A small business is a business that is privately owned and operated, with a small number of employees and relatively low volume of sales. Small businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships. The legal definition of "small" varies by country and by industry, ranging from fewer than 15 employees under the Australian Fair Work Act 2009, 50 employees in the European Union, and fewer than 500 employees to qualify for many U.S. Small Business Administration programs. Small businesses can also be classified according to other methods such as sales, assets, or net profits.
Small businesses are common in many countries, depending on the economic system in operation. Typical examples include: convenience stores, other small shops (such as a bakery or delicatessen), hairdressers, tradesmen, lawyers, accountants, restaurants, guest houses, photographers, small-scale manufacturing, and online business, such as web design and programming, etc.
The legal definition of "small" varies by country and by industry. In the United States the Small Business Administration establishes small business size standards on an industry-by-industry basis, but generally specifies a small business as having fewer than 500 employees for manufacturing businesses and less than $7 million in annual receipts for most nonmanufacturing businesses. The definition can vary by circumstance – for example, a small business having fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees with average annual wages below $50,000 qualifies for a tax credit under the healthcare reform bill Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
In the European Union, a small business generally has under 50 employees. However, in Australia, a small business is defined by the Fair Work Act 2009 as one with fewer than 15 employees. By comparison, a medium sized business or mid-sized business has under 500 employees in the US, 250 in the European Union and fewer than 200 in Australia.
In addition to number of employees, other methods used to classify small companies include annual sales (turnover), value of assets and net profit (balance sheet), alone or in a mixed definition. These criteria are followed by the European Union, for instance (headcount, turnover and balance sheet totals). Small businesses are usually not dominant in their field of operation.
A small business can be started at a very low cost and on a part-time basis. Small business is also well suited to internet marketing because it can easily serve specialized niches, something that would have been more difficult prior to the internet revolution which began in the late 1990s. Adapting to change is crucial in business and particularly small business; not being tied to any bureaucratic inertia, it is typically easier to respond to the marketplace quickly. Small business proprietors tend to be intimate with their customers and clients which results in greater accountability and maturity.
Independence is another advantage of owning a small business. One survey of small business owners showed that 38% of those who left their jobs at other companies said their main reason for leaving was that they wanted to be their own bosses. Freedom to operate independently is a reward for small business owners. In addition, many people desire to make their own decisions, take their own risks, and reap the rewards of their efforts. Small business owners have the satisfaction of making their own decisions within the constraints imposed by economic and other environmental factors. However, entrepreneurs have to work very long hours and understand that ultimately their customers are their bosses.
Several organizations, in the United States, also provide help for the small business sector, such as the Internal Revenue Service's Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource.
Small businesses often face a variety of problems related to their size. A frequent cause of bankruptcy is undercapitalization. This is often a result of poor planning rather than economic conditions - it is common rule of thumb that the entrepreneur should have access to a sum of money at least equal to the projected revenue for the first year of business in addition to his anticipated expenses. For example, if the prospective owner thinks that he will generate $100,000 in revenues in the first year with $150,000 in start-up expenses, then he should have no less than $250,000 available. Failure to provide this level of funding for the company could leave the owner liable for all of the company's debt should he end up in bankruptcy court, under the theory of undercapitalization.
In addition to ensuring that the business has enough capital, the small business owner must also be mindful of contribution margin (sales minus variable costs). To break even, the business must be able to reach a level of sales where the contribution margin equals fixed costs. When they first start out, many small business owners underprice their products to a point where even at their maximum capacity, it would be impossible to break even. Cost controls or price increases often resolve this problem.
Another problem for many small businesses is termed the 'Entrepreneurial Myth' or E-Myth. The mythic assumption is that an expert in a given technical field will also be expert at running that kind of business. Additional business management skills are needed to keep a business running smoothly.
Still another problem for many small businesses is the capacity of much larger businesses to influence or sometimes determine their chances for success.
Being a successful business person, one has to go through mistakes and problems and try to learn from them. Business people know and realize that a mistake is only really a mistake if you don't learn from it, which will make you prone to doing it again. Otherwise when you learn from it, it makes you a better business person. You will never forget what you learned from a mistake and how it made you a better person.
Finding new customers is the major challenge for Small business owners. Small businesses typically find themselves strapped for time but in order to create a continual stream of new business, they must work on marketing their business every day.
Common marketing techniques for small business include networking, word of mouth, customer referrals, yellow pages directories, television, radio, outdoor (roadside billboards), print, email marketing, and internet. Electronic media like TV can be quite expensive and is normally intended to create awareness of a product or service.
Many small business owners find internet marketing more affordable. Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing are two popular options of getting small business products or services in front of motivated Web searchers. Successful online small business marketers are also adept at utilizing the most relevant keywords in their site content. Advertising on niche sites can also be effective, but with the long tail of the internet, it can be time intensive to advertise on enough sites to garner an effective reach.
Creating a business Web site has become increasingly affordable with many do-it-yourself programs now available for beginners. A Web site can provide significant marketing exposure for small businesses when marketed through the Internet and other channels. Some popular services are WordPress, Joomla and Squarespace.
Social media has proven to be very useful in gaining additional exposure for many small businesses. Many small business owners use Facebook and Twitter as a way to reach out to their loyal customers to give them news about specials of the day or special coupons and generate repeat business. The relational nature of social media, along with its immediacy and 24-hour presence lend intimacy to the relationship small businesses can have with their customers, while making it more efficient for them to communicate with greater numbers. Facebook ads are also a very cost-effective way for small businesses to reach a targeted audience with a very specific message.
In addition to the social networking sites, blogs have become a highly effective way for small businesses to position themselves as experts on issues that are important to their customers. This can be done with a proprietary blog and/or by using a backlink strategy wherein the marketer comments on other blogs and leaves a link to the small business' own Web site.
A solid public relations strategy that utilizes speaking engagements, press releases, feature stories, events and sponsorships can also be a very cost-effective way to build a loyal following for a small business.