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Depending on your industry, a small business could be defined as business with a maximum of 250 employees or a maximum of 1,500 employees. They’re privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships that have less revenue than larger businesses.
With 28 million small businesses making up 99.7% of all U.S. firms, small business is big for the United States’s economy.
But what exactly do these small businesses look like?
The government—specifically the Small Business Administration—can help you answer that question.
Here’s exactly how the SBA defines small business and why they set these definitions in the first place.
The SBA sets numerical definitions, or “size standards,” for every non-profit small business in the United States—based on the business’s number of employees and average annual receipts.
But these size standards aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.
Instead, the definition of a small business depends on the kind of industry you’re in.
Depending on your industry, a small business could be defined as a maximum of 250 employees or a maximum of 1,500 employees—which might not seem like such a “small” business, at least to a solopreneur.
Or they could be defined by a maximum of $750,000 to $38.5 million in average annual receipts.
Because there’s no one answer for the definition of small business, let’s break down the definition, industry by industry.
The SBA has a comprehensive table of standards, breaking down the acceptable sizes of small businesses by industry (and sub-industries, even).
But here’s a summary of the size definition by larger industries:
There are many other sectors that the SBA sets exact size standards for, so check out their table of size standards to see if your specific business makes the cut for small business.
When you take a look at the different size standards defined by the SBA, you might think that all small businesses are actually pretty big in the United States.
However, to put these size standards into context, small businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up 89.6% of all U.S. business enterprises. And on top of that, 23 million businesses in the United States actually have no employees at all—meaning there’s only an owner going about business by themselves.
Beyond hard numbers, the SBA also looks at these qualifications to determine whether a company should be distinguished as a “small business”:
Why does the SBA set a cap for small businesses in the U.S.?
The SBA has a set definition for an official small business to help protect and promote small businesses in the larger economy.
The definition of a small business (adjusted by each industry) is an important measure to help the smaller guys go up against the big, market-share holders in their industry.
It’s meant to help small businesses score business loans from the government (or SBA loans), win contracts with the government, and access general tools that can help them compete against larger corporations.
And when you put this in context, when a small business owner running a soda distribution company with only 30 employees needs to acquire a small business loan or strike a deal with a local or state government, they have tools and resources in place to access what they need when they’re going up against Coca-Cola.
But on the flip side of this argument, some businesses with 1,500 employees are still considered “small” and technically have the same protections in place as a 10-person small business in their industry—so sometimes the size standard might not benefit the nation’s smallest businesses.
If you consider yourself a small business owner, then odds are you probably do run a small business.
However, if there’s a chance that your average annual receipts might tip you over the edge, calculate your business’s size before you apply for any government funding or government contracts.
This could be as easy as checking the SBA’s chart of size standards and adding up the number of people employed by your business, or you might need to do a quick calculation to determine your annual receipts.
Either way, it’s best to be in the know before you apply for business funding!