Most businesses, regardless of their size, are required to have some sort of licensing to operate. Often, depending on the location and type of business, multiple licenses must be obtained to legally run a business in Wisconsin.

The purpose of a business license is to alert the government to the existence of the business to make sure that it is properly taxed and that the owners are following the guidelines for operating a business of that type.

State Licensing Requirements

The State of Wisconsin requires licenses for just about any type of business, from circus rodeos to wild ginseng dealers. You can access all 800 licenses on the State of Wisconsin License, Permit and Registration Services page. The State usually requires an initial license and a renewal license (generally every two years). Licensing fees apply as well.

In addition to state licensing requirements, you may also be required to obtain licenses or permits in the location where you wish to operate your business.

City & Municipality Licensing Requirements

Each city or municipality may have its own – often more stringent – licensing requirements for business.  To determine what licenses your business may require, it’s a good idea to contact the City Clerk’s Office for your specific city. If your business will be operating in multiple cities within Wisconsin, it is imperative that you contact each city to determine the licenses and permits you will need.

Zoning Ordinances

Licenses and permits are not the only regulations you need to comply with in operating your business. You must also ensure that your intended use complies with any zoning requirements. Businesses such as gas stations, bars, and pawnshops may be prohibited in certain areas. Prior to moving forward with any business, it is critical to ensure that your use is in line with the zoning codes. It may be possible to obtain a variance from the city, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry when beginning a business venture.

Contractors & Other Professional Licensing Requirements

Contractors, such as electricians and plumbers, are required to obtain a license from the State of Wisconsin. A full list of Trades Professions Licenses can be found on the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services website. Again, it is important to note that each municipality may have conflicting requirements for contractors and other trades, so it is imperative to consult each municipality for their requirements to ensure compliance.

Business professionals, such as accountants, appraisers, and real estate agents, must also comply with specialized licensing requirements. A list of professions and applicable laws can be accessed here. Likewise, health care professionals are subject to specific licensing requirements. If you wished to start a dental office, massage therapy practice, or veterinary clinic, you would likely want to start here.

Federal Permit Requirements

If your business is involved in activities supervised and regulated by a federal agency – such as selling alcohol, firearms, commercial fishing, etc. – then you may need to obtain a federal license or permit. For example, if you manufacture, wholesale, import, or sell alcoholic beverages at a retail location, you will need to register your business and obtain certain federal permits (for tax purposes) with the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Businesses involved in the drilling for natural gas, oil, or other mineral resources on federal lands may be required to obtain a drilling permit from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

To ensure that prospective business owners do not neglect to obtain required licenses, governments impose penalties–usually financial–for a failure to attain the appropriate license. The exact penalty will vary depending on the type of license and the government agency involved.

Penalties For Failure To Obtain Or Renew A Business License

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, failure to comply with city and state government requirements for issuing business licenses can result in expensive fines. These fines will vary based on a number of factors, including the nature of the offense. If a business misses a filing deadline for renewal, for example, the penalty will likely be less than if a business has operated for several years without a license.

In some cases, a business that is operating without a license may have its operation suspended and its owner charged with criminal conduct. This is especially true for physicians, nurses, and accountants, as those licenses may only be given to those with specialized training. Business establishments that sell alcohol may also be shut down if a liquor license has not been obtained.

Kerkman Wagner & Dunn, Serving Your Business Legal Needs

If you are operating a business in Wisconsin, or thinking about starting a business in Wisconsin, it is in your best interests to research what licensing and zoning requirements you must comply with before opening your doors. Additionally, you should consult with the experienced business attorneys at Kerkman Wagner & Dunn to make sure that you meet all necessary requirements. Contact us today.

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