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Starting a Business

Thank you for choosing the City of Lakeland to start your business! Opening a new business is a significant undertaking that takes vision, cooperation and patience. To help in this process, we have created this page to serve as a roadmap as well as a checklist. The information provided in these pages is intended to show you what you’ll need to open a business in Lakeland, from start to finish.

Please take special note:

Prior to choosing your location and signing a lease, please contact the Business Tax Office.  They will be able to work with our Planning and Zoning Division to help determine if the specified use meets the exact zoning specifications for your prospective site. 

Business Tax Office
Monday to Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
228 S Massachusetts Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33801


General Business: 7 Steps to Success

Write a Business Plan

  • How to incorporate, securing start-up financing, marketing plans, pricing strategies, budgets and money management are just a few of the areas you’ll want to have figured out before committing to a business idea.
  • SCORE can help guide you through the entire process from “What is a Business Plan?” through “Crafting a Business Plan”.
  • Already have a comprehensive business plan? Great! Catapult and/or the Florida Small Business Development Center at USF can assist you in implementing your plan further!

Identify the Perfect Location for Your Business

  • There are many factors to consider when determining the location of your business such as proximity to customers, similar business clusters, parking needs, proper zoning, and tenant build-out, to name a few.
  • Keep in mind that all businesses are unique and each potential location may have different needs based on zoning, previous use, scope of work and the improvements you are proposing.
  • Before signing a lease or purchasing a property, we strongly urge you to contact the City of Lakeland Business Tax Office at 863.834.6025 to discuss your potential location and business type. They will confirm with our Planning and Zoning Division if the allowed use is compliant with the City of Lakeland Land Development Code.
  • If the current zoning for your prospective site allows your proposed use, you can apply for your Business Tax Receipt at https://ims.lakelandgov.net. (Most fees are based on square footage and number of employees, while some businesses will have multiple categories)
  • If the current zoning allows your proposed use, but the previous business was in a different classification, you may be required to go through a Change of Use. Please contact our Economic Development Coordinator, Luis Cruz, at 863.834.5018.
  • Most businesses require a safety inspection with the City of Lakeland Fire Department. Please contact their office at 863.834.8201.
  • Once you have completed all requirements with the City of Lakeland, you will be ready to apply for your Business Tax with the Polk County Tax Collector’s Office. You can reach them at 863.534-4700.

Choose the Appropriate Team to Complete Your Scope of Work

  • Once you’ve identified the best location for your business and consulted with the City, pick your team of professionals to complete any necessary work.
  • Time is money, and it is often better to hire the appropriate professionals from the start. Picking a qualified team can get your work done right, the first time.

Finance Your Business

  • Debt & Equity Financing
  • Small Business Grants & Development Incentives
  • First Time Small Business Loan
  • Small Business Administration Loans
  • The links below are local resources that can help small businesses and startups:
    • BBIC
      • The Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, Inc. (BBIC) is a U.S. Treasury-certified Community Development Entity dedicated to providing business and funding opportunities for the long-term growth and success of small businesses. Tampa Bay BBIC has been brought to Lakeland by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs.
    • Prospera
      • An economic development nonprofit organization that specializes in providing bilingual assistance to Hispanic entrepreneurs trying to establish or expand their businesses. Prospera offers a variety of services designed for Hispanic small business owners, to empower them through training, consulting, grants, and access to capital.
    • Florida SBDC at USF
      • Florida SBDC at USF capital access specialists are professionally certified business consultants, many of whom are former bankers, business owners, and executives with years of experience. They provide entrepreneurs with confidential assistance to guide them through the process of securing the right source of capital, including: uncovering available debt coverage and ability to repay a loan, assessing financing options and opportunities, identifying appropriate sources of financing, developing or refining a quality business plan suitable for lenders, conducting an in-depth financial analysis, creating a professional loan package, formulating a comprehensive finance strategy and facilitating effective lender relationships.

Determine Your Legal Structure

  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Limited Liability Company
  • Partnership
  • Corporation

Register Your Business

It is important that you register your business for State and local taxes and get your Federal Tax ID Number:

Obtain Business Licenses & Permits

Starting a Business FAQs

  • What requires a building permit?

    A building permit is required if you plan to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish or change the occupancy or use of a building or structure.

    Listed below are a few examples of when you will need to apply for a Permit:

    • Construction that changes the size or occupancy of the building
    • Removing/relocating/modifying interior walls
    • Installing a commercial cooking exhaust system
    • Installing a grease trap or backflow preventer
    • Changing out windows and/or doors (Florida Product Approval number needed)
    • Change of use (e.g. changing an office into a restaurant)
    • Replacement, alteration, addition to or deletion from any electrical, plumbing (including fixture relocation) or mechanical (air conditioning system, refrigeration, etc.)
    • Installing a new sign or changing the face of an existing sign
    • Installing a fence
  • What is a change of use?

    If your business differs from the previous occupant, it may trigger a change of use. 

  • Why is the zoning classification so important?

    Zoning classification is very important, as it determines such things as the specific land uses that are permitted on a property and dimensional standards such as the minimum lot size, minimum building setback and maximum building height.

  • Do I need to sign a permit?

    Yes, your business will need a sign permit for new permanent signs or for changing the face of existing signs.

  • Will I need a permit?

    A building permit is required if you are making any revisions to the structure, modifying the interior, demolishing, or expanding/changing the use.

    Building permits are necessary to ensure zoning requirements, fire, structural safety standards, and other building code requirements are met. Prior to initiating construction or demolition, it is the property owner’s or tenant’s responsibility to make sure a building permit is obtained, when required.

    You will not need a permit for painting, erecting wall paper, install tile/carpeting, replacing cabinets, replacing existing light fixtures, fans or cover plates, and minor (non structural) repairs less than $750.

  • How do I apply for a permit?

    Building permits may be applied for by the property owner, engineer, architect, contractor, or tenant. However, the permit can only be issued to a licensed contractor. The City of Lakeland has adopted the mandatory usage of ePlan & ProjectDox for plan submittal.

    More information can be found in Building Inspection.