Resource Library

All Resources Guide


Checklist for Starting a Business in Santa Cruz County


Writing a Business Plan

SBDC Strategy Advisors: Keith Holtaway and Marco Vides


A Business Plan is a foundation for a successful launch! To increase your chance of success, explore and evaluate your business and personal goals. Use this analysis to build a comprehensive and well-thought-out business plan. A great resource is the SBA Write Your Business Plan.  A popular alternative is an Executive Summary, examples of which can be found here.

Your business plan has a number of uses. Committing yourself to writing a business plan is a methodical way to mentally construct your business and serves as a valuable tool in loan applications. Lessons learned on paper are a lot cheaper than in the real world! 

Business Structure

There are several forms of legal entities of businesses, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It is best to thoroughly research the structures and settle on the one that best fits your needs and goals.  You can learn more about the various business structures here.

All new businesses that are not a sole proprietorship must file formation documents with the Secretary of State. The required forms can be found here.

Any contracts between owners of a partnership should be drawn up before beginning business. Forms can be found here.

Information about the tax implications of each business structure can be found here.



You do not need to be a United States Citizen to own a business. You can use an Alien Registration Number instead of a Social Security Number to register your business and apply for a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to pay your business taxes.

Ficticious Business Name Statement

A licensed business name is necessary if the company name differs from the owner’s name. A filing of a fictitious business name statement is required before opening a business checking account in the title of the business. The Fictitious Business Name Statement is filed with the county government. For a small fee, a notice will run in the local newspaper announcing the creation of your fictitious business name.

Be sure to check the availability of your desired business name. California Business Name

Availability provides information on how to check to make sure a business name does not already exist and may be used.

For information on filing a fictitious business name in Santa Cruz County go here. Your fictitious name must be published in local print media. Local publications you may consider:

Santa Cruz Record (831) 454-9820 

Santa Cruz Sentinel (831) 423-4242 legal ext. 

Good Times  (831) 458-1100 

Registered Pajaronian (831) 761-7300 

Business License

Business licenses are required before your business can begin.  In order to operate your business, you must comply with city, state, and federal rules and regulations. Cal Gold offers a search tool for discovering which licenses are necessary for your business based on your industry and location.

Business licenses can typically be purchased at City Hall and the price ranges from $40 and up, depending on the number of persons you intend to employ.

Businesses located in, or conducting a portion of their business within any of the four (4) cities in Santa Cruz County should contact the city regarding the requirements for a business license.

City of Capitola 420 Capitola Avenue, Capitola (831)  475-7300 

City of Santa Cruz 809 Center Street, Room 101, Santa Cruz (831) 420-5110 

City of Scotts Valley 1 Civic Center Drive, Scotts Valley (831) 440-5678 

City of Watsonville 250 Main Street, Watsonville (831) 768-3450

Businesses operating in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County should only need a Fictitious Business Name Statement to conduct business, however, we recommend that you contact the County Planning Department or call (831) 454-2130, regarding requirements for operating a business in those areas of the county.  It is recommended that you contact the County Planning Department before the operation of your business to determine if a permit is required. Home-based businesses may require a Home-Occupation permit.  Additionally, you should check with your homeowner’s association as some neighborhoods prohibit the running of businesses out of the domicile.

The California Business Portal provides information on how to obtain Business Permits, Licenses, and Registration in California.

For licensing, zoning, and permitting information specific to the city of Santa Cruz can be found at

Seller’s Permits and Resale Numbers

California Seller’s Permit application is required for all business selling or leasing tangible property (including anything you did not prepare such as sodas, etc.) in the state of California.

Retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers must obtain seller’s permits from the California State Board of Equalization online or in person at 111 E. Navajo Drive, Suite 100, Salinas CA 93906.

Special Licenses and Permits

The licenses and permits necessary to run your business legally are determined by the type of business you wish to establish.

The CalGOLD database provides detailed information on business permits, licenses, and registration requirements from all levels of government. Here you can also find a description of the requirements, contact information for the supervising agency, and a direct link to the agencies’ website. Their catalog of information will assist you in finding the appropriate permitting information for your business, as well as direct you to links and contact information for the agencies that administer and issue business permits, licenses, and registration requirements from all levels of government.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs lists more than 200 regulated occupations and professional services. Their website also offers valuable licensing information.

State Business Tax & Employee Payroll Taxes

California State Tax information can be found here.

You must have a Federal Tax Identification if you pay wages to one or more employees, and/or file pension or excise tax returns. Your Federal Tax ID number is comparable to a Social Security number for your business. One can be obtained by filling out Form SS-4 which is available online here.

The Employment Development Department (EDD) is a department within the California State Government that promotes California businesses as well as aids employees and employers. They release yearly editions of their handbook, “California Employer’s Guide,” which covers broad topics concerning how to succeed in business. The most recent edition can be found here.

All employers in California are now required to electronically submit employment tax returns, wage reports, and payroll tax deposits to the Employment Development Department. For more information, visit the EDD website

Federal Employee Identification Number (EIN)

For federal tax information and a copy of the “Tax Guide for Small Businesses,” an invaluable resource to help understand how to properly file federal taxes, go here.

Everything you need to know about Employer ID Numbers (EIN) can be found here.

IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center offers resources and general information for small business owners and self-employed individuals, around business taxes, employee guidelines, and tax workshops available in your area.


Accounting Tips

SBDC Accounting Advisors: Cathy Van Loon and Stacy Patyk


One of the most common factors in the failure of new businesses is the mismanagement of funds. You should have a separate bank account for your business after you have set up a business account. If you have a credit card, it should be dedicated only to your business transactions and not co-mingled with personal transactions. All business expenses and income need to be well-tracked and reconciled to the business bank account and credit card statements to ensure data integrity. It’s important to establish bookkeeping procedures and deal with all expenditures and revenues similarly as this will make income reporting and cash management easier and more realistic as to what you have transacted.

There are a number of easy-to-use accounting programs. The most popular is QuickBooks, which is utilized by nearly 85% of all small business owners. Since there are advantages and disadvantages to all accounting software, it’s important to compare/contrast various programs before settling on a program. You may want to ask your CPA/Tax Accountant if they have any thoughts/suggestions.

For most small businesses, a simple, inexpensive program will suffice. While there are many extremely expensive and complicated programs, there are a number of free and open-source accounting software programs with growing user communities. A list of these free small business accounting programs can be found here.

Financing Tips

SBDC Retail, Inventory Management, and Financial Projections: Larry Hebert

It takes money to make money and all businesses need capital to start and grow. Typically this capital will come from savings, home equity, or friends and family. Also, check out Norcal SBDC’s Guide to Financing Your Small Business.

The next most frequent source of funding is a business loan. If you are considering a business loan, we recommend applying for SBDC services to help you prepare projections, a business plan, and help you understand how to qualify for a business loan.  This will save you time and increase your likelihood of receiving funds.  

When applying for a business loan, lenders will want to see a copy of your business plan. Generally, lenders will be very clear and upfront about the information they require, and your application won’t be affected by a frank discussion about the presentation of your business plan. The SBDC website offers tools and tips on how to write a concise business plan.

Lenders will want you to be successful, as a loan is an investment in you and your business. Lenders will be very clear about their requirements and timelines.

Crowd Funding

Crowd-funding has become a popular method for small companies to get off the ground

while gaining exposure. Sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kiva offer entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists a platform for raising capital to fund their projects. Usually, a service or product will be offered in exchange for donations.

SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire fixed assets for expansion or modernization.  The SBA  guarantees small business loans through local lenders. These loans are particularly helpful for minorities, persons with low income, and persons with questionable credit. Here is a list of the types of financing they provide. 

Mission-Driven Lenders

Mission-driven lenders like Cal Coastal and Opportunity Fund provide financing to small businesses declined by banks.  They offer competitive rates and terms.  


SocSBDC Marketing Advisors – Molly O’Kane, Karen Kefauver, Pam Covarrubias, Bill Ross, Tiffany Phillips and Bryce Root

Social media marketing is an essential piece of your overall business marketing strategy. Social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Business help you connect and engage with your customers, increase awareness about your products or services, amplify your brand, and generate new leads and increase sales. SBDC advisors can provide consulting services and training on all aspects of social media marketing including setting up and maintaining accounts, effective practices for engaging posts, and boosted ads. 

General Marketing

It’s vitally important that you develop a strategic and creative plan to help your business achieve your business goals. Without one, you’re bound to continue with random marketing that rarely produces any results so always be sure to designate specific, measurable goals that you can track whenever possible. It’s time to differentiate your business so be sure to use a diversified mix of marketing tactics. Below, you’ll find some of the strategies the SBDC can guide you through to make great things happen.



It is imperative to determine zoning regulations and requirements prior to signing any lease or contract. The intended location of your business must have the proper zoning for your planned use of the site.

If you will be operating the business out of your home you must follow the requirements for home occupants, if any, in your municipality.

The Santa Cruz Planning Department website has a plethora of information concerning permits and zoning in Santa Cruz County. Visit the site to find zoning maps, permit forms, and information about the various planning commissions and programs shaping Santa Cruz.

Business Insurance

Businesses are major investments; sometimes a life’s work can go into opening a business. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s not uncommon for businesses to be robbed, vandalized, or otherwise destroyed. It’s incredibly important for all business owners to invest in Liability and Property Insurance, to protect their building, inventory, and equipment. Many insurance companies offer Business Insurance and most will work with you to create a policy that best fits your needs. Contact your insurance agent and shop around before settling on a policy.

Intellectual Property

SBDC Intellectual Property Advisor –  Pat Reilly


 Many business owners think that they own the copyright to their logo but actually only have a non-exclusive license to use their logo image.  A contractor providing creative work, such as a graphic designer, is not required by law to assign copyright to a contracting party unless a written agreement stating this obligation is executed before the contracted work is initiated. This deficiency can easily be repaired if the contractor is amenable to executing a separate written assignment agreement. Be aware that verbal commitments to transfer copyright ownership are extremely hard to enforce if the non-employee creator of the work fails to actually execute a written assignment.

Hiring Employees in California

SBDC Human Resources Advisor – Ben Slade


Familiarity with California Laws: Learning and becoming familiar with laws that impact your employees and your business is necessary. For example, having proper new hire documents, knowledge of meal and rest periods, overtime laws, paid sick leave, bereavement leave, medical leave laws, record retention, and other practices that help protect your business. 

It is a legal obligation to invest in Workers Compensation Insurance prior to the hiring of any employees. This can be done with your insurance agent or broker, but the State of California also has established a State Fund. This fund is the largest supplier of Workers Comp. Insurance in the state and grants many opportunities to low-income startups.

An important distinction when hiring employees, especially for tax purposes, is classifying their employment status appropriately. The IRS has a helpful publication for understanding the different classifications and rights of certain employees, this can be found here.

Additional Resources

Purchasing a Business

SBDC Purchasing and Selling Advisor – Bob Norton


Purchasing a business is a process, unlike any other purchase a buyer makes in their lifetime. It requires extensive due diligence on the finances, equipment, history of the business, current market conditions, and employees.   It begins with creating your team including a qualified CPA and a thorough strategy to minimize tax liability through the creation of the most advantageous business entity.

Below are some areas the SBDC can assist you in your business purchase:

  • How to evaluate the purchase price of a business
  • The value drivers of a business
  • How to find businesses for sale
  • The important items to negotiate during the offer period
  • Due diligence
  • How financing is key to buying and selling
  • How to negotiate a buyer-seller friendly offer
  • The importance of due-diligence
  • The role of the escrow agent

Resources for Veterans

There are many state programs and incentives available to veterans, including priority counseling, more access to funding, and priority in procuring government contracts.

The SBA gives special privileges to veterans, more information about how the SBA can help veterans can be found here.

California’s main designated program for connecting veteran business owners with government contracts is CalVet.

The Veterans Business Outreach Center has support and information for veterans starting businesses in California. More information can be found here.

Resources for Food Service Businesses

SBDC Restaurant Advisor – Trang Nguyen, Javier Sandes and Germain Michel

A Health Permit in Santa Cruz County is required for food preparation, service, food products, marketing, laundries, etc. and is issued by the Santa Cruz County Department of Environmental Health, for more information about Food Facilities and Food Handling please visit their website or their office at 701 Ocean St., Room 312, Santa Cruz CA 95060, to speak with an Inspector, call (831)454-2022 between 8-9 am.

Incubator programs cut the start-up costs that often prevent new businesses from succeeding. The startup costs can be especially staggering in restaurants and other food-based businesses. Additionally, FDA regulations concerning food sales often mean razor-sharp margins for profit. Kitchen Incubators sometimes called “Shared Kitchens,” allow for foodservice entrepreneurs to gain valuable experience before investing heavily in their own equipment. El Pájaro Community Development Corporation – (831)722-1224 – in Watsonville operates a commercial kitchen incubator for artisan food producers, providing a fully-equipped shared kitchen space, packing facilities, and technical assistance to food-related ventures. Business and safety training programs and access to microloan programs are offered. 

The International Business Innovation Association is a global non-profit committed to advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Each year, it provides thousands of professionals with information, education, advocacy, and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies.

Getting Started in the Specialty Food Business is a guide written by Extension Food Scientists, covering everything from food product development to pricing.

FDA Food Guidance & Regulation Information provides information on how to follow federal regulations for the food industry, including food labeling and food ingredients and packaging. 

California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control administers the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, including licensing, enforcement, and regulatory mandates. Their website provides links to license and industry information for businesses selling alcoholic beverages.


  1. Are there grants available for small businesses?

There are multiple grants available for small businesses. Some examples include:

  • AMBER.
  • SBIR- Small Business Innovative Research, focused on scientific and educational programs.
  • The Microbusiness COVID-19 Relief Grant (MBCRG).

To find out all the options available for you, schedule an appointment with one of our advisors. 

  1. What type of legal entity should I have?

It is best determined by a CPA or an attorney, some examples are:

  • LLC.
  • S-Corporation.
  • C- Corporation.
  • Nonprofit.

  1. What are some additional fees my business might face, beyond rent?
  • Business improvement district fee → Some areas have them and some don’t.
  • Parking deficiency fee→ depends on location. This fee depends on the city and area the business is located in. 

  1. How can I get a loan? 

When it comes to funding, there are 5 things lenders look for initially:

1) Capital: cash of your own.

2) Collateral: another source of repayment for the loan if you fall behind on loan payments.

3) Character: credit score and experience in the field.

4) Capacity: ability of business to pay off loan.

5) Conditions: is this the right type of business for this particular time? Lenders want to be sure there’s a market for your business.

  1. What are the 3 areas of marketing that many new business owners mistakenly don’t dive deep into, that if done, can make their business more successful, and faster at that?

The first is to have clear, prioritized business goals that your marketing is helping your work towards. While entertaining, cool marketing stuff is great, if it’s not serving a purpose, and it usually is taking up valuable time and money. Second, is to create a marketing plan or blueprint for the year, months or weeks ahead so you can gradually and strategically create your marketing versus it always being a last-minute fire drill. Third, is to rely on SBDC advisor, Bryce Root’s “3 Pillars of Marketing.” Those are to take your 1) business goal,  2) determine which target customer(s) are associated with that goal, and 3) specify the marketing tactics needed to reach the densest gathering of those target customers, so you can reach that business goal. Repeat for each business goal and more than likely, those tactics will overlap and you’ll efficiently be tackling multiple goals simultaneously.

Ex. If you’ve built a new parklet, it’s time to infuse visuals, copywriting, and verbal references into all aspects of your marketing to accomplish the business goal of filling those seats so you can increase your sales, turns and ticket amounts to pay for it all. Remember, a quick post with a photo of the new parklet may not be seen as it ages and moves further down your profile, but if it’s sprinkled into all that you communicate to the world over the course of a 3 month campaign to build awareness…over time, the world will now know how cool your parklet is. 

6.  What is the top misconception of marketing for new business owners?

Business owners need to know that marketing requires work. In almost every instance, if you’re paying a platform, whether offline or online, to “magically” do everything for you, you’ll be given a cookie-cutter product, your brand will likely be off, messaging will not resonate, and only a small portion of your target customers will be reached. With a little sweat equity, you can always create better, customized marketing that’ll stop your potential customers in their tracks. Remember, whenever you pay for marketing, it’s making marketing convenient and easy for you, but in the end, it most likely won’t be very effective and it usually costs a lot more too.

Santa Cruz’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a premier hub of experts experienced in Mainstreet, Techstreet, and Agriculture.

Business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs receive in-depth advising and training to obtain capital, launch businesses, grow sales, and create jobs. 

Experience expert advice for real business solutions. Call the Santa Cruz Small Business Development Center at 831.479.6136.