10 Types of Business Ownerships (With Pros and Cons)
Updated March 10, 2023
Owning a business is an important undertaking that offers immense benefits as well as a fair share of challenges. Among the many decisions you'll make when starting a business is choosing the type of business structure you'll use. Understanding the different types of structures available can help you make this important decision.
In this article, we explore 10 different forms of business ownership structures and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
10 common types of business ownership
Here are 10 forms of business ownership and their main advantages and disadvantages:
1. Sole proprietorship
A sole proprietorship is owned and operated by one individual. The owner of a sole proprietorship doesn't need the approval of a board or partner to make daily business decisions. They also get to keep and determine what to do with the business' profits.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of a sole proprietorship:
They're simpler to form than other businesses because it doesn't require a lot of paperwork.
The owner has sole control of all processes and decision-making.
Filing taxes for this type of business is easier than for other types of businesses.
The owner accepts all responsibility for business losses.
The owner is responsible for raising capital for startup costs.
It may be harder to sell the business.
Related: 11 Benefits of Self-Employment
A partnership is a form of ownership that involves two or more owners controlling a business. The joint owners may run the day-to-day activities by themselves or through appointed representatives. In a partnership, the owners sign a formal agreement that clearly states a partner's rights, shares and responsibilities.
Business leaders typically divide partnerships into limited liability partnerships and unlimited liability partnerships. Here's how these types of partnerships work:
Limited liability partnership: In a limited liability partnership, individual partners don't accept losses caused by another, meaning no legal entity can seize or sell one partner's possessions to pay for the other partner's debts.
Unlimited liability partnership: In an unlimited liability partnership, both partners are responsible for the business. If one partner is directly responsible for a loss, all other partners pay for the debt, even if they aren't directly responsible for the losses.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of partnerships:
They provide the potential to gain wider access to knowledge and expertise from partners.
The infusion of capital is easier than it is in other business structures.
This business type offers the ability to share the burden of startup costs and capital expenditure.
The division of labor among partners creates a better work-life balance.
Partners carry the burden of liabilities, regardless of the partner who is responsible for the debt.
There's a potential loss of autonomy as all partners deliberate on key decisions.
There can be more potential for conflict between partners.
Selling complications can arise if one partner disagrees with the plan to sell the business.
3. Limited liability company
In a limited liability company, the owner's assets, like their car, house and personal accounts, have protection if their business goes bankrupt. This ownership option is a good choice for small business owners looking to start a new business. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of a limited liability company:
Flexibility to adopt different tax structures
Potential to earn tax deductions for business losses
Responsibility for business liabilities doesn't belong to shareholders
Ability to restructure without seeking regulator approval
It can be challenging to raise capital for this type of business.
This can be more expensive to form than other structures.
The salary and profits are often subject to self-employment taxes.
4. Private corporation
A private corporation involves individuals forming a group to manage a business. This kind of ownership separates assets and liabilities from the owners. In case of loss, the owners only lose the amount they invested. Those starting a corporation submit a document called the articles of incorporation in the state where their business is located.
Private corporations allow individuals to buy stock from the corporation, giving the business more capital to grow the business or invest in better technology or tools. Individuals who buy stock become part-owners of the corporation. Some advantages and disadvantages of a private corporation include:
No obligation to reveal financial results to the public
Limited or no shareholder pressure for short-term results
Limited liability exposure for owners
Restricted access to capital markets
More stringent regulations than a partnership or sole proprietorship
Potential for higher administrative costs
Less control of the business with more shareholders
Related: What Is a Privately Owned Business?
A cooperative is an enterprise that is privately owned by the same people who benefit from it. The owners of a cooperative, who are also the shareholders, are involved in the decision-making process. There is no limit to the number of shareholders in a cooperative, which means there is no limit to the number of owners.
Owners receive a share of the profits from the cooperative's investments, depending on their shareholdings. The owners of a cooperative elect a board who manages the business. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of a cooperative:
Grants equal rights to members during the decision-making process
Brings members together for a common cause
Provides access to diverse and unique funding opportunities
Fewer incentives for angel investors and venture capitalists
Slower decision-making among owners
6. Nonprofit corporation
A nonprofit corporation operates to benefit a community or providing a social service. For someone to operate this form of ownership, they're required to prove to a government entity that their services benefit society. These corporations are typically charitable organizations in the fields of science, criminal justice, education and humanitarian affairs.
Nonprofit organizations that choose to incorporate and file a certificate of formation with their Secretary of State's Office become nonprofit corporations. Many, but not all, nonprofit organizations choose to incorporate to take advantage of the many available benefits. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of becoming a nonprofit corporation:
There is limited liability protection for owners' assets.
You are eligible for tax exemption.
You are eligible to receive grants.
You have diverse fundraising opportunities.
Donations are tax-exempt.
There are high startup costs.
The approval of tax exemption status may take a long time.
You are not always eligible for tax exemption.
There might be excessive public scrutiny of how you use funds and donations.
7. Benefit corporation
Sometimes called B corps, benefit corporations aim to benefit the public while also making a profit. Certified B corporations are benefit corporations that have received a third-party certification from the nonprofit B Lab. Certified B corps must achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment and are required to gain recertification every three years.
Both benefit corporations and certified B corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Most government entities require B corporations to submit regular reports that indicate the public benefit stemming from their business. Some advantages and disadvantages of a B corporation and a certified B corps include:
It allows instant networking with like-minded corporations.
It may benefit from tax exemptions.
It attracts investors seeking to make a social impact.
There are more expansive reporting requirements for both B corps and certified B corps.
There are stringent standards to maintain status as a certified B corps.
The B Lab certification fees range from $500 to $50,000 per year.
8. Close corporation
A close corporation, also known as a privately held company, private company or family corporation, is a business whose ownership consists of a limited number of shareholders who have close associations with the business. Owners of this type of business can't offer it for public trading, which means if someone wants to sell their shares, they can only sell them to co-owners.
Here are a few advantages and disadvantages of a close corporation:
There are fewer formalities besides filing incorporation documents.
There is greater control in the daily running of the business.
There are strong liability protection options for personal assets.
There is freedom in financial structuring.
There is no outside pressure for performance from public shareholders.
Exit options may have limitations.
Some jurisdictions may not recognize close corporations.
Shareholders may have increased responsibilities.
You may not make a public offering of stock.
9. C corporation
A C corporation is a privately owned business that can have an unlimited number of shareholders. Most major companies treat themselves as C corporations for federal income tax purposes. The shareholders in a C corporation pay taxes separately from the business, hence they have double taxation at the corporate and personal levels. Corporations pay taxes on profits before distributing the remaining to the owners as dividends. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of C corporations:
The legal obligations of the corporation cannot become the debt of any individual associated with the business.
They can raise money by selling stock.
They may have more extensive reporting, record-keeping and operational processes.
They pay income tax on profits and the government may tax them twice.
10. S Corporation
An S corporation gets its name from Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code. This type of corporation is a common choice for small business owners. To qualify as an S corporation, a business must meet specific requirements, which include:
Must be incorporated in the U.S.
Must only have one class of stock
Must have no more than 100 shareholders
Must have shareholders that are either individuals, specific trusts or tax-exempt organizations
Here are some advantages and disadvantages of S corporations:
They get the benefits of incorporation while enjoying the tax-exempt privileges of a partnership.
They may not face some types of corporate penalties.
They make transferring ownership simple.
They don't face double taxation.
They must meet certain requirements.
They must allow shareholders to vote on major decisions.
They can only issue common stock, which could impact their ability to raise capital.
This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice; you should consult with an attorney for any legal issues you may be experiencing.
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