What is a SME or SMB?

An SME is a "Small or Medium Enterprise" and a SMB is a "Small or Medium Business" – different words but the same thing - both relating to the size of a business enterprise.

So what size businesses or enterprises fits into each category? 

This depends on the country. Smaller economies have smaller businesses falling into this category than in larger economies. 


The size is defined either by the number of employees, annual sales, assets or any combination of these. In some countries like the US and China it varies from industry to industry. SME's make up a significant part of the Global Economy and make up the vast majority of businesses in most countries.

According to U.S. Census Bureau Data from 2016, there are 5.6 million employer firms in the U.S.:
  • 5.58 million had fewer than 500 employees
  • 5.50 million had fewer than 100 employees
  • 4.98 million had fewer than 20 employees
Around the world SME’s are important drivers of economic growth, innovation, and diversity. In order to encourage their growth many countries grant SME’s tax concessions and financial incentives.
Most SMEs are in industries that don't require large initial capital investments and there are a growing number of online businesses.

SME Definition - European Union (EU)

The European system takes into account a business’s turnover rate and its balance sheet.

Company Category
Staff Headcount
Balance Sheet Total
 <€ 50 m
<€ 43 m
<€ 10 m
 <€ 10 m
<€ 2 m
 <€ 2 m

*From the European Commission Definition

SME Definition - UK

There is no standard for defining SME's in the UK. The most generally accepted classification is the one used by the EU.

SME Definition - US

In the U.S., the definition of an SME varies by industry and even within sectors.

For example 

  • In manufacturing, an SME is defined as having 500 employees or less, whereas in wholesale trades an SME has 100 employees or less. 
  • In Mining, Quarrying and Oil and Gas Extraction, an SME in Copper Ore and Nickel Ore Mining can have up to 1,500 employees whereas Silver Ore Mining can only have up to 250 employees.

SME Definition - Canada

In Canada the term SME refers to businesses with fewer than 500 employees and less than $50 million in revenue.

A small goods-producing business will have fewer than 100 employees with a small service-based business will have less than 50. 

A micro-business is defined as a business with fewer than five employees.

SME Definition - China

China's definition of an SME varies by industry. Here are some examples:

Heavy Industry
< 1000
≤ $58 m
Wholesale Trade
< 200
≤ $58 m
< 300
≤ $14 m
< 300
≤ $14 m
Information Transmission
< 2000
≤ $145 m

About the Author Patrick

A “nevertiree.” Passionate about small business success and teaching. Every day a learner and excited by all the opportunities available today. On a mission to help SME owners find their way to financial freedom.

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