Study notes

Explaining Business Objectives

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

What are the main objectives of businesses? Why might businesses depart from the standard textbook aim of profit maximisation? This study note helps you to answer these questions.

Business Objectives - Revision Video

The UK is a mixed economy with private and public sector businesses operating in markets:

Private sector businesses

  • owned by their shareholders
  • aim to make a sufficiently high rate of return for the capital invested by their shareholders

Examples of private sector businesses

  • the retailer Tesco
  • the parcel firm FedEx
  • the Spanish-owned bank Santander and the
  • the South Korean electronics corporation Samsung

Public sector businesses

  • wholly or part-state owned

Examples of wholly or partly-owned public sector businesses

  • Network Rail
  • East Coast Trains
  • Royal Bank of Scotland

Some businesses have recently been part privatised – Royal Mail in 2013, for example. Watch a revision presentation on the privatisation of Royal Mail

Conventional theory of the firm makes an assumption that businesses have enough information, market power and motivation to set prices for their products that maximise their total profits

This assumption is criticised by economists who have studied the organisation and objectives of modern-day corporations both large and small. Most businesses have a wide range of objectives.

Not only do businesses often move away from pure profit-seeking behaviour, many are deliberately organised and operate in a way where profit is not the only objective.

Alternatives business objectives

Examples of alternative business objectives

An increasing number of companies are moving away from profit maximisation and are refocusing their priorities towards the welfare of their suppliers, employees and the planet:

  • Revenue maximisation (occurs where marginal revenue = zero)
  • Increasing and protecting their market share
  • Breaking into a new market / sector and making sufficient profit in the long run
  • Surviving a recession / persistent economic downturn
  • Pursuing ethical business objectives (e.g. by promoting corporate social responsibility)
  • Providing a public service or achieving other social aims

Why businesses depart from profit maximisation

Imperfect information

It's hard for a business to pinpoint their precise profit maximising output, as they cannot accurately calculate marginal revenue and marginal cost

Day-to-day pricing decisions are taken on the basis of “estimated demand" or “rules of thumb". Businesses can also take advantage of their market experience when setting prices

A business might look to add a profit margin on top of average cost – this is known as “cost-plus pricing." When demand is price inelastic, the profit margin can be higher.

Multi-product businesses

Most businesses are multi-product firms operating in a range of markets across countries and continents – the sheer volume of information that they have to handle is vast. And they must keep track of the ever-changing preferences of consumers.

The idea that there is a neat, single profit maximising price is now largely redundant

Here are some behavioural theories of the firm that explain why companies depart from profit maximisation.

Key terms

Profit maximisation

Profits are maximised at an output where marginal cost = marginal revenue

Revenue maximisation

Revenues are maximised at an output where marginal revenue = zero

Sales maximisation

Producing the largest amount possible consistent with earning normal profits


Satisficing involves the owners of a business (shareholders)setting minimum acceptable levels of achievement in terms of revenue and profit.

Social enterprises

Businesses with profits reinvested for social aims – profit, people and planet

Evaluation comments on business objectives

  • Most commercial businesses are profit-seeking but they are not profit maximisers at all times
  • Satisficing is the probably the most common approach that businesses take across their different markets
  • Businesses get a feel for changing market conditions and they then learn from experience
  • Actual and potential threats from commercial rivals is important in shaping the behaviour of businesses in contestable, imperfect markets
  • Increasingly, firms are giving more emphasis to social value as well as measures of shareholder return such as the rate of return on capital investment
  • In the long run, firms need to make sufficient profit to remain in a market i.e. at least a normal rate of return.

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