May 25, 2008

The Ambiguity of Small Business Definition

When different people are using the phrase ‘small business’, do they refer to a common set of definitions? Like, how many employees are listed in the payroll? Or, the number of years it’s operative? A literature review of 23 papers, which have been published from 1958 to 2002, tries to shed light on this issue. The review revealed an inconsistency regarding both characterization and definition of small business. The variety of definition used in these papers unable to set an agreeable format for small business definition. Mayer and Goldstein (1961) define small business as an employer of less then 200 employees. Potts (1977) set the barrier on 20 employees in addition to a minimum eight years that the business is operative. Robinson (1982) define firm as small if the number of employees is less then 50, the annual sales is under three million dollars and it’s operate as sole ownership. Covin and Slevin (1989) define small business according to number of employees - more then five or less then 500, as well as a minimum of five years that the business is operative. Rue and Ibrahim (1998) define small firm as an employer of more then 15 employees. Perry (2001) set an upper limit of 500 employees as a sole identifier for business to be regard as small. The review clarify that the ambiguity is stable over time. The lack of uniform definition in the sixtieth continued throughout the decades into the millennium. The industries targeted by the different scholars do have one common base; the focus was on industries with low to average economic growth such as manufacturing, trade (retail, wholesale) and service.

Scholars have addressed the problematicalness regarding the inconsistency of small business definition for quite time, Golde (1964) which examine small manufacturing employers with less then 500 employees, argue that it’s an arbitrarily definition which can adequately feet non manufacturing firms. Welsh and White (1981) claims that small business tend to group in certain industries, such as – wholesalers, retailers, service and manufacturing. Peterson et al., (1986) note that the most common definition is the one that used by the Small Business Administration (SBA), in part, that definition state that small business can be define as one if both its ownership and operation conducted independently, and it’s not dominant at the industry which is operate in. D'amboise and Muldowney (1988) write about the complexity of small business definition, which can be a result of the variety and different types of firms this phrase try to encompass. Pickle and Abrahamson (1990) address the question, what is a small business? There answer is that some will regard small business as such if it’s employ certain number of employees, others will claim that small business is one that limits his operation to local market, and part will classify business as small according to it’s nature (e.g., local pharmacy, clothing store, jewelry store).