Get started

This page will help you understand the steps to opening a consulting business in San Francisco. It is a resource from the Office of Small Business, San Francisco's central point of information for small businesses.

Set up your business

Set up your business
  • Create a plan that determines what type or range of consulting services you will provide.
  • Choose a business structure.  LLCs, Corporations and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with the CA Secretary of State before registering locally. 
  • Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees.  If you are a sole proprietor without employees, you may choose to use your Social Security Number instead.
  • Register your business with the City and County of San Francisco through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector.
  • Choose and file a business name.  File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the SF Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.  Research the name's availability in the county before filing.

Professional requirements

Professional requirements
  • Obtain the necessary credentials if the services you provide requires a license (eg. attorney, certified personal accountant (CPA), financial advisor, etc). You can find most regulatory information through the CA Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Determine if you need to bond your work in advance. A bond (sometimes referred to as a surety bond) is a third party obligation promising to pay if a vendor does not fulfill its valid obligations under a contract. Essentially, it is a financial guarantee that you will honor a business contract. 
  • Determine where and how you want to conduct day-to-day operations. There are three main options for choosing a consulting business location: Home Based Business, Commercial Location, and Co-working Spaces.
    • Key things to know about a home office: 
      • 1) Clients cannot come to your home; 
      • 2) Employees cannot work out of your home, unless they also live there; 
      • 3) You can’t display advertising; 
      • You can’t use more than 1/3 of the space for commercial purposes. The SF Planning Department offers a more detailed guide to home offices.
    • Note: Check whether your Home Based Business could violate your lease or Homeowners Association (HOA) charter.

After opening

After opening
  • Solicit work. There are a number of ways to seek out work, including using the web, word-of-mouth, advertising, and partnerships. 
  • Negotiate compensation & payment plan prior to signing a contract. Consider taking a class or seeking other advice on contracts. 
  • Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from these departments:
  • Note: Depending on the legal form of your business, you may be required to pay the federal self-employment tax, among other taxes.  Review the forms and associated taxes for independent contractors.