Go Figure

Calculating the number of U.S. small businesses is an inexact science

How many small businesses are there? Depends who's counting, but here are the various tallies so far:

The Small Business Administration finds 25.5 million. The SBA's Office of Advocacy counts 18 million. The National Federation of Independent Business says there are 12 million. Dun & Bradstreet Corp. has 11.4 million small companies in its database, a number it believes is "very close" to the actual total.

What gives? The SBA counts each business tax return as a full-fledged business, even though a third are filed by part-timers. Its advocacy office combines 12 million self-employed with 5.75 million employer firms. The NFIB uses census data to estimate the number of full-time business owners. To get into the D&B database, a spokesman says a business has to be "commercially active and competitive." So, pick a number, any number.