property, you will need this type of Zoning Clearance and the fee varies based on the previous use of the space you are occupying. In general, operating out of a coworking space would result in a "Same Use" fee of $72.

How to Get Your Zoning Clearance

Address:Planning Counter, 809 Center Street, Room 101.This is located on the first floor of the two-story City Hall building near the stairwell nearest the water fountain area.
Hours:Monday - Thursday, 7:30 AM - 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM, Closed Fridays
Fees:Determined by use type at the Planning Counter
Processing Time:Typically a 1 day over-the-counter application unless use requires further research
Information Needed:Address where you plan to operate your business and the type of business you will be doing

​Business License

Once you have the Zoning Clearance in hand from the Planning Department, you’re all set to get your Business License which can be done at the same counter. Business Licenses are an annual fee charged to businesses operating in the City of Santa Cruz as a way to monitor business activity in the City and best prioritize our resources to help businesses across all City departments as well as the variety of free resources for businesses online.

How to Get Your Business License

Payment Counter, 809 Center Street, Room 101. This is located on the first floor of the two-story City Hall building near the stairwell nearest the water fountain area.

Monday - Thursday, 7:30 AM - 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM, Closed Fridays

$145.15 plus administrative fee and employee fees if applicable

Processing Time:
Completed applications, with proof of Zoning Clearance, can be faxed, mailed or submitted in person to the Finance Counter. Business Licenses are mailed once the application is received and processed.

Information Needed:
Contact information, address, type of ownership, Employer ID number if applicable, and number of employees (if any)

Business License Application Form

Seller’s Permit

If you will be operating an online retail business or intend to sell or lease tangible personal property that would ordinarily be subject to sales tax if sold at retail, you will need to obtain a sellers permit and will be responsible for collecting sales tax. You can find more information and register for a seller’s permit on the Board of Equalization (BOE) website.


Starting and running a business is a lot of work, so it's important to celebrate the wins! Launching your business is definitely cause to party, so big or small do something to mark the achievement of getting your business up and running! Congrats!

​Solicit work

There are a number of ways to seek out work, including using the web, word-of-mouth, advertising, and partnerships, etc.

A good website can go far. Consider investing a little money in a website that effectively tells your story, breaks down exactly what you do, and clearly shows how to reach you.

You can also seek out local freelancer or consultant groups specific to your expertise or the general nationwide freelance community like the Freelancers Union.


Depending on what kind of business you have you may start to outgrow your home office. If you decided you need to hire on 1 or more on-site employees or your business grows to use more than 400 square feet, you will no longer be permitted to operate out of your home. There are lots of opportunities to grow into a rented office space at a co-working location or lease office space within the City. Our online property database, Space Available, is a great resource for helping you find the perfect location.

If you work out of your home, you are permitted to employ residents or family members that live on-site.

This is a great opportunity to expand your business capacity, provide jobs to the community, and maybe even get you some time off; but you will want to consider to the additional costs and complexity this may add. You will need to obtain an employer Identification number (EIN), set up records for withholding taxes, report with California’s new hire reporting system, obtain workers compensation insurance, and find out if you are required to pay unemployment or disability insurance taxes.

If you're thinking about taking this next step we recommend you work with a mentor from the Small Business Development Center to make sure you are ready to make the leap with the right permits and business plan to help you succeed.


SBDC Business Planning Services

The Santa Cruz Small Business Development Center (SBDC) helps to take business ideas to the next level by providing ongoing business education and 1-on-1 support for entrepreneurs.

SizeUp Business Analytics

Market research can be time consuming and difficult to do as a small business. SizeUp Business Analytics makes it easy to find the comprehensive data you need for your business.

Business License Application

Use this form to apply for your business license.

Filing a Fictitious Business Name

Information to help you file your fictitious business name.