Characteristics of Small Business Operators

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

    The survey is aimed at producing a snapshot picture of the characteristics of small business operators in Australia. The characteristics include age, sex, ethnicity, and hours worked. The survey also measures the characteristics of the small businesses including; state of operation, length of operation, number of operators, number of employees. Data is also published separately for home based businesses.


Small businesses comprise the vast majority of Australian businesses. The importance of the small business sector to the Australian economy is recognised by researchers, government and policy makers as well as the business community as a whole. It is acknowledged that the characteristics and business drivers of small business are potentially very different to those of larger businesses and as such require specific, targeted policy initiatives. Central to the development of effective policy initiatives is a sound understanding of the nature and characteristics of this sector of the business economy.

    The target population for the COSB survey is all households which operate a small business (less than 20 employees in Australia).
    The population includes businesses operated by all persons aged 15 years or over except;
    diplomatic personnel of overseas governments
    • overseas residents temporarily in Australia
    • members of non-Australian defence forces and their dependants stationed in Australia
    • members of the permanent Australian defence forces
    • agricultural businesses


    Conceptual framework
    The conceptual frame work for this supplementary survey is provided by the labour force survey.

    Main outputs
    The main outputs are a printed publication containing summary statistics from the survey.



The ABS standard definition of a small business is used ie. non-employing and employing businesses with less than 20 employees.

The applied definition for a home-based business is a business where:
  • most of the work of the business is carried out at the home(s) of the operators(s), and/or;
  • the business has no other premises owned or rented other than the home(s) of the operator(s)
    Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) (NB. for processing purposes only, data is not output by this classification)
    Australian Standard Geographic Classification
    Australian Standard Classification for Education (ASCED)

      Other concepts (summary)
      There is no definition of a small business operator and other ABS publications do not use the term, or provide statistics about small business operators as a group. However, the expression' small business operator' is one that is often used in research and policy debate and is generally taken to include the following group of people:
      The person or persons who own and run the business. Generally these business operators can be identified as:

      • the proprietor of a sole proprietorship
      • the partners of a partnership
      • the working director(s) of an incorporated company.

      Home based businesses have been identified based on two definitions:
      • where most of the work of the business was carried out at the home(s) of the operator(s) - these businesses are referred to as 'Businesses operated at home'
      • where the business has no other premises owned or rented other than the home(s) of the operator(s) — these businesses are referred to as 'Businesses operated from home'.

      New South Wales
      South Australia
      Western Australia
      Northern Territory

      Comments and/or Other Regions
      No finer geographic breakdown is available, Labour force region is not currently available.


      Frequency comments
      Collection initiated in 1995 as an biennial collection until June 2003. It has now been changed to an annual collection run in June.

      The initial survey was run in February 1995. Subsequent surveys were run in February 1997, November 1999 and June 2001, June 2003 and June 2004. The survey is now conducted annually in June. Every third year the survey content is expanded to include extra topics, June 2005 wwas the first such year. Additional topics have included business growth intentions and barriers to growth, exporting, reasons for business start-up and sources of business advice. The 2005 publication has shown three years worth of data. The 2006 publication will return to a basic short form.


      Data availability comments
      Data available in ABS Cat No. 8127.0

      07/11/2005 04:02 PM