SmallBusiness.com: The free small business resource
A business (also called a company, enterprise or firm) is a legally recognized organization designed to provide a good or service to a consumer, another business or to an institution like a government, non-profit organization or educational institution. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, most being privately owned and formed to earn profit that will increase the wealth of its owners and grow the business itself. The owners and operators of a business have as one of their main objectives the receipt or generation of a financial return in exchange for work and acceptance of risk. Notable exceptions include cooperative enterprises and state-owned enterprises. Businesses can also be formed not-for-profit or be state-owned.
Basic forms of ownership
Although forms of business ownership vary by jurisdiction, there are several common forms:
- Sole proprietorship: A sole proprietorship is a business owned by one person. The owner may operate on his or her own or may employ others. The owner of the business has personal liability of the debts incurred by the business.
- Partnership: A partnership is a form of business in which two or more people operate for the common goal which is often making profit. In most forms of partnerships, each partner has personal liability of the debts incurred by the business. There are three typical classifications of partnerships: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.
- Corporation: A corporation is either a limited or unlimited liability entity that has a separate legal personality from its members. A corporation can be organized for-profit or not-for-profit. A corporation is owned by multiple shareholders and is overseen by a board of directors, which hires the business's managerial staff. In addition to privately-owned corporate models, there are state-owned corporate models.
- Cooperative: Often referred to as a "co-op", a cooperative is a limited liability entity that can organize for-profit or not-for-profit. A cooperative differs from a corporation in that it has members, as opposed to shareholders, who share decision-making authority. Cooperatives are typically classified as either consumer cooperatives or worker cooperatives. Cooperatives are fundamental to the ideology of economic democracy.