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Cooperatives vs LLCs: Setting Up Your Business

Setting up your new business is an exciting time, but it's important to pick the right business structure that will suit your needs. One popular option is the cooperative business structure, which is a type of limited liability company (LLC).

Cooperatives are owned and governed by their members, who share in both profits and responsibilities. This means that each member has an equal voice in how the business is run and can benefit from any profits it generates. Cooperatives also provide members with protection against personal liability for any debts or losses that the business incurs.

In this article, we'll look at cooperatives versus LLCs, compare their advantages and disadvantages, and discuss some of the best practices for setting up your business as a cooperative. We'll also discuss ways to ensure that your cooperative has the best chance of success.

Introduction to Cooperatives and LLCs

When it comes to setting up your business, you’re likely considering between a cooperative and a limited liability company (LLC). Making the right choice will depend on your goals and the type of business that you own.

A cooperative is a business structure owned and operated by its members who share any profits the business generates. Cooperatives are typically found in the food industry, such as grocery stores, farms, and mills, but they can also be applied to other types of businesses, such as healthcare and housing.

On the other hand, LLCs provide limited liability for their owners by shielding them from personal financial responsibility for any debts or liabilities incurred by the business. Unlike cooperatives or corporations, LLCs do not have to adhere to strict regulations for governance or reporting. This allows for more flexibility compared to a corporate structure and comes with some tax benefits.

Advantages of a Cooperative Business Over LLCs

When it comes to choosing an appropriate business structure for your startup, two of the most popular options are cooperatives and limited liability companies (LLCs). Cooperatives are more common in certain industries and have certain advantages over LLCs, so let's take a closer look at what they offer.

Shared Equity

The first advantage of a cooperative is that it offers an opportunity for shared ownership. Unlike LLCs, which may have one or more owners with a controlling interest, cooperatives are owned by their members. This means that each member shares in the profits, losses, and potential future gains or losses. In other words, members have a direct stake in the success of the business.

Equal Voice

Another advantage of cooperatives is that all members have an equal voice – regardless of how much money they’ve invested in the business. This is true even if some members invest significantly more money into the cooperative than others. All members’ voices weigh equally when it comes to making decisions about how the cooperative will be run and its overall direction.

Flexible Legal Structure

Finally, cooperatives offer advantages for those who want flexibility when it comes to their legal structure. Unlike LLCs which must abide by state laws when setting up their organization, cooperatives can often be set up without the need for formal legal documents or filings with governmental agencies. This can make setting up a cooperative a simpler and easier process than forming an LLC.

Key Components of Starting a Cooperative

Starting a cooperative requires a few key components to ensure it runs successfully and meets the needs of its members. Many of these components, such as writing a business plan and doing market analysis, are necessary for any type of business. What makes cooperatives different from other business types is their need for:


Cooperatives must have an internal governance structure that defines the way operations are conducted and decisions are made. This typically involves elected board members that create policies and procedures for the group.

Member Education

As with any new venture, education is an important component in helping to ensure success. Cooperatives require members to have a thorough understanding of the basics of forming, operating and financing a cooperative business.

Capital Investment

A cooperative's success is dependent upon its members making an initial capital investment to help finance the startup costs. In order to remain resilient and independent, this capital should be acquired from within the cooperative or from other external sources that understand the need for member ownership and control of the organization.

Cooperative Business Services and Best Practices

When it comes to setting up your business, there are a few key differences between cooperatives and LLCs. Cooperatives provide a unique set of services, including:

  • Shared decision-making among members, who also own the business and are in control of its operations

  • Ability to pool resources for joint marketing efforts

  • Ability to offer member-only discounts on services and goods

  • A democratic system of representation that is focused on creating the maximum benefit for the members

To make sure your cooperative business runs smoothly, there are several best practices to consider. For example:

  • Establish written rules and regulations that all members must adhere to. This will help ensure that all decisions are made fairly and equitably.

  • Create a board of directors or similar governing body who will be in charge of overseeing the day to day operations of the business.

  • Make sure members have access to accurate financial information so they can make informed decisions about the future of their cooperative.

  • Have regular meetings with members to discuss financial matters, new initiatives or any other topics related to the running of the cooperative.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your cooperative is run in an efficient and effective manner so it can reach its full potential.

Cooperative vs Franchisee: Which Is Better for You?

When setting up a business, cooperative (or co-op) and Limited Liability Company (LLC) structures are among the most popular options available. But which is right for you?

A cooperative is an enterprise owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual economic benefit. In contrast, an LLC is a legal entity that shields owners from personal liability for its debts or obligations.

Cooperative Benefits

Cooperative businesses enjoy several advantages over LLCs. For example, with a cooperative structure, members are entitled to full control over the organization’s activities and management. Cooperatives also offer more tax benefits than LLCs in some cases, as well as access to financing from other cooperatives at lower interest rates.

LLC Benefits

Meanwhile, LLCs are managed by a board of directors and can raise capital more easily than cooperatives due to their flexibility in ownership structures and ability to issue shares of stock. Additionally, protection from personal liability can be especially appealing to small business owners worried about the potential risks of running their own business.

Ultimately, the decision between a cooperative vs an LLC depends on your specific business needs and goals. By understanding the advantages and drawbacks of each structure, you’ll be better prepared to choose the one that best meets your needs.

Finding Support From the National Cooperative Business Association

If you’re looking for further support as you embark on setting up your cooperative business, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) has your back. NCBA is a non-profit organization that provides education, training and resources for businesses, industry groups and government at all levels.

Services Provided by NCBA

The NCBA offers a variety of services to help with setting up and running a cooperative:

  • Consulting services to help evaluate legal needs and feasibility studies

  • Training seminars to provide guidance in areas such as finance, marketing and human resources

  • Technical assistance in the form of individualized coaching, mentoring and legal advice

  • Access to cooperative development funds to help cover start-up costs

In addition, NCBA offers access to an extensive network of experienced professionals who can provide knowledgeable guidance as you set up your cooperative business. The organization also maintains a library of resources on topics like governance, financing and tax deductions for cooperatives. You can visit their website (here) for more information.


Cooperatives and LLCs are often considered when setting up a business. Cooperatives offer their members the freedom to collaborate within an open and collaborative business model, while LLCs offer their members the same legal and tax advantages as corporations.

Considering both types of business structures is important for any business—especially if you are looking for a way to control costs, distribute equity, and maintain a sense of ownership. Whether you decide to opt for a cooperative, LLC, partnership, franchise, or other business structure, it’s best to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each structure, and seek assistance from a qualified advisor to ensure your business is set up in a way that meets your individual needs.

If you need help deciding on your entity’s structure, contact us so that a startup lawyer or business attorney can help you.


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