Small Business Guide

Welcome! This guide is your one-stop shop for all things business in the Hyattsville, MD area. Whether you're looking to relocate to Prince George's County, start a business from scratch, or brush up on the best practices or requirements for businesses, this guide is for you.

If you want one-on-one guidance or have a question not addressed by this guide, please reach out! Supporting small businesses in the region is essential to our work in the Hyattsville area. Please fill out our assistance form.


S e c t i o n s

 

Section 1. Starting a  Business

Section 2. Property & Zoning Requirements

Section 3. Permits & Inspections

Section 4. Tax Incentives

Section 5. Working Capital

Section 6. Digital & Branding

Visitors peruse the Downtown Hyattsville Arts Festival

Section 1: Starting a Business

If you're a new business owner, or thinking of starting a business, start here

1. Choose Your Business Structure The first step in starting your business is to establish a business structure. This will affect what licenses you'll need and the makeup of the business itself. The four most common types are:

  • Sole Proprietorship - If you're the sole owner if your business and do not wish to incorporate, look into becoming a sole proprietorship.
  • Partnership -- Like a sole proprietorship, but with more than one person. Each partner contributes time, labor, money, and resources to the business as outlined in their partnership agreement. Partners are not employees, so profits and losses pass through to the partners.
  • Corporation -- A corporation passes its profits to its shareholders. If you'd like to incorporate and sell stock in your company, look into forming a corporation. Also consider becoming a B Corporation, which holds organizations to higher social and environmental standards.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) --An LLC gives you extra protection (limited liability) in business. It will be treated as a partnership, corporation, or as part of the owner's tax return depending on how it is organized. Members of an LLC can be individuals, corporations, or other LLCs.

Sole proprietorship and general partnerships do not require legal entry formalities other than compliance with state and local licensing requirements. Corporations and LLC's articles of incorporation requirements are located here.

2. Become a Legal Entity in Maryland. Now that you've registered on the federal level, register your business and establish the legal entity with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

3. Obtain a Federal Tax ID Number (EIN). You can get this for free from the IRS and it's necessary before you can register your business in Maryland. It's used for tax purposes, so keep it handy. You can get on through the IRS website (beware of spam sites charging for EIN numbers!) and it will generate a number for you immediately after completing the questionnaire. The IRS also provides more in-depth info about how to apply.

4. Register Your Business Name. You'll want to register your fictitious or business name with the State of Maryland. You may also register a "trade name," which isn't the same as your business's legal name. A trade name or "doing business as" registration is recommended for sole proprietorship or partnerships who are operating under a name other than that of the owner(s). Also, a Corporation, Limited Partnership, or Limited Liability Company operating under a name other than the name registered with the State of Maryland would need to register a trade name. Visit Maryland's registration portal for more info.

5. Register for State and Local Taxes. You can do this easily through the Maryland Comptroller's office. Note that you'll need to print and submit a paper copy if you're registering an alcohol tax license, tobacco tax license, or motor fuel tax account.

6. Optional: Register as a certified MBE or DBE. An MBE is a Minority Business Enterprise and a DBE is a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. These programs were created to ensure that small, minority- and women- owned businesses have the opportunity to participate fully and fairly in both state and U.S. DOT federally funded projects.To be certified, visit the Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE). To see if you're eligible, review the standards and application forms.

7. Obtain a Maryland Business License. You can find these through the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Prince George's County. Any business that sells a product or service needs a business license. Essentially, any business that sells a product or service needs some kind of business license. For more information, visit Maryland Business Licenses Online. You may be able to apply for an license online depending on your business qualifications. For state level licensing, use the BLIS system.

For more information and resources from the State of Maryland, review the Maryland Checklist for New Businesses.

Gotta crunch those numbers!

 

Section 2: Property & Zoning Requirements

Find a property and learn its allowable uses

1. Find a Property

Unless you do your work digitally, you'll likely need a place to do business. These resources can help you find a place:

2. Learn its Zoning

Once you've found your dream property, make sure your business fits the zoning regulations. Zoning regulations determine how the property can and can't be used, like residential or commercial use. Other zones include industrial, recreational, and agricultural uses.

Zones are outlined in area plans and are sometimes subject to change. In the Hyattsville region, there are overlay zones that are applied "over" existing classifications that modify what is allowed within their regions. Generally, these kinds of overlays are used to make zoning less restrictive to encourage development. When you're in an overlay zone, you follow that rather than the traditional zoning. Property in the Hyattsville region may fall under one of three overlay zone plans:

  1. The Gateway Arts District Approved Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment;
  2. The Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Development Plan (currently being updated); and
  3. The West Hyattsville Approved Transit District Development Plan for the Transit District Overlay Zone.

Any property not located within these overlay zones is under regular zoning, which can be determined using PGAtlas.

3. Check these Resources

The following resources provide further information on zoning, zoning categories, and where to find use tables:

Mural along Route One
from Flickr

 

Section 3: Permits & Inspections

If you have a business, expect it to be inspected

There may be more inspections and permits you'll need, but here are the two most common types of inspections for local businesses.

1. Use and Occupancy Permit

Prince George's County Department of Permitting, Inspections, and Enforcement (DPIE) issues all Certificates of Occupancy or Use of Occupancy permits which essentially act as the county's stamp of approval for the business. They officially state that the business in question can legally operate. All businesses within Prince George's County, with the exception of the City of Laurel, are required to have their U&O permit before opening. If you need a County Business License, you need the U&O first.

To get your U&O permit, you'll need to go to DPIE's portal, make an account, and fill out the U&O application form. Make sure you complete all the required fields and select that you're applying for an U&O permit. To find the appropriate site info, you'll need to access two other resources:

You will also need to schedule an in-person inspection for your U&O permit. You can schedule it either online or by phone (301-883-5390). The county's website has more information about what is needed before you schedule the inspection and for the inspection itself.

A U&O does NOT allow you to do construction, you'll need an additional permit for that.

There is an alternative permit process called a walk-through which is available for:

  • Commercial Tenant Permits, with some restrictions. Refer to the county's tenant fit-out guide for more info
  • Applications for an U&O without construction. This doesn't apply to buildings constructed before 1971, properties with a private well and septic system, or buildings that propose a different use than originally intended.
  • Building sign permits

If your business is within the Chesapeake Bay critical area, a historic site, or is otherwise deemed inappropriate for a walk-through, you will need to go through the regular application process.

2. City of Hyattsville Business License

If your business is within city limits, you must have a Hyattsville Business License. To get this, you must have already have:

  • U&O Permit (as stated above)
  • State Trader's License Number
  • MD Business Personal Property/ Department Tax ID Number (Your Federal EIN)

After submitting your application, the Department of Code Enforcement will schedule an initial inspection. If your business doesn't pass, the inspector will give you a violation notice listing the deficiencies, the necessary corrections, and the date the corrections need to be made by. This will be issued to the property owner, but business owners can request a copy at (301)985-5041.

Read about the city's requirements in their Commercial Code Compliance Brochure.

City of Hyattsville Sign
from Flickr

 

Section 4: Tax Incentives

Some of the perks of doing business here

Arts and Entertainment District Benefits

Arts and entertainment (A&E) businesses may be eligible for tax credits if located within a Maryland Arts and Entertainment District. If your business is in or around Hyattsville, you may be within the Gateway Arts District.

 

  • Property Tax Incentives

You may be eligible for local property tax credit if you've made improvements to your property for the use of "qualified residing artists" or "arts and entertainment enterprises." If you're not sure if you qualify, review how Maryland defines artists and A&E enterprises. 

The amount and duration of the tax credit, as well as the application process, is determined by the local government. Contact a district manager or the A&E Districts Program Director with questions about the incentives available in a particular district.

 Use our Real Property Tax Credit Calculator to help you determine your savings.

  • Artist Income Tax Subtraction Modification

If you're a a qualified artist living in Maryland who sells "artistic work" (again, please check how the state defines these terms) in an Arts and Entertainment District, you may be eligible for an income tax subtraction modification on income derived from in-district sales. This includes internet sales originating in an A&E district. 

Eligible artists should submit a form 502AE with their annual state tax filing to claim the modification.

  • Admissions & Amusement Tax Exemption

Local governments may exempt from the admissions and amusement tax gross receipts from any admissions or amusement charge imposed by an "arts and entertainment enterprise" or a "qualifying residing artist" in an A&E District.

Please visit the State Comptroller's Office website or contact the office for additional information.​​

Gateway Arts District promotion

Maryland Business Tax Credits

Maryland businesses can take advantage of multiple types of tax credits, including the Enterprise Zone Tax Credit, Sustainable Community Tax Credit, and Green Building Tax Credit. The full list and description of all credits can be found online on the Comptroller’s website.

Prince George's County Tax Credits

  •  Revitalization Tax Credit

These tax credits are meant to encourage investment in inner-beltway communities in Prince George's County and are available in census tracts in which the median household income is lower than the County's overall median. Eligible improvements are then given tax credit on their county real property taxes.

Qualifying improvements include construction, reconstruction, or extension of both non-residential and residential structures, and new construction in developments of fewer than ten single-family homes. Check the county's Economic Development Corporation's website for a full list of qualifying improvements and to see if you eligible. For more information, go here or call one of their Business Development Specialist at 301-583-4650.

 

  • Enterprise Zone Tax Credit

Enterprise Zones are regions that offer state and local incentives incentives to encourage business growth and the creation of new jobs. The Prince George’s County Enterprise Zone, encompasses approximately 7,275 acres of commercial property split into six regions.

Benefits range from state income tax credits per employee and Prince George's County. real property tax credits

This program is managed by Prince George's Economic Development Corporation; you can learn more and apply on their website.

To find out whether your property is in the enterprise zone, take the following steps:
1. Go to PGAtlas
2. Click on “Advanced Mapping”
3. On the upper right hand side of the screen, select the “Map Layers” function (farthest right option
4. Under the Administrative layer, select Enterprise Zone
5. Use the binoculars to Search by Address for your property
6. Your property will appear under the search bar on the left side. Click the magnifying class to view property on map. If it is overlaid with green stripes, your property is in an Enterprise Zone.


 

Section 5: Capital

Understanding Investors, Loans, and More

If you're looking for funding, there are a few options. You can get a small business loan from a bank, credit union, or state entity, or you could look into venture capital or angel investment. Please browse these resources' websites. Looking for local workshops, visit our 'Additional Resources' section.

Small Business Loans

  • FSC First --  This certified microlender disperses funding from many state programs, so you may end up working with them even if you receive funding through other organizations.
  • Microenterprise Loan Program -- The Microenterprise Loan Program ​is designed to provide entrepreneurs with flexible financing for start-ups and expansions within designated Sustainable Communities and Priority Funding Areas throughout the State.
  • MSBDFA -- This Maryland State program promotes the viability and expansion of businesses owned by economically and socially disadvantaged entrepreneurs.
  • Neighborhood Businessworks -- This program provides funding for businesses in Sustainable Communities and Priority Funding Areas throughout the state.
  • SBA 7(a) -- The Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) Loan Guarantee program is the agency's basic loan program. A 7(a) loan essentially makes lenders more willing to lend money to small businesses who might have weaknesses in their loan application. You can read more information on their blog. 
  • Washington Area Community Investment Fund’s (Wacif) -- This organization provides access to capital products and services, and capacity building technical assistance to low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs.

Most banks also offer small business loans and lines of credit. Bookmark our Extensive List of Funding + Operations Resources, to browse area tax incentives, funding programs, banking contacts, and the like.

Some contacts offer workshops, one-on-one training and financial literacy modules for the general public and for business employees. Contact the CDC through our assistance form for individual contacts if you're looking for recommendations.


 

Section 6: Digital Tools

Whether you're brick and mortar or fully digital, you need an online presence

What is one of the first things a potential customer will do to decide where to eat, drink, or shop? They'll Google it (sorry, Bing). That means it's mandatory to have an aesthetically pleasing website with updated, relevant information with decent search engine optimization (SEO). You should also have a presence on social media, which has become the most important marketing avenues for small businesses.

Designing a Website

Modern websites are bright, restrained, and streamlined. That means you'll want a white background, black text (which is easiest to read against white), and a simple layout. A simple menu bar and/or side bar will be the building blocks of your site, and your content should be pithy, yet thorough, with ample professional grade photos and other media.

  1. Mobile First -- If your website looks great on a desktop, but not a smartphone, you'll lose half your traffic. Approximately 57% of all online traffic in the U.S. is coming from smartphones and tablets. One in five Americans now use a smart phone as their primary means of online access at home. You should design your site with that in mind.
  2. Prioritize User Experience -- For some time, designers had adhered to the "Three Click" rule, which posits that all information on a website should be accessible in three clicks or two taps. While the data implies that this isn't the case, what IS important is that navigation feel natural. You need to make your site usable -- simplicity and consistency are key. Keep in mind the kinds of people who will be using your site, what they're likely looking for, and how to best present that content to them.
  3. Consistency --  When you see a popup ad, you know that the grey X on the top right will get rid of it. When you see blue text, you know it's a link to relevant information. These are patterns that make navigating online pleasant. You should set up your site likewise by relying on common UI (User Interaction) patterns,  establishing new patterns on your website (like design hierarchy) to convey information, and remembering that every single item on your site is both an interaction and communication.
Thoughtful reuse is better than mindless copying
From UXPin

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

  1. Use title tags. These are HTML elements that indicate to search engines what each page will be about. For instance, in WordPress or Squarespace, you can make the page title formatted as "Heading 1." Make sure you use one for each page.
  2. Use relevant keywords. Few people will be searching for your specific business name. A good keyword to use on your site is something that people are actually searching for (like "best restaurants in Hyattsville" would be a high volume search), is relevant to your business, and gives your business a competitive edge to rank above others.
  3. Rely on good data. You can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner and Google Trends to help you make good decisions. These will show you the popularity of terms and track usage, but remember not to spam popular tags and stay relevant.
Choose the right keywords
from Google

Social Media Best Practices

  1. Impulse Buy factor. If you're a retailer, you'll want to encourage users to buy your product while the fancy still strikes them. That means integrating your social media, like Instagram and Shopify, to encourage shoppers to give in to their impulse. The longer it takes them to find it, the more time they'll have to rethink.
  2. Don't Focus on Vanity Stats. Having 200 likes on a photo on Instagram is great, but that doesn't mean those people actually care about your business. Bots are everywhere online, so while that kind of surface level engagement (likes, follows, spammy comments) DOES increase your visibility based on the algorithm, your focus should always be on creating a community of people who comment, interact, and actually SHOP in your business.

Online Branding

Everyone's brand will be different, so it's hard to say what each business or online retailer will need. If you'd like specific guidance for your business from us, fill our our assistance form. Otherwise, here are a few best practices:

  1. Audience First. Your business will not be able to compete with big stores like McDonalds or Wal-Mart in terms of breadth of audience. What you can do is make a niche for yourself. Be that based on geography, values, style, or content, you should make the case why a customer should choose you. For example, a clothing company specializing in accessibility or sustainable production will find a loyal customer base who shares those values.
  2. Give Your Business Personality. When posting and interacting with others as your business, it's helpful to think of your brand as a person. Your brand will speak in a certain way, have a unique style, and will have an affinity for certain things. Keep this in mind when deciding who to follow, what to share, how to respond to social media, and how to write copy for your website.
  3. Consistency > Trendy. If you're constantly changing your name, your logo, or your business's voice, customers won't be able to identify with you or find you for repeat business. Once you pick something
  4. Don't be Boring. That doesn't mean you should necessarily be edgy, unless that fits your business. Thanks to the internet, you have much more access to your audience, but so does every other business you compete with. You'll want to walk a line between following best practices and looking contemporary while not duplicating what your competitors do. Bring something new and authentic to the table, and don't be afraid to add some postmodern sensibilities or humor to your
  5. Create a community. That doesn't mean go out and start a new Facebook. People should be able to interact with you and each other in meaningful ways. Ideally, you'll want to encourage people to identify and engage with your brand to the point that it becomes a part of their life. Think about it this way, you'll want someone to make connections with others over your brand, thus strengthening their positive connotations of you.
  6. Test! If you're not sure if what you're doing is working, or not sure to adopt a new logo or name, do some research! Most businesses don't have the resources to pay focus groups and survey research firms (if you do, great!) but you can create simple A/B tests (comparisons) for digital ads, or see how your engagement changes based on small, incremental changes. Data is your friend, we promise.

Questions? Just ask! We offer technical assistance, free-of-charge.

Additional Resources

Some other great resources not mentioned above

    For financing programs, tax incentives, bank contacts, lenders, and more, browse our Funding & Operations List.

    In the meantime, for one-on-one consultations, please contact us!