A Quick Lesson in Ways Businesses Are Organized

Businesses are structured in different ways to meet different needs. The simplest form of business is called an individual or sole proprietorship. The proprietor owns all of the property of the business and is responsible for everything. For legal purposes, with this kind of business, the owner and the company are the same. This means the proprietor gets to keep all of the profits of the business, but must also pay any debts. Another kind of business is the partnership. Two or more people go into business together. An agreement is usually needed to decide how much of the partnership each person controls. One kind of partnership is called a limited liability partnership. These have full partners and limited partners. Limited partners may not share as much in the profits, but they also have less responsibility for the business. Doctors, lawyers and accountants often form partnerships to share their risks and profits. A husband and wife can form a business partnership together. Partnerships exist only for as long as the owners remain alive. The same is true of individual proprietorships. But corporations are designed to have an unlimited lifetime. A corporation is the most complex kind of business organization. Corporations can sell stock as a way to raise money. Stock represents shares of ownership in a company. Investors who buy stock can trade their shares or keep them as long as the company is in business. A company might use some of its earnings to pay dividends as a reward to shareholders. Or the company might reinvest the money back into the business. If shares lose value, investors can lose all of the money they paid for their stock. But shareholders are not responsible for the debts of the corporation. A corporation is recognized as an entity – its own legal being, separate from its owners. A board of directors controls corporate policies. The directors appoint top company officers. The directors might or might not hold shares in the corporation. Corporations can have a few major shareholders. Or ownership can be spread among the general public. But not all corporations are traditional businesses that sell stock. Some nonprofit groups are also organized as corporations.


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