Business can refer to a particular organization or to an entire market sector, e.g. ,,the music business". Compound forms such as agribusiness represent subsets of the word's broader meaning, which encompasses all activity by suppliers of goods and services. The goal is for sales to be more than expenditures resulting in a profit.
Forms of business ownership vary by jurisdiction, but several common forms exist:
Sole proprietorship: A sole proprietorship, also known as a sole trader, is owned by one person and operates for their benefit. The owner may operate the business alone or with other people. 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 and/or retail fixtures, as well as any real property owned by the business.
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 so protected.
Agriculture and mining businesses produce raw material, such as plants or minerals. Financial businesses include banks and other companies that generate profits through investment and management of capital.
Information businesses generate profits primarily from the sale of intellectual property - they include movie studios, publishers and Internet and software companies. Manufacturers produce products, either from raw materials or from component parts, then sell their products at a profit. Companies that make tangible goods such as cars, clothing or pipes are considered manufacturers.
Real-estate businesses sell, rent, and develop properties - including land, residential homes, and other buildings.
Retailers and distributors act as middlemen and get goods produced by manufacturers to the intended consumers; they make their profits by marking up their prices. Most stores and catalog companies are distributors or retailers.
Service businesses offer intangible goods or services and typically charge for labor or other services provided to government, to consumers, or to other businesses. Interior decorators, consulting firms and entertainers are service businesses. Transportation businesses deliver goods and individuals to their destinations for a fee.
Utilities produce public services such as electricity or sewage treatment, usually under a government
The efficient and effective operation of a business, and study of this subject, is called management. The major branches of management are financial management, marketing management, human resource management, strategic management, production management, operations management, service management and information technology management.
Owners may administer their businesses themselves, or employ managers to do this for them. Whether they are owners or employees, managers administer three primary components of the business' value: its financial resources, capital or tangible resources, and human resources. These resources are administered in at least five functional areas: legal contracting, manufacturing or service production, marketing, accounting, financing, and human resources.
In recent decades, various states modeled some of their assets and enterprises after business enterprises. In 2003, for example, the People's Republic of China modeled 80% of its state-owned enterprises on a company-type management system. Many state institutions and enterprises in China and Russia have transformed into joint-stock companies, with part of their shares being listed on public stock markets.
Business process management (BPM) is a holistic management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients. It promotes business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. BPM attempts to improve processes continuously. It can therefore be described as a ,,process optimization process." It is argued that BPM enables organizations to be more efficient, effective and capable of change than a functionally focused, traditional hierarchical management approach.
A very detailed and well-established body of rules that evolved over a very long period of time applies to commercial transactions. The need to regulate trade and commerce and resolve business disputes helped shape the creation of law and courts. The Code of Hammurabi dates back to about 1772 BC for example, and contains provisions that relate, among other matters, to shipping costs and dealings between merchants and brokers. The word "corporation" derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body, and the Maurya Empire in Iron-Age India accorded legal rights to business entities.
In many countries it is difficult to compile all the laws that can affect a business into a single reference source. Laws can govern treatment of labour and employee relations, worker protection and safety, discrimination on the basis of age, gender, disability, race, and in some jurisdictions, sexual orientation, and the minimum wage, as well as unions, worker compensation, and working hours and leave.
Some specialized businesses may also require licenses, either due to laws governing entry into certain trades, occupations or professions, that require special education, or to raise revenue for local governments. Professions that require special licenses include law, medicine, piloting aircraft, selling liquor, radio broadcasting, selling investment securities, selling used cars, and roofing. Local jurisdictions may also require special licenses and taxes just to operate a business.
Some businesses are subject to ongoing special regulation, for example, public utilities, investment securities, banking, insurance, broadcasting, aviation, and health care providers. Environmental regulations are also very complex and can affect many businesses.