TyPEs of Business

Before bringing your business idea to life, it’s crucial to select the right legal business structure to define your operations. This decision isn’t just paperwork—it shapes how you handle taxes, run your day-to-day activities, and even your financial responsibilities. Whether you’re a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation can impact everything from personal liability to funding opportunities. In this guide, we’ll walk you through 19 diverse business structures, simplifying the complexities to help you make the best choice for your venture.

19 types of business structures

The structure of your business is like its blueprint, determining how it operates and interacts with the legal and financial landscape. Whether you’re flying solo or teaming up with partners, your choice of business structure is pivotal. It dictates the level of personal liability you’re willing to shoulder, the potential for issuing shares, and the requirements for licenses and insurance.

With each structure offering its own set of benefits and considerations, it’s essential to weigh your options carefully. From the traditional models like sole proprietorships and partnerships to the innovative approaches of social enterprises and worker cooperatives, there’s a business structure suited to every entrepreneurial vision.

Sole Proprietorship

A Sole Proprietorship is the simplest and most common types of business ownership, where an individual operates and owns the entire business. As the sole owner, you have full control over decision-making and keep all profits generated by the business. This structure is straightforward to establish, typically requiring minimal paperwork and legal formalities.

However, it’s important to note that the owner assumes all liabilities and debts incurred by the business, putting personal assets at risk. Sole proprietors report business income and losses on their personal tax returns and are subject to self-employment taxes.

While Sole Proprietorship offers autonomy and simplicity, it may lack the credibility and scalability of larger business structures. It’s often favored by freelancers, consultants, and small-scale entrepreneurs looking to start a business with minimal overhead and administrative burden.

General Partnership

A General Partnership is a collaborative business structure where two or more individuals share ownership, responsibilities, and profits. In this arrangement, partners pool their resources, skills, and expertise to run the business collectively.

General partnerships are relatively easy to establish, usually requiring a partnership agreement outlining each partner’s roles, responsibilities, and profit-sharing arrangements.

One notable aspect of a general partnership is that each partner is personally liable for the business’s debts and legal obligations, and decisions made by one partner can affect all others. Profits and losses pass through to the individual partners, who report them on their personal tax returns.

While general partnerships foster collaboration and shared decision-making, it’s essential to have a clear partnership agreement in place to address potential disputes and establish a framework for the business’s operations.

Limited Partnership (LP)

A Limited Partnership (LP) is a type of business structure that consists of one or more general partners and one or more limited partners. Unlike general partnerships, limited partnerships allow for a division of roles and liabilities among partners.

General partners are responsible for managing the business and assume unlimited personal liability for its debts and obligations. On the other hand, limited partners contribute capital to the business but have limited involvement in management and are liable only up to the amount of their investment. Limited partnerships are often used in ventures where investors want to contribute funds without being actively involved in day-to-day operations.

To establish a limited partnership, formal registration with the state is typically required, along with a partnership agreement outlining the rights and responsibilities of each partner. This structure offers flexibility in management and investment while providing limited liability protection to some partners.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

A Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) is a business structure that combines the flexibility of a partnership with the limited liability protection of a corporation. In an LLP, all partners have limited liability, shielding them from personal responsibility for the actions and debts of the partnership and other partners.

This means that one partner’s negligence or misconduct typically does not expose other partners to personal liability beyond their investment in the business. LLPs are often favored by professional service firms such as law or accounting practices, where partners want to protect themselves from being held liable for the malpractice of their colleagues.

To establish an LLP, partners must typically register the business with the appropriate state authority and adhere to any specific requirements or regulations governing LLPs in their jurisdiction. This structure provides a balance between personal liability protection and the flexibility of a partnership, making it an attractive option for many professional practices.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a flexible and popular business structure that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the tax benefits and operational flexibility of a partnership.

LLCs offer limited liability to their owners, known as members, meaning their personal assets are typically protected from business debts and lawsuits. This means that if the LLC incurs debts or is sued, the members’ personal assets are generally not at risk beyond their investment in the company.

LLCs are relatively easy to establish and manage, with fewer formalities and paperwork requirements compared to corporations. They allow for pass-through taxation, where profits and losses are reported on the members’ individual tax returns rather than at the entity level, avoiding double taxation.

LLCs are suitable for a wide range of businesses, from small startups to large enterprises, and are particularly popular among entrepreneurs seeking flexibility in management and ownership structure.

However, LLCs may have restrictions on ownership and may require operating agreements to define the rights and responsibilities of members. Overall, LLCs offer a versatile and protective business structure for many entrepreneurs and small business owners.

S Corporation

An S Corporation, also known as an S Corp, is a specific type of corporation that elects to pass corporate income, losses, deductions, and credits through to their shareholders for federal tax purposes.

This election allows S Corporations to avoid the double taxation that regular C Corporations face, where the corporation is taxed on its profits and shareholders are taxed again on dividends received. Instead, S Corporation shareholders report their share of the corporation’s income and losses on their individual tax returns.

To qualify as an S Corporation, a business must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as having no more than 100 shareholders who are U.S. citizens or residents and offering only one class of stock. S Corporations are subject to many of the same regulatory and reporting requirements as C Corporations, including having a formal structure with a board of directors and officers.

One of the key advantages of an S Corporation is the ability to pass through income and losses to shareholders while still enjoying the liability protection of a corporation.

However, S Corporations are subject to certain limitations, such as restrictions on the types of shareholders and the number of allowable shareholders, which may not make them suitable for all types of business. Overall, S Corporations offer a tax-efficient and flexible business structure for many entrepreneurs and small business owners.

C Corporation

A C Corporation, often simply referred to as a corporation, is a legal entity that is separate from its owners, known as shareholders. It is one of the most common types of business entities. C Corporations are taxed as separate entities, meaning they pay corporate income tax on their profits. Additionally, shareholders of C Corporations are taxed on any dividends they receive, leading to potential double taxation.

One of the key advantages of a C Corporation is limited liability protection for its shareholders. This means that shareholders are generally not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the corporation. C Corporations also have the ability to raise capital through the sale of stock and can attract investors more easily than other types of businesses.

C Corporations have a formal structure with a board of directors elected by shareholders to oversee the company’s management and make major decisions. Officers, such as the CEO and CFO, are responsible for day-to-day operations. C Corporations are subject to extensive regulatory and reporting requirements, including filing articles of incorporation and holding regular shareholder meetings.

Overall, C Corporations offer significant advantages in terms of liability protection and access to capital, making them an attractive option for many businesses, particularly those seeking to grow and attract investment.

Professional Corporation (PC)

A Professional Corporation (PC) is a specialized form of corporation that is formed by licensed professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, or architects, to provide professional services. The key distinction of a PC is that it offers its shareholders limited liability protection from malpractice claims related to the services provided by the professionals within the corporation.

Like other types of business corporations, a PC has a formal structure with shareholders, directors, and officers. However, in a PC, only licensed professionals in the specific field of the corporation’s practice can be shareholders. This means that professionals within the same field can form a PC to pool their resources and expertise while limiting their personal liability for malpractice claims.

PCs are subject to the same regulatory and reporting requirements as other types of corporations, including filing articles of incorporation and adhering to state-specific regulations governing professional practice. Overall, Professional Corporations offer licensed professionals a way to practice their professions while enjoying the benefits of limited liability protection.

Benefit Corporation

A Benefit Corporation is a type of for-profit corporation that is committed to pursuing social or environmental goals alongside generating profits for shareholders. Unlike traditional corporations, Benefit Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on society and the environment, in addition to financial returns.

This commitment to ‘doing good’ is enshrined in their corporate mission and governance structure, providing transparency and accountability to stakeholders. Benefit Corporations offer shareholders the opportunity to invest in companies that prioritize social and environmental responsibility while still aiming for financial success.

Worker Cooperative

A Worker Cooperative is a types of business owned and democratically controlled by its employees, who are also its members. In a worker cooperative, each employee has an equal say in the decision-making process, typically through a one-member-one-vote system. This democratic structure ensures that the interests of the workers are prioritized, and decisions are made collectively.

Worker cooperatives often operate with a focus on fairness, equality, and solidarity among members. Profits generated by the cooperative are shared among the workers, either through dividends, bonuses, or reinvestment in the business. Worker cooperatives provide employees with a sense of ownership and empowerment, fostering a strong sense of community and shared purpose within the workplace.

Social Enterprise

A Social Enterprise is a type of business entity that prioritizes addressing social or environmental issues through its operations and activities. While social enterprises can be structured as for-profit or nonprofit organizations, their primary goal is to create positive social impact alongside financial sustainability.

Social enterprises often use innovative business models and strategies to tackle pressing societal challenges, such as poverty alleviation, environmental conservation, or community development.

These businesses may reinvest their profits into their social mission or allocate resources to support community initiatives. Social enterprises play a vital role in driving positive change and addressing complex social problems through entrepreneurial approaches.

Microenterprise

A Microenterprise is a small-scale business typically operated by a sole proprietor or a small team, often in underserved communities or developing economies. Microenterprises play a crucial role in economic development by providing employment opportunities, fostering entrepreneurship, and addressing local needs and demands.

These businesses are characterized by their modest scale, limited capital, and simple operations. Microenterprises may operate in various sectors, including retail, agriculture, crafts, and services. They contribute to poverty reduction and community resilience by creating income-generating opportunities for individuals and families.

While microenterprises face challenges such as limited access to capital and resources, they are integral to inclusive economic growth and grassroots development efforts.

Service Businesses

Service Businesses are enterprises that primarily provide intangible products or services to customers in exchange for payment. These types of businesses focus on meeting the needs and preferences of clients through specialized skills, expertise, and labor.

Service businesses encompass a wide range of industries, including consulting, healthcare, education, hospitality, and professional services. Unlike businesses that sell tangible goods, service businesses rely on delivering experiences, expertise, and solutions to meet customer needs.

Service businesses often prioritize building strong relationships with clients, delivering high-quality services, and providing personalized experiences to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Whether it’s offering legal advice, healthcare services, or hospitality experiences, service businesses play a vital role in meeting societal needs and driving economic growth.

Partnership

A Partnership is a business structure formed by two or more individuals who agree to share ownership, profits, and liabilities. Partnerships are often chosen by entrepreneurs who want to collaborate and combine their resources, skills, and expertise to run a business together.

There are different types of partnerships, including general partnerships and limited partnerships, each with its own set of rules and regulations governing the responsibilities and liabilities of the partners.

In a general partnership, all partners have equal rights and responsibilities, while in a limited partnership, there are both general partners who manage the business and limited partners who contribute capital but have limited involvement in management. Partnerships are relatively easy to establish and offer flexibility in management and decision-making, making them a popular choice for small businesses and professional practices.

Cooperative

A Cooperative is a type of business owned and operated by its members, who typically share a common goal or need. Unlike traditional businesses where ownership is typically held by shareholders or individuals, cooperatives are owned and controlled by the people who use their services or work for the enterprise.

Cooperatives can take various forms, including consumer cooperatives, worker cooperatives, and producer cooperatives, each serving different purposes and stakeholders. Members of cooperatives participate in decision-making processes and share in the profits or benefits generated by the cooperative based on their level of participation or contribution.

Cooperatives are often founded on principles of democratic governance, equality, and mutual assistance, aiming to meet the economic, social, and cultural needs of their members and communities. These businesses prioritize cooperation over competition and often operate with a focus on sustainability, social responsibility, and community development.

Nonprofit organization

A nonprofit organization, or nonprofit, operates for a mission rather than profit. They’re exempt from paying taxes on the condition they serve charitable, educational, or other tax-exempt purposes. Nonprofits rely on donations, grants, and earned income to fund their operations.

Governed by a board of directors, they reinvest any surplus into their mission. Nonprofits play a crucial role in addressing social, environmental, and community needs, striving to make a positive impact on society. By focusing on their mission, nonprofits work to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities around the world.

Joint Venture

A Joint Venture is a business arrangement where two or more parties come together to collaborate on a specific project or venture for a limited duration. Unlike a partnership, which typically involves ongoing collaboration between partners, a joint venture is often formed for a specific purpose or objective, such as developing a new product, entering a new market, or completing a particular project.

Joint ventures allow companies to combine their resources, expertise, and market knowledge to achieve mutual goals while sharing risks and rewards. Each party involved in the joint venture retains its individual identity and legal status, but they work together under a separate agreement governing the joint venture’s operations, responsibilities, and profit-sharing arrangements.

Joint ventures can take various forms, ranging from formal legal entities to informal contractual agreements, depending on the nature and complexity of the collaboration. They offer businesses a flexible and efficient way to pursue opportunities, leverage complementary strengths, and mitigate risks in a rapidly changing business environment.

Family Business

A Family Business is a company in which one or more members of a family own and operate the business. These types of businesses are often passed down through generations, with family members taking on various roles in management, ownership, or both. Family businesses can range from small, mom-and-pop shops to large multinational corporations, spanning a wide range of industries and sectors.

One of the defining characteristics of a family business is the unique blend of familial relationships and business dynamics. While family businesses often benefit from strong bonds, shared values, and a long-term perspective, they may also face challenges related to family dynamics, succession planning, and professional management.

Balancing the needs and interests of both the family and the business is essential for the long-term success and sustainability of family-owned enterprises. Despite these challenges, family businesses play a significant role in the global economy, contributing to job creation, innovation, and community development

Franchise

A Franchise is a business model where an individual or entity (franchisee) purchases the rights to operate a business using the trademark, branding, and business model of another company (franchisor). Franchises are a popular way for entrepreneurs to start a business with the support and resources of an established brand.

Franchisees typically pay an initial franchise fee and ongoing royalties to the franchisor in exchange for access to a proven business model, marketing support, training, and ongoing assistance. Franchises exist in a wide range of industries, including fast food, retail, hospitality, and services.

Franchising offers several benefits, such as reduced risk compared to starting a business from scratch, brand recognition, and access to established systems and processes. However, franchisees must adhere to the franchisor’s guidelines and standards, and they may have less autonomy compared to independent business owners.

Business and taxes

Business entities and tax status are critical aspects that determine the financial obligations and liabilities of a company. The IRS, along with state and local tax authorities, categorizes businesses into different tax statuses:

  1. Pass-through tax status: Taxes are passed through to shareholders, who report business income on personal tax returns. This applies to sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and S corporations, avoiding double taxation.
  2. Corporation tax status: Corporations pay corporate income tax, and shareholders of C corporations may face double taxation on dividends received. S corporations enjoy pass-through taxation with ownership restrictions.
  3. Nonprofit tax status: Nonprofits are exempt from some taxes if they meet eligibility requirements and operate for charitable, educational, or other tax-exempt purposes, adhering to specific regulations.

Consider this before choosing your business structure

  1. Financial needs: Evaluate capital requirements and access to funds.
  2. Control and partnership: Decide on sole control or partnership with others.
  3. Liability protection: Assess personal liability protection for business debts.
  4. Tax implications: Understand tax obligations and potential double taxation.
  5. Mission alignment: Consider whether the business’s mission prioritizes social impact alongside financial returns.

By carefully considering these factors, entrepreneurs can choose the most suitable business structure for their needs.

Got a Question?

The four main types of businesses are:

  • Sole Proprietorship: Owned and operated by a single individual.
  • Partnership: Owned and operated by two or more individuals who share profits and liabilities.
  • Corporation: A legal entity separate from its owners, offering limited liability protection.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): Blends aspects of partnerships and corporations, providing liability protection with pass-through taxation.

Business refers to any organization or entity engaged in commercial, industrial, or professional activities to generate profit. Types of businesses include sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), and cooperatives, each with its own legal structure, ownership, and tax implications.

Businesses are classified based on various factors such as ownership structure, legal status, and industry. The primary classifications include:

  • By Ownership: Sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation.
  • By Legal Status: For-profit, nonprofit.
  • By Industry: Service, retail, manufacturing, etc.