Businesses are one of the building blocks of capitalist economies. Most businesses are privately owned, but they can be listed on stock markets or owned by governments and other organizations. The main purpose of a business is to earn profit and add to the wealth of their owners or shareholders. By providing useful goods or services and assuming some risks, businesses seek to develop a positive cash flow.
Types of Business at a Glance
Business types are normally defined by means of ownership, as outlined below:
Sole proprietorship: A business owned by one person. This is the simplest and most prevalent form of business worldwide, but also the least economically productive. Most ‘mom and pop’ shops and freelancers tend to fall into this category. The owner has total and unlimited liability for all debts incurred, but may pay less tax and be subject to less stringent regulations.
Partnership: A business owned by two or more partners. Each partner has total and unlimited liability for all debts of the business in a general partnership, but there are some levels of protection in limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships. Traditionally, professional services organizations like legal and consultancy practices have tended to form as partnerships.
Corporation: A limited liability business that has a separate legal entity than its owners. A corporation is designed to generate profit, has more than one owner, and has a board of directors who are responsible for hiring (and firing) its management team. Public corporations will list some or all of their shares on stock markets, and will then be required to make public their financial performance.
Cooperative: Like a corporate, a cooperative business or a ‘co-op’ is a limited liability entity that is for-profit. However it is owned by members, normally in large numbers, and not shareholders. Members have voting rights on all major business decisions. Co-ops are normally classified as either consumer cooperatives or worker cooperatives.
Categories of Business
Businesses can be categorized by the nature of services offered, as follows:
Service businesses: These businesses specialize in providing intangible products and services and earn a profit by charging a certain amount for the services that they offer. Business organizations including lawyers, accountants, consulting firms, designers, architects, entertainers and other professionals come under the purview of service businesses.
Financial businesses: These businesses include banks and other corporate entities that deal with capital management and investment.
Manufacturers: These businesses specialize in production of goods from raw materials. Manufacturers earn profits by selling final products in the domestic and/or international markets.
Retailers and distributors: These business organizations serve as mediators between manufacturers and consumers. The majority of consumer-oriented outlets, e-commerce sites and catalogue companies come under this category.