First things first. Before one can begin working as a freelancer, one must satisfy certain licensing requirements.
In Washington state that means state and city licenses. Basically, you need to be licensed where you work. My own experience was shades of “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” So I decided to write my own guide to save you some time and frustration. This is specific to Washington State, but maybe it’s easier elsewhere? If you have an experience you would like to share, tell me about it in the comments and we can commiserate.
Before I started this process, I did some light research, reading several blogs to get an idea of what other people’s experiences had been. Most blogs were vague about the process and focused instead on the differences between a sole proprietorship and an LLC. There wasn’t really much instruction to be found on how to go about licensing your business, even on the actual licensing websites. For that reason, I’ll be focusing on the process.
Having armed myself with as much knowledge as I could find, I got started. I gave myself 30 days to get my licenses to account for potentially slow processing times — because Vogons, affectionately referred to as government employees, are notoriously slow. Surprisingly, most of the processing is automated and takes little to no time. Just the 7 to 10 business days it takes to mail a hard copy of your license. But finding the correct paperwork is another story.
First off, it’s important to note that things must be done in the correct order. It’s disappointing filling out your paperwork only to realize that you can’t complete it. Trust me. In Washington state, you must first file with the Secretary of State — either online or by mailing in your paperwork. I filed online. It costs $20 more, but it almost immediately grants you your Washington State Unified Business Identifier (UBI) — which is required for step two. #worthit.
Once you have your UBI, you can file for any city licenses you may need here. You just need to know which licenses you need. This is where I had trouble. Regardless of how tech savvy a person is, redundant links will almost always defeat you. Clearly, government sites are also built by Vogons.
But, if you’ve been at it for an hour (or two) and haven’t made meaningful progress, ask your mom. Mine is a small business owner with loads of experience combing through government sites — it’s a talent I have yet to acquire. She was able to find this licensing wizard. If you don’t already know which licenses you need, I recommend it — there are a few hundred options.
The licensing wizard is a throwback to the early days of the internet, but it gets the job done. Just answer a few questions about how your business will be run. The wizard then provides a reference number and link to DOL site where you can apply for the appropriate licenses.
I also chose to request an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. It’s free and banks will require one to open a business account with them. This step is technically optional. It’s also the easiest, but you must complete this paperwork in one sitting. You can get one here.
If you can cut through the white noise that comprises most of the Washington State websites, the process itself is pretty straight-forward. Hopefully this post clears the way for you to help yourself. And seriously. That licensing wizard.