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The Building Blocks of Business:
A Guide to Business Structures

APEF: Solving the Financial Illiteracy Crisis

Soft skills refer to a set of personal attributes, behaviors, and social attitudes that enable individuals to interact effectively with others in a workplace or social environment. These skills are essential for building healthy relationships, communicating effectively, solving problems, and collaborating with others.

an expense that a you can subtract from adjusted gross income, reducing the amount of taxes owed

tax that is withheld from an employee's paycheck and paid by the employer to the government

an amount of money set aside as a financial safety net for unexpected expenses, usually recommended to be approximately 3-6 months worth of expenses

So you've got a brilliant business idea – congrats! But before you dive headfirst into the world of entrepreneurship, there's one important choice to make: your business structure. It's like choosing the right team for a journey– the one that protects you from legal and financial risks while allowing you to arrive at your entrepreneurial goals.
But with so many options, where do you even begin? This guide will break down the most common business structures, helping you choose the one that fits your business like a glove.

Me, Myself, & I: Sole Proprietorship
Think of yourself as a lone wolf, venturing out with just your skills and determination. A sole proprietorship is the simplest structure, where you and your business are one and the same. It's easy to set up and requires minimal paperwork, perfect for freelancers, consultants, or hobby businesses.


  • Easy and inexpensive to set up

  • You have complete control over your business

  • No taxes on the business itself (profits are taxed on your personal income)



  • Unlimited personal liability: you're personally responsible for all business debts and losses

  • Difficult to raise capital

  • Limited growth potential


Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Partnership
Two (or more) heads are better than one, right? A partnership is ideal for ventures where collaboration is key. You and your partners share profits and losses based on your agreed-upon contributions. Just like in any team, clear communication and a strong partnership agreement are crucial to avoid future conflicts.


  • Shared skills and resources

  • Easier access to funding

  • No corporate taxes (profits are taxed on individual partners' income)



  • Unlimited personal liability for all partners

  • Potential for disagreements and conflicts

  • Complexities in profit-sharing and decision-making


Shields Up!: Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Combining the best of both worlds, an LLC offers the flexibility of a partnership with the limited liability protection of a corporation. This means you and your co-founders have personal liability protection for business debts and losses, but you still enjoy the benefits of pass-through taxation (no corporate taxes). An LLC is a popular choice for small businesses, startups, and family-owned ventures.


  • Limited personal liability for all members

  • Relatively simple to set up and maintain

  • Flexible management structure and profit-sharing



  • More complex than a sole proprietorship or partnership

  • Potential higher filing fees and annual costs

  • May not be suitable for businesses seeking venture capital

Sharing the Spoils: Cooperative
A Cooperative is a business owned and democratically controlled by its members, who work together for everyone's benefit. That's the cooperative spirit – collaboration over competition, shared success over solitary wealth. Cooperatives are ideal for ventures driven by social impact, local sustainability, or ethical production. They're perfect for groups with shared values and goals, from farmers' markets to community arts centers to worker-owned factories. If you're an entrepreneur who values collaboration, fair distribution, and community benefit, a cooperative might be a fit for you.



  • Every member has a say in running the business, fostering a sense of ownership and shared responsibility.

  • Profits are distributed proportionately, ensuring everyone's hard work is rewarded.

  • Cooperatives often cater to specific needs within a community, contributing to its social and economic well-being.

  • Shared decision-making and distributed profits make cooperatives more resistant to economic downturns.



  • Reaching consensus with multiple members can take time and effort.

  • Some cooperatives prioritize social goals over aggressive expansion.

  • Traditional investors may be hesitant to fund businesses without a single owner.


Go Big or Go Home: Corporation
Think big, think… corporations! This business structure is a separate legal entity from its owners (shareholders). Corporations offer the strongest liability protection but come with more formalities and regulations. They're ideal for large businesses with multiple investors and ambitious growth plans.



  • Strongest limited liability protection for owners

  • Easier access to capital through issuing shares

  • Perpetual existence, independent of ownership changes



  • Most complex and expensive to set up and maintain

  • Subject to double taxation 

  • Stricter regulations and reporting requirements


Choosing Your Structure: It's All About Fit
Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. The best business structure depends on your unique needs, goals, and resources. Consider factors like the size and type of your business, your risk tolerance, funding plans, and future ambitions. Consulting with a financial advisor or lawyer can help you navigate the complexities and choose the structure that best suits your entrepreneurial path. No matter the structure you choose, professional liability insurance is an essential aspect of running a successful business; providing protection in case something goes wrong in your work or with clients who aren't happy with what was provided. Insurance protects businesses against unexpected challenges by covering costs associated with court defense and potential damages payments that might be required if found at fault.


Choosing the right business structure is a critical decision that can impact the success and longevity of your entrepreneurial endeavors. As high school students delving into financial literacy, understanding the pros and cons of each structure empowers you to make informed choices aligned with your business goals. Whether you're envisioning a small partnership or dreaming of building a large corporation, the right business structure sets the foundation for your entrepreneurial journey.

Bonus Tip: Regulations can change depending on where your business is located. Research state-specific requirements for each business structure before jumping in to ensure compliance.

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