According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), a small business is a business with fewer than 500 employees. Well, sort of. Most of the time. Maybe, under certain circumstances.
Small Business Loan Statistics & Definitions
As it turns out, what counts as a “Small Business” often depends on the type of business being discussed and not always what’s in your accounts receivable (AR) or payable (AP). Sometimes the number of employees involved goes well beyond 500; in other cases it’s as low as 250. In some industries, the number of employees isn’t the issue so much as the dollar value of the business in terms of annual income OR annual employment costs (again – sort of, mostly, in general).
The SBA document breaking this all down is 49 pages long. I kid you not. Then again, considering that the SBA, however useful, is still a function of the U.S. Government, I suppose we should be thankful it’s not 4,900 pages.
If you do Construction Sand and Gravel Mining, Industrial Sand Mining, or Ceramic and Refractory Mining, and have fewer than 500 employees, you’re a small business. If you do Kaolin and Ball Clay Mining or Potash, Soda, and Borate Mining, you can have up to 750 employees and still be a small business. For Phosphate Rock Mining you’re allowed up to 1,000 people without losing your “small business” designation.
Crude Petroleum Extraction or Natural Gas Extraction can go up to 1,250 warm bodies and still be considered a “small business,” while in Bituminous Coal Underground Mining or Gold Ore mining you can retain your “small business” status with anything fewer than 1,500 employees.
You get the idea.
If your business is Men’s Clothing, you can make or hire up to $11 million annually and still be “small.” For Women’s Clothing, however, that range goes up to $27.5 million. Children and Infants’ Clothing, $32.5 million, which you should not confuse with a Family Clothing Store, which is still small up to $38.5 million. “Other Clothing Stores” cap out at $20.5 million, unless they’re a Shoe Store, which is still a small business until it consistently passes $27.5 million.
The point is, it’s different depending on what you do. This matters when we get to specific business loan statistics. The needs of large “small businesses” aren’t the same as those of smaller versions, just like the needs of one industry aren’t always the same as those of others.
Wait, but Small Means Small
Still, if you’re like me, none of these are what you first think of when you’re talking about “small business.” And you’re not wrong.
About 80% of small businesses have ZERO employees. Of those who do, most have fewer than five. On the other hand, the overall average number of employees for ALL small businesses hovers at around 12. That’s possible because small businesses who do have employees may have up to 500 in most cases before their classification changes.
This matters because when we’re talking about “small business loans” or “small business loan statistics,” we mean all of them – those with no employees, those with two or three, and those with hundreds. Together, these small businesses have created nearly twice as many net new jobs as large businesses since 2000, even though small businesses tended to be hit harder by the pandemic than major corporations.
Small businesses are a big deal.
Who’s Starting These Small Businesses?
Entrepreneurship is about three things: the “good idea,” the perseverance to make it work, and the willingness to take risks with absolutely no guarantee of reward. The first two aren’t easy by any stretch, but it’s that last one that bewilders those who aren’t entrepreneurs. They simply can’t imagine why you’d do what you do or give up what you give up, knowing full well that even if you do everything right, it might not work.
Of course, for entrepreneurs the answer is simple: because it might.
Here are some highlights from the extensive statistics compiled by the U.S. Small Business Administration regarding who makes up the thirty million plus small business owners in the U.S. at the moment. Note that most of these statistics are pre-pandemic or include only the early months of the pandemic. Data from 2020-2021 is still in flux.
- Just over a THIRD (36.3%) are women.
- Almost a THIRD are (29.3%) minority-owned. About 12.2% are Hispanic-owned and another 9.5% are African American.
- A little under a ONE in TEN (9.3%) are veterans.
- Nearly 15% are started and owned by immigrants.
- Only about 4% are under the age of 30. Another 14% are 30 – 39.
- Things really start cooking at 40, it seems. Roughly 25%, or ONE QUARTER small business owners are between 40 – 49, and 35%, over a THIRD, are 50 – 59.
- Not that their elders are slacking. The remaining 22%, still more than ONE in FIVE are over the age of 60.
- Almost exactly a THIRD have a High School Diploma or GED as their highest academic achievements, at least in terms of traditional education.
- Nearly HALF have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree, leaving about One in FIVE with a Masters or Doctorate.
How Are Small Businesses Structured?
This is by far the most common structure for a beginning business. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of all businesses (of any size) in the U.S. are sole proprietorships. That percentage is even higher (86%) for businesses with no employees. A much smaller percentage (14%) of businesses with employees are organized as sole proprietorships.
The sole proprietorship is one of the easiest types of business to establish in terms of paperwork and tax obligations. Essentially, if you start doing any sort of work for which you receive payment or hope to receive payment, but you’re not technically an employee of someone else, then you’re a sole proprietor. Local entertainers, business consultants, or freelance writers are common examples of sole proprietorship.
It might not always be obvious from the name. Sole Proprietors sometimes do business as themselves (“Bob Frankenfurter, Magician”) or file for a DBA – “doing business as” (“Magic-In-A-Jiffy Entertainment”). Either way, you are the business and the business is you. That makes the paperwork a little easier, although you’ll need to file an additional page or two with your personal income taxes to include any business expenses or income.
All business-related decision-making is entirely yours as well. Whether you work twenty hours a week or sixty, whether you re-invest every dollar or give yourself some flexibility through a business funding loan, it’s all up to you. One hundred percent.
Finally, of course, any profits or benefits are 100% yours – as are losses and liabilities. You’re taking all the risk, so you get all the rewards as well as any failures. That includes any consequences from employee behavior as well. While most businesses with no employees are sole proprietorships, many sole proprietorships have several employees. If one of them screws up and damage is done, a lawsuit is filed, or money is lost, the owner is responsible just as if he or she did it themselves.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of all businesses (of any size) in the U.S. are sole proprietorships.
You think marriage requires communication and compatibility? Try going into business together. Only about 8% of businesses in the U.S. are partnerships.
As the name suggests, a partnership is the combined ownership of two or more people. It is otherwise similar to a sole proprietorship, other than in how liability is distributed. Like sole proprietorships, partnerships are a “pass-through” business structure, meaning both profits and obligations (like taxes) “pass through” the company to the individuals in charge. Profits are taxed just like any other income.
In a Limited Partnership (LP), one partner carries unlimited liability for any negatives which may occur while the other partner’s (or partners’) liability is legally limited. As you might suspect, this changes the power structure as well. Partners with limited liability also have limited direct control, the details of which are spelled out in their collective partnership agreement.
The alternative is a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), in which all partners have limited liability and – unless otherwise specified in their agreement – share equal control over the business. LLPs protect partners from debts or other liabilities of either the business itself OR the other partner(s). The advantages of such protection are obvious.
Only about 2% of NSBA members indicated their business was a either an Limited Partnership or Limited Liability Partnership. That doesn’t make it a bad idea – just less common than other forms.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
The Limited Liability Company structure allows business owners to retain the liability protection of a corporation while being taxed as a sole proprietor or partnership. Even if the business goes south, faces legal assaults, or otherwise ends up on the dark side of business loan statistics, the powers-that-be cannot come take your car, your house, or your personal financial resources to satisfy the debts of your business or any claims against it. It’s a whole separate entity, at least legally.
LLCs dissolve easily upon the death or other removal of any of the owners or partners, or after a set amount of time – usually thirty years. They are very popular for mid-sized and growing businesses. However, for the nice compromise they offer between operating as a sole proprietorship vs. a large corporation.
Just over a third (35%) of National Small Business Association (NSBA) members report their business as an LLC.
Now, some of you just did some quick math in your heads and started shouting at the screen (at least internally) that we’ve now categorized something like 116% of all small businesses – and we haven’t even covered C-Corps or S-Corps yet!
Take a breath… It’s not as bad as it sounds. LLCs are a tax structure for sole proprietorships or partnerships, not a whole separate thing – at least in terms of how the government likes to categorize things when it’s compiling statistics. We may live in some pretty strange times, but we’re still only going to have 100% of businesses categorized by the time we’re finished!
Corporations (sometimes called “C-Corps”) are, legally speaking, entirely separate from their owners. They profit as legal entities, pay taxes as legal entities, may sue or be sued as legal entities, and since 2010, they have many of the same Bill of Rights protections as individuals do – at least according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The major advantage of a corporation is that “separateness.” While the business may suffer, the individual cannot be held personally responsible for the company’s losses, actions, or other liabilities. On the flip side, there’s all the paperwork associated with incorporation. Just hearing or reading the term “corporation” conjures images of large rooms full of desks with people filing folders and filling out forms and delivering reports or requests up and down the hierarchy. What we see all the time in corporate environments from movies or TV shows may be a bit clichéd, but it’s not entirely unfounded.
Corporations pay taxes on their profits (assuming they make them) and again when shareholders receive dividends. This is sometimes referred to as “double taxation.” Individual shareholders are required to report profit from stocks on their personal tax returns, which brings up another feature of corporations – they can sell stock to generate capital.
Approximately one-quarter (25%) of small businesses in the U.S. with at least one employee are C-Corps.
An S Corp is not an entirely distinct form of a business organization so much as a tax structure. The name comes, in fact, from Chapter 1, Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code, which addresses corporate taxation.
Plus, it’s catchy. “S Corp” kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
The central feature of an S Corp is that it allows your business to avoid that “double taxation” issue mentioned above for C Corps. The corporation does not pay corporate taxes; all profits (or losses) are passed along directly to shareholders, who include them on their personal tax returns. At the same time, ownership maintains limited liability as they would with an LLC or Corporation.
In exchange for these benefits, S Corps have limits in terms of the number of investors the law allows and the types of stockholders they can have. S Corps may have no more than 100 shareholders and only one type of stock, and shareholders must be U.S. citizens or legal residents. (With corporations, investors can be virtually anyone, including other corporations or partnerships.)
S Corps are still a very popular with small businesses. Just over half (50.5%) of all small businesses in the U.S. with at least one employee are S-Corps.
Where Is The Money Coming From?
The most recent NSBA survey found that about a third of small businesses who responded reported no need to borrow money or expend extra capital during the previous year (2017). Another third reported using revenue from the business to expand or do whatever else they needed to do, and similar numbers indicated the use of a business credit card in the mix. (Respondents could indicate more than one source of financing during the year.)
Roughly a third indicated a bank or credit union loan of some sort. 13% borrowed from friends or family, 12% received some sort of extended credit from vendors, and 3% managed to secure “Angel Investors.” There were miscellaneous variations if you’d like to read the rest of it – it’s quite interesting for a table of numbers.
By the Numbers:
That’s business success. When it comes to business failures, the numbers are much more consistent. 82 percent of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems. That’s a big deal, my friend. That offsets a whole lot of other business loan statistics.
Why Do Entrepreneurs Take Out Business Loans?
We’ve talked before about different sorts of business loans and what requirements various business financing lenders are most likely to have. Both are worth revisiting if you’re considering a small business loan. For now, we’ll recap a few general things, then talk about where you go from here.
Most small businesses take out loans for one of four general reasons:
This one makes plenty of sense. If your business is brand new, you probably haven’t made much money with it yet. Duh.
If you use traditional lenders, you’ll most likely need to either establish a long, solid personal credit history or be able to offer up sufficient collateral, as well as provide a fully documented business plan. Online business lenders have specific requirements as well, but tend to be somewhat more flexible and eager to earn your business – although interest rates may reflect the increased risk they’re willing to take on you.
What a great problem to have. You need more space and more equipment. You need more people. Growth is great, but remember that it has to be the right growth at the right time in the right way. Work with the lender of your choice to discuss manageable debt – low enough that you’re confident about timely repayment, but high enough to finance the meaningful growth you need.
Another good problem, although this one can reflect the seasonal nature of your business as much as actual sustained growth. Maybe your business includes a retail or rental element, or maybe your service requires a ready supply of parts or equipment. Either way, flexible financing can help you meet customer needs quickly and effectively, which in turn means you keep needing more.
This can mean a range of things. From bill consolidation at the business level to ensuring the underlying structure of the business and your business plan are solid. It might also include, however, your long-term goal to have established credit down the road should you ever require substantial financing for growth, updates, or any other major need.
If you’ve started your own business, you’re clearly not afraid of hard work. You’re apparently not adverse to risk, either. It’s possible, therefore, that in previous years you’ve taken risks which haven’t worked out, despite your best efforts. Or, maybe you haven’t always been the person you are now, and your credit history reflects that. Sometimes we can do EVERYTHING right and life still hits us with unexpected expenses and challenges which impact our credit rating and our cash flow. That can make it tricky when it’s time to figure out how to finance a business.
Small Business Loans
Small business loans now, which you consistently and intentionally repay according to whatever agreement you’ve worked out with your lender, can be useful for current practical needs while helping you build or rebuild your credit – individually or as a business – towards the future.
I’ve spoken with numerous entrepreneurs whose local banks or credit unions were entirely sympathetic, but simply unwilling to work with them on a small business loan without co-signers, collateral, or other impracticality in place to protect the institution’s interest. That’s fair. They’re businesses, too, and businesses have to minimize risk in hopes of making a profit.
It’s because of circumstances like yours, however, that organizations like Loanry exist. It’s the 21st century, and we have more options than ever before when it comes to the music we choose to listen to, the way we access movies, TV shows, or other forms of episodic programming, the cell phones we buy, the electronic devices we use, the social media platforms we prefer… we can even pick and choose from potential mates through and endless array of dating apps and services.
If you wouldn’t take the very first match that comes up on DearGodPleaseDateMe.com, why would you not look at all of your options to learn which small business loans might be right for you? That would be unnecessarily careless and a tad irresponsible, don’t you think?
All Types of Business Loans
I’m not suggesting you simply Google all business loans and then take your chances with the top search result or highest-paid banner ad which appears. That would be even worse than not looking online at all, in my humble opinion. But, as it turns out, we can help in that department. (I know – what a coincidence!) See, we’ll ask you for some basic information about yourself and what you’re looking for, then connect you with verified lenders we think best match your needs.
Then, you talk to them. They talk to you. See if you hit it off. See if the vibe feels right. Maybe some magic happens and you decide to borrow and they decide to lend and a long-term relationship develops. Or maybe it doesn’t – no worries, there are plenty more out there. That’s the great thing about the freedom such a variety of lenders give you. Instead of you going around, hat in hand, trying to persuade guys in suits or tense blondes in pencil skirts that you really do have a great business idea, you become the customer. Lenders compete for your business by trying to offer you the best terms they can manage. All we do is help you connect with the right people to get started.
Blaine Koehn is a former small business manager, long-time educator, and seasoned consultant. He’s worked in both the public and private sectors while riding the ups-and-downs of self-employment and independent contracting for nearly two decades. His self-published resources have been utilized by thousands of educators as he’s shared his experiences and ideas in workshops across the Midwest. Blaine writes about money management and decision-making for those new to the world of finance or anyone simply sorting through their fiscal options in complicated times.