What Is a Company, How to Start One, Different Types (2023)

What Is a Company?

A company is a legal entity formed by a group of individuals to engage in and operate a business—commercial or industrial—enterprise. A company may be organized in various ways for tax and financial liability purposes depending on the corporate law of its jurisdiction.

The line of business the company is in will generally determine which business structure it chooses such as a partnership, proprietorship, or corporation. These structures also denote the ownership structure of the company.

They can also be distinguished between private and public companies. Both have different ownership structures, regulations, and financial reporting requirements.

Key Takeaways

  • A company is a legal entity formed by a group of individuals to engage in and operate a business enterprise in a commercial or industrial capacity.
  • A company's business line depends on its structure, which can range from a partnership to a proprietorship, or even a corporation.
  • Companies may be either public or private; the former issues equity to shareholders on an exchange, while the latter is privately-owned and not regulated.
  • A company is generally organized to earn a profit from business activities.
  • Companies are an important contributor to the health of an economy as they employ individuals and attract disposable income to spur growth.

How a Company Works

A company is essentially an artificial person—also known as corporate personhood—in that it is an entity separate from the individuals who own, manage, and support its operations. Companies are generally organized to earn a profit from business activities, though some may be structured as nonprofit charities. Each country has its own hierarchy of company and corporate structures, though with many similarities.

A company has many of the same legal rights and responsibilities as a person does, like the ability to enter into contracts, the right to sue (or be sued), borrow money, pay taxes, own assets, and hire employees.

The first company in the world to issue stock was the Dutch East India Company. It was created in the Dutch Republic by the government to trade with India.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting a Company

The benefits of starting a company include income diversification, a strong correlation between effort and reward, creative freedom, and flexibility. Another advantage of companies is that they create jobs. If an individual starts a company and it grows, most often they have to hire employees. This increases the number of jobs available in a nation, employs people, reduces unemployment, and brings wealth into the economy.

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There is often a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction garnered from starting your own company. This involves following your dreams and passions and leaving a legacy.

The disadvantages of starting a company include increased financial responsibility, increased legal liability, long hours, health risks due to stress, responsibility for employees and administrative staff, regulations, and tax issues.

There is a tremendous amount of risk in starting a company, from the time invested and, therefore, opportunity cost from not working a salaried job, to financial risk. Failure is of course one of the biggest disadvantages; however, many successful entrepreneurs attest that their first businesses failed and that the experience was an important learning tool.

Many of the world's largest personal fortunes have been amassed by people who have started their own companies.


  • Diversification

  • Creative Freedom

  • Flexibility

  • Following your dreams

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  • Leaving a legacy

  • Job creation


  • Increased financial risk

  • Increased legal liability

  • Long hours

  • Health risks due to stress

  • Responsibility for employees and administrative staff

  • Tax issues

Types of Companies

In the United States, tax law as administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and individual states dictates how companies are classified. Examples of company types in the U.S. include the following:

  • Partnerships are formal arrangements in which two or more parties cooperate to manage and operate a business.
  • Corporations are legal entities that are separate and distinct from their owners and provide the same rights and responsibilities as a person
  • Associations are vague and often misunderstood legal entities based on any group of individuals who join together for business, social, or other purposes as a continuing entity. (This may or may not be taxable depending on structure and purpose.)
  • Funds are businesses engaged in the investing of pooled capital of investors.
  • Trusts are fiduciary arrangements in which a third party holds assets on behalf of beneficiaries.

A company may also be described as an organized group of persons—incorporated or unincorporated—engaged in an enterprise.

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Company vs. Corporation

In the U.S., a company is not necessarily a corporation, though all corporations can be classified as companies via a variety of structures. For example, U.S. corporate structures include sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited partnerships (LPs), limited liability partnerships (LLPs), limited liability corporations (LLCs), S corporations, and C corporations.

A corporation is a type of business that is distinct from its owner. This means they require regular tax filings to be submitted separately from the personal taxes of their owners. Corporate ownership is determined by how much stock its shareholders hold. These shareholders may make decisions on how the company is managed, or they may choose a team of directors to do so.

The word "company" is synonymous with the word "firm."

Some of the most successful corporations in the United States include Amazon, Apple, McDonald's, Microsoft, and Walmart.

Public vs. Private Companies

Companies can be divided into two distinct categories for both legal and regulatory purposes: Public and private companies.

A public, or publicly-traded company allows shareholders to be equity owners when they purchase shares through a stock exchange. Someone who owns a large number of shares has a larger stake in the company compared to someone who has a small number of shares.

Shares are first issued through an initial public offering (IPO) before trading begins on a secondary exchange. Apple, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Netflix are all examples of public companies.

Public companies are held to strict reporting and regulatory requirements by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Under these guidelines, companies must file financial statements and reports annually outlining the financial health of the company. This prevents fraudulent reports and activities.

Private companies, on the other hand, are held under private ownership. Although they may issue stock and have shareholders, equity in private companies is not traded on an exchange. They vary in shape and size and are not always bound by the strict regulations and reporting requirements to which public companies must adhere.

These companies do not have to disclose financial information or outlook to the public, giving them more opportunity to focus on long-term growth rather than quarterly earnings. Examples of private companies include Koch Industries, candy maker Mars, car rental company Enterprise Holdings, and accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

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What Is a Holding Company?

A holding company is a company that does not perform any actual business operations, such as creating a product or service and conducting any operational aspects related to that. Holding companies control other companies by owning the majority of shares outstanding. They do not necessarily run those companies but they do have oversight over major decisions as they are the primary owners of those companies. Holding companies are commonly known as umbrella companies or parent companies.

What Is a Fortune 500 Company?

A Fortune 500 company is a company that makes it onto the Fortune 500 list, which is created by Fortune magazine. The list consists of the 500 largest companies in the United States by revenue. The list consists of both private and public companies.

What Was the First Company Traded on the New York Stock Exchange?

The first company traded on the New York Stock Exchange was the Bank of New York, today known as BNY Mellon.

How Do You Start a Company?

To start a company you need an idea. From there, you should conduct market research to determine if there is demand for the product or service and if there are any competitive advantages that you can provide. From there, you should create a business plan, outlining the structure, foundation, mission, goals, and all aspects of your business.

The next step is to fund your business, whether from your own personal savings or money raised from friends and family. From there, it is best to decide what kind of business structure you would like to create (e.g., a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company [LLC]). Depending on the business structure, you will have to register the business with your local and state authorities and obtain an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS.

What Is the Richest Company in the World?

Apple is the richest company in the world with a market capitalization of around $2 trillion as of 2022.

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The Bottom Line

A company is a legal entity created by an individual or group of individuals to conduct a business enterprise, which is usually the sale of a business or product that is needed or desired by society. Companies have been around for hundreds of years and there are many different types, depending on the size, scope, and goals of each.

Starting a company is a risky endeavor as the chance of failure is high. Even the most successful companies do not last forever if they cannot evolve with the times. Companies are the primary source of employment in most nations and, therefore, an important contributor to the economic health of most countries.


What are the 4 different types of company? ›

The four main types of business structures are sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company (LLC).

What do you call a business that does multiple things? ›

A conglomerate is a corporation made up of several different, independent businesses. In a conglomerate, one company owns a controlling stake in smaller companies that each conduct business operations separately.

What are the 3 types of companies? ›

There are three common types of businesses—sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation—and each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Which type of company is best to start? ›

Most Popular Company Types to Start
  1. Sole Proprietorship. As one of the most straightforward approaches to running a business, the sole proprietorship is a popular choice. ...
  2. Partnerships. ...
  3. Corporation. ...
  4. Limited Liability Company (LLC) ...
  5. Non-profits.

What is a LLC business? ›

A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure in the U.S. that protects its owners from personal responsibility for its debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation with those of a partnership or sole proprietorship.

What is a sole proprietorship vs LLC? ›

An LLC exists separately from its owners—known as members. However, members are not personally responsible for business debts and liabilities. Instead, the LLC is responsible. A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business owned and run by one person.

Can I run two businesses under one LLC? ›

The answer is yes--it is possible and permissible to operate multiple businesses under one LLC. Many entrepreneurs who opt to do this use what is called a "Fictitious Name Statement" or a "DBA" (also known as a "Doing Business As") to operate an additional business under a different name.

How do I set up multiple businesses under one LLC? ›

Another way to structure multiple businesses under one LLC is to set up a holding company. Under this option, you would create separate LLCs for each new business venture and “hold” them under your primary LLC. This arrangement is also referred to as an umbrella company or parent company.

What is it called when one company owns everything? ›

In the business world, a monopoly is when one company, or group of companies, controls production or sales in an entire market or sector.

How to form a company? ›

Particulars of the Director's, Manager or Secretary - Form-32. After processing of the Form is complete and Corporate Identity is generated obtain Certificate of Incorporation from RoC. File a declaration in eForm 19 and attach the prospectus (Schedule II) to it. Obtain the Certificate of Commencement of Business.

What is a difference between a company and a business? ›

A business has unlimited liability. This means that owners can be sued in their personal capacity by creditors. A company, on the other hand, has limited liability. If it gets sued by creditors, its directors or shareholders are not personally liable.

What are examples of companies? ›

Apple, Walmart, Coca-Cola, and Netflix are all examples of public companies.

What is the cheapest company to start? ›

If you want to start a low-cost business, these 25 ideas will help inspire your entrepreneurial passion.
  1. Content creation. ...
  2. Personal or virtual assistant. ...
  3. Event planning services. ...
  4. Errand/concierge service. ...
  5. Professional reviewer. ...
  6. Social media consultant. ...
  7. Etsy shop. ...
  8. Online courses and tutoring.

Does a LLC make you money? ›

If your LLC is taxed according to the default rules the members cannot be considered as employees and cannot receive a salary. However, if you choose to have the LLC taxed as a corporation, the members who actively work for the LLC can be considered employees and can receive a salary.

Is LLC a good idea? ›

Forming an LLC offers major benefits for most small to medium business owners. Registering and operating as an LLC will provide business owners legal protection for personal assets, credibility and a long list of other advantages usually only found spread throughout a number of other business structures.

What are 3 disadvantages of an LLC? ›

Disadvantages of creating an LLC
  • Cost: An LLC usually costs more to form and maintain than a sole proprietorship or general partnership. States charge an initial formation fee. ...
  • Transferable ownership. Ownership in an LLC is often harder to transfer than with a corporation.

Do LLC pay more taxes than sole proprietorship? ›

LLCs do not pay more taxes than Sole Proprietorships. Both an LLC and a Sole Proprietorship qualify for pass-through taxation. Pass through taxation basically means that any profits and losses from the LLC or Sole Proprietorship are “passed through” to the business owner and taxed as personal income.

Is it better to be self-employed or LLC? ›

You can't avoid self-employment taxes entirely, but forming a corporation or an LLC could save you thousands of dollars every year. If you form an LLC, people can only sue you for its assets, while your personal assets stay protected. You can have your LLC taxed as an S Corporation to avoid self-employment taxes.

Is it better to be taxed as a sole proprietorship or LLC? ›

Which pays less taxes, sole proprietorship or LLC? With both an LLC and a sole proprietorship, the profit of the business passes through to the owner's personal tax return. But LLCs have more flexibility in how they are taxed, which may result in tax savings.

How do I pay myself an LLC? ›

As an owner of a limited liability company, known as an LLC, you'll generally pay yourself through an owner's draw. This method of payment essentially transfers a portion of the business's cash reserves to you for personal use. For multi-member LLCs, these draws are divided among the partners.

How do I start multiple businesses? ›

How to Legally Structure Multiple Businesses
  1. Create Separate LLCs or Corporations. You can create separate LLCs or corporations for each of your businesses, because there's no limit to how many a person can form. ...
  2. Create Multiple DBAs Under One LLC or Corporation. ...
  3. Create Businesses Under a Holding Company.

Is it better to have 1 LLC or multiple? ›

Separate LLCs Make Sense

While it might seem tedious or require additional effort to set up a separate LLC for your new business idea, it's often a better route to take than running both businesses under your current LLC.

Can I have multiple businesses under one EIN? ›

Can I use the same EIN for multiple businesses? If you have multiple businesses and they are not established as legally separate entities, you can use the same EIN for all of them, even if they have different trade names or “DBA” names.

Should I put all my businesses under one LLC? ›

Running multiple businesses under a single LLC can increase overall income and tax liabilities. Whereas, forming separate LLCs can help reduce your taxable income. You can have different management structures and taxation structures for each of your LLCs. Similarly, the number of members can vary as well.

What is DBA vs LLC? ›

A DBA is an assumed (fictitious) name that an existing business has received approval to use when conducting business. An LLC is its own registered business entity. Both options provide a way to operate under a business name other than a company's legal name.

Do holding companies pay taxes? ›

In most cases, the parent company stays in control by being the only shareholder or by creating subsidiary bylaws. Since the two companies are separate, each pays its own taxes on its own income.

What is a small business owned by one person called? ›

Sole proprietorships are the most basic form of business structure. If you don't form a business entity, like an LLC or corporation, but start conducting business, you're automatically considered a sole proprietorship. This means. Your business is an unincorporated business owned by one individual proprietor.

What is the richest company in the world? ›

With 600 billion U.S. dollars in revenue, Walmart topped the ranking of the hundred largest companies globally, followed by the Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco.

Can anyone set up a company? ›

A limited company can be set up by a single individual who will be the sole shareholder and company director, or by multiple shareholders. Advantages of forming a limited company include: Liabilities such as debts or legal action.

Can I set up a company by myself? ›

Operating as a sole trader is the simplest and cheapest business structure you can set up. You control and manage the business, and although you 'trade' on your own, you can still employ people to work for you. To set up as a sole trader, you need to: register a business name.

How much money is required to set up a company? ›

The Cost of Incorporation / Registration of Pvt Ltd Company would vary from INR 6,000/- to INR 30,000/- depending upon the No. of Directors, No. of members, authorized share capital and Professional fees. Professional fees may depend upon the complexity of the task.

Is company and LLC the same? ›

LLC's and corporations both have owners, but the form of ownership is different. LLC members have an equity (ownership) interest in the assets of the business because they have made an investment to join the business. Corporate owners are shareholders or stockholders who have shares of stock in the business.

Should I register a business name or company? ›

Registering a business name is a legal obligation, if you choose to identify your business with a name that is different to the name of the legal entity that owns the business. Registering a trademark is a choice you make as part of a branding strategy for your products and services.

Why is it called a company? ›

Etymology. The English word, company, has its origins in the Old French term compagnie (first recorded in 1150), meaning a "society, friendship, intimacy; body of soldiers", which came from the Late Latin word companio ("one who eats bread with you"), first attested in the Salic law ( c.

What are top 4 companies? ›

Top 10 Indian companies by market value
  • Reliance Industries. With a market cap of ₹1,763,263.62 crores Reliance Industries leads the Indian Industries with the highest market cap. ...
  • TATA Consultancy Services. ...
  • HDFC Bank. ...
  • ICICI Bank. ...
  • Infosys. ...
  • Hindustan Unilever. ...
  • SBI. ...
  • Adani Enterpris - ₹467,491.82 crores.
Nov 7, 2022

What are the main types of companies? ›

Types of Company Under Companies Act, 2013
  • Private Limited Company.
  • Public Limited Company.
  • Section 8 Company (NGO)
  • Micro Companies.
  • Small Companies.
  • Medium Companies.
  • Limited By Shares.
  • Limited by Guarantee.
Jan 10, 2023


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