Guides to Starting a Business

Steps to Start Your Small Business

We want your small business to succeed and our Business Experience Program—known as BizEx for short—can help you.

Contact us early in your visioning process, before you sign a lease or purchase property. BizEx can help you understand the county's regulatory process before you start.

Follow these six steps to get your small business up and running:

For questions about these steps, talk to BizEx for general information about the process, permits and inspections needed—or contact the agencies below for requirements specific to the small business you plan to open.

1. Find or Identify a Location – It’s important to know the proposed location for your business as a first step because there may be zoning rules that apply. Your location may also affect what kind of permits may be needed. (To find a property to locate your business, use resources like online property listings, commercial real estate brokers, etc.


2. Check the zoning for your location – Talk to the Zoning Planner of the Day at 703-324-1290, TTY 711. They will help you understand the zoning for your business location, as well as any zoning limitations for the kind of business you plan to run. For more information, visit the zoning webpage.

If you are thinking about operating your business from your home, you may need a home occupation permit or approval for a home-based professional office.

Zoning may also affect what may be allowed if you plan to lease existing commercial space or construct a new building.


3. Get a Business, Professional and Occupational License – All business owners, including home-based businesses, must get a business, professional and occupation license, called a BPOL license. Businesses must register with the Department of Tax Administration within 75 days of beginning operations in the county, and there is a 10 percent penalty for filing late. For questions or help, contact the Department of Tax Administration by email or call 703-222-8234 (select option 3), TTY 711.


4. Get site and building plan reviews and inspections if needed – If you are disturbing land to construct a new building, or adding onto a building, site plan(s) will be required. If you are constructing a building or renovating an existing space, building plans and permits will be required. To learn if you need a site plan, contact the Engineer of the Day at 703-324-1575, TTY 711.

A building permit is required for most new construction – To learn if you need a building permit, contact the Permit Application Center by email or call 703-222-0801, TTY 711.


5. Apply for a sign permit – If your business will have signage, you must apply for a sign permit. There are specific rules about what kinds of signs are allowed and where they can be placed. To learn more, contact the Zoning Inspections Branch by email or call 703-324-4300, TTY 711.


6. Get a Non-Residential Use Permit – Every business must get a non-residential use permit, known as a non-RUP. To learn more, contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch at 703-222-1082, TTY 711.