Get started

This page will help you understand the steps to opening an event planning 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 event planning 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.
  • Note: If you provide additional event-related services such as catering or acting as a DJ, you may have other requirements.  Research and follow all good and/or entertainment-related rules

Professional requirements

Professional requirements
  • Obtain workers’ compensation insurance if you will have employees.
  • Consider obtaining general liability insurance as you and your staff will be responsible for setting up physical spaces at events.
    • Note: A number of organizations grant formal certifications for event planners. Obtaining a certification can allow you to secure a reputation for reliability and professionalism, and keeping your certifications current can help you to retain your professional credibility. Common certifications are the CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional) or CMP (Certified Meeting Professional).
  • Determine where and how you want to conduct day-to-day operations. There are three main options for choosing an event planning 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 cannot display advertising;
      • 4)    You cannot use more than 25% of the space for commercial purposes.
    • The SF Planning Department offers a more detailed guide to home offices at https://sfplanning.org/resource/accessory-uses-dwellings-all-zoning-dis…
    • Note: Beware that home based businesses could violate your lease or Homeowners Association (HOA) charter.
  • Obtain event-specific permits where needed, whether it be for a temporary street closure, outdoor speakers, or even a rodeo or carnival.

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. Create a sales plan or system for marketing and  managing leads.
  • Negotiate compensation & payment plan prior to signing a contract. Consider when to use a flat project fee, percentage of expenses, hourly rate, and/or commissionable rate.
  • Establish partnerships with key service providers such as travel providers, caterers, hotel chains and event centers. In return for your frequent business, these providers may be willing to offer you considerable price discounts. 
  • 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.