A business (also known as an enterprise, a company, or a firm) is an organizational entity involved in the provision of goods and services to consumers. Businesses serve as a form of economic activity, and are prevalent in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and provide goods and services allocated through a market to consumers and customers in exchange for other goods, services, money, or other forms of exchange that hold intrinsic economic value. Businesses may also be social non-profit enterprises or state-owned public enterprises operated by governments with specific social and economic objectives. A business owned by multiple private individuals may form as an incorporated company or jointly organise as a partnership. Countries have different laws that may ascribe different rights to the various business entities.
The word “business” can refer to a particular organization or to an entire market sector (for example: “the financial sector”) or to the sum of all economic activity (“the business sector”). Compound forms such as “agribusiness” represent subsets of the concept’s broader meaning, which encompasses all activity by suppliers of goods and services.
Basic forms of ownership
Forms of business ownership vary by jurisdiction, but several common entities exist:
- Sole proprietorship: A sole proprietorship, also known as a sole trader, is owned by one person and operates for their benefit. The owner operates the business alone and may hire employees. A sole proprietor has unlimited liability for all obligations incurred by the business, whether from operating costs or judgements against the business. All assets of the business belong to a sole proprietor, including, for example, computer infrastructure, any inventory, manufacturing equipment, or retailfixtures, as well as any real property owned by the sole proprietor.
- Partnership: A partnership is a business owned by two or more people. In most forms of partnerships, each partner has unlimited liability for the debts incurred by the business. The three most prevalent types of for-profit partnerships are: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.
- Corporation: The owners of a corporation have limited liability and the business has a separate legal personality from its owners. Corporations can be either government-owned or privately owned. They can organize either for profit or as nonprofit organizations. A privately owned, for-profit corporation is owned by its shareholders, who elect a board of directors to direct the corporation and hire its managerial staff. A privately owned, for-profit corporation can be either privately held by a small group of individuals, or publicly held, with publicly traded shares listed on a stock exchange.
- Cooperative: Often referred to as a “co-op”, a cooperative is a limited-liability business that can organize as for-profit or not-for-profit. A cooperative differs from a corporation in that it has members, not shareholders, and they share decision-making authority. Cooperatives are typically classified as either consumer cooperatives or worker cooperatives. Cooperatives are fundamental to the ideology of economic democracy.
- Limited liability companies (LLC), limited liability partnerships, and other specific types of business organization protect their owners or shareholders from business failure by doing business under a separate legal entity with certain legal protections. In contrast, unincorporated businesses or persons working on their own are usually not as protected.
- Franchises: A franchise is a system in which entrepreneurs purchase the rights to open and run a business from a larger corporation. Franchising in the United States is widespread and is a major economic powerhouse. One out of twelve retail businesses in the United States are franchised and 8 million people are employed in a franchised business.