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Don't Start a Business Without a License

Be honest with yourself; if you're in business, do it right

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These days it seems that everyone knows about eBay’s potential as a business model, especially for small and independent sellers. eBay also makes it very easy for individuals to generate spare cash from things that are lying around the house not being used. For better or for worse, it can sometimes be easy for one (the selling of spare things around the house) to slide into the other (the running of a small business).

Don’t let this happen to you.

If you seem to be selling a lot on eBay—several items a week or more—and if you are often selling things that you have only recently acquired and haven’t really used, then you are in all likelihood, as far as the law is concerned, running a business—particularly if you are generating profit as you go.

Unfortunately, businesses are subject to many regulations that mere individuals aren’t in most locales, and an eBay business is no different in this regard. Amongst the laws you may be violating as you run your business are:

  • Licensure laws. At the very least, in most areas of the world that are eBay-capable (that is to say, areas with Internet connections and goods to buy and sell), the law requires businesses to be registered and/or licensed in some way. To effectively be in business without having listed yourself as such may get you into various kinds of hot water, of which being fined is just one.

  • Zoning laws. One of the reasons for the requirement that businesses be registered and licensed is often the fact that many locales are zoned by their governments. That is to say that some areas are areas in which it is okay to conduct business, while other areas are areas in which it is not okay to conduct business. To carry out a commercial enterprise in an area in which such activity is forbidden can also get you in to various kinds of trouble—and eBay businesses, despite what many users think, are not transparent; neighbors will see, hear, and in many cases complain about increased trucking and shipment traffic if they grow as fast as some eBay businesses can.

  • Tax laws. The other major reason that businesses want businesses to be registered and licensed is so that various kinds of taxes—included amongst them, sales tax in most U.S. locales—can be collected. If for some reason the government decides that you have been operating an unregistered business for a very long time, you could find yourself suddenly responsible for back taxes that you haven’t paid and/or collected. Depending on how long you’ve been selling, this can total a lot of money.

  • Employment laws. If you enlist the help of others as you sell on eBay, you could be subject to employment regulations in your locale or country, whether or not you consider those that help you to be employees as such.

  • Liability, insurance, or consumer protection laws. Various laws in various locales are designed to protect the general public, the neighbors of businesses, and parties that do business with businesses from various kinds of negligent action. These laws may impose a variety of restrictions on the types of items that you can and can’t sell, how they must be handled and/or disclaimed, or even the types of support and warranty that you must provide for them. Penalties for violating such laws can in some cases be rather serious.

If You’re Running an eBay Business

If you’re planning to run an eBay business or suspect that you’re already running one without the proper permission and/or licensure, you should visit your local government offices immediately and request to speak to someone about the possibility of registering and/or licensing a new business. You’ll likely be asked to pay a fee and you may find yourself subject to various kinds of paperwork to which you’re not currently accustomed—but this result is better than finding yourself subject to legal action with potentially disastrous consequences.
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