While very few businesses need a city business license in Raleigh—significantly reducing barriers to entry and the local red tape that entrepreneurs face—officials should streamline zoning and permitting rules and improve online resources for starting a business.

Key Takeaways

In Raleigh, the cost, delays, and complexity imposed by the regulatory process for small businesses can make it very challenging for entrepreneurs to start the ventures of their dreams. 


Small fees add up. Raleigh’s barbers do not need to pay any one exorbitantly high fee, but they still have to pay 14 different fees totaling $1,143 just to start up.


To start a home-based business, tutors and other home-based entrepreneurs need a special use permit just to receive visits from clients—a requirement that draws out the process to start up by adding more time-consuming steps. The city’s website also does a poor job of explaining the process of starting up with step-by-step guides, creating added confusion for applicants which in turn leads to further delays. Raleigh meets just one out of five one-stop shop criteria. 


State requirements also add to local challenges. The process of obtaining an occupational license is long and complicated, involving 16 steps and 4 forms. In all, a barber must complete a combined 59 steps and 17 forms to start a barbershop in Raleigh.

Starting a Business in Raleigh: By the Numbers

Total Cost
We calculated this metric by totaling the fees for all the licenses, permits, and registrations each business needs to get started.
Number of Fees
We calculated this metric by counting how many fees governments impose on each business for completing registrations and paperwork.
Agencies Involved
We calculated this metric by totaling the number of agencies entrepreneurs must work with in order to get up and running—whether in the form of submitting paperwork to an agency’s staff, or in terms of abiding by regulations that an agency has promulgated.
In-Person Activities
We calculated this metric by counting the number of compliance activities each entrepreneur needs to complete in person, rather than online or by mail.
Number of Forms
We calculated this metric by counting the various forms and applications each business needs to submit
Number of Steps
We calculated this metric by totaling the discrete tasks an entrepreneur must complete to start each of the business types.

Business Licensing


One-Stop Shop Score

  • Connecting city requirements with processes from other levels of government
  • Completing forms and registrations through the portal, not through each agency’s own website
  • Covering all city requirements, not just requirements for getting a business license
  • Providing a single log-in opportunity so entrepreneurs can organize information and track progress in one location
  • Guiding entrepreneurs effectively through the process

Raleigh Fast Facts

Notable Barriers and Roadblocks

Raleigh’s website fails to properly centralize information and provide step-by-step guides to entrepreneurs, leading to a score of just one out of five in our one-stop shop analysis.

Home-based businesses are unable to receive visits from clients, conduct on-site sales, or employ non-residents unless they acquire a time-consuming conditional use permit from zoning officials.

The city also has a number of regulatory roadblocks that target specific kinds of businesses. For example, food trucks are forbidden from operating between 10 pm and 10 am and cannot operate within 100 feet of a restaurant. Meanwhile, there are only four established zones for operating on the public right-of-way.

At the state level, the barber license form asks applicants to certify if they have been investigated for employee misclassification.

Accommodations for New or Small Businesses

No notable accommodations. 

Policy Recommendations

Officials and policymakers have the opportunity to make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business in Raleigh. City officials should:

  • Create a true one-stop shop for starting a business, with step-by-step guides and information that cover city, county, and state requirements for getting up and running. 
  • Simplify the process to obtain building and zoning permits by combining steps and paperwork, creating more guides for complying with agency rules, and lowering fees. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary restrictions on business types best suited for those starting out small, like home-based businesses and vending. 
  • Work alongside state officials to streamline steps to obtain an occupational or professional license while removing unnecessary legal barriers.