What is the failure rate of small businesses?

Key Takeaways:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that around 20% of small businesses fail within their first year, and around 50% fail within their fifth year.
  • The failure rate can vary greatly based on industry, business health, and reporting accuracy. Understanding the variables and caveats of the data is crucial in interpreting it correctly.
  • People tend to overestimate the failure rate of small businesses, leading to unfair discouragement for entrepreneurs. Context and an understanding of risk can help maintain a realistic and pragmatic outlook.

The true failure rate of small businesses

As a small business owner, the fear of failure is always in the back of my mind. That’s why I was curious to uncover the true failure rate of small businesses. After scouring the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, it became clear that the subject is more complicated than I initially thought.

In this section, I’ll share what I found about the widely-circulated statistics on small business failure rates. I’ll also explore the variables and caveats embedded within the data, shedding light on what the statistics really mean for entrepreneurs like myself.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data on small business failure rates

The data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on small business failure rates provides relevant insights into understanding how and when businesses tend to fail. The variables and caveats in the data include the definition of failure, annual variance, outlier events, industry variance, reporting, and business health.

The table below highlights the true failure rate of small businesses based on various industries:

Industry Failure Rate
Construction 36.4%
Educational Services 40.6%
Finance and Insurance 30.5%
Health Care and Social Assistance 33.9%
Information 32.2%
Manufacturing 39.6%
Mining 14.9%
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services 38.5%
Real Estate and Rental and Leasing 45.1%
Retail Trade 41.1%

It is essential to understand these variables to avoid overestimating the small business failure rate or unfairly discouraging entrepreneurs from starting a new business venture due to trivial “truths” about business ownership. Pro Tip: Use statistics to stay realistic about calculating risks based on the failure rates for different industries before starting any business or investment venture in any industry segment.

Before believing the small business failure rate stats, consider variables like definition of failure, annual variance, outlier events, industry variance, reporting, and business health.

Variables and caveats in the data

The small business failure rate has been the topic of much discussion, however, there are variables and caveats in the data that need to be considered. Here are some important details to consider when interpreting small business failure rates:

Variable Detail
Definition of Failure There are varying definitions of what constitutes a “failed” small business, including closure due to bankruptcy or other reasons. This can lead to discrepancies in reported failure rates.
Annual Variance It’s important to note that the failure rate can vary greatly from year-to-year due to factors such as economic changes, regulatory changes, and market trends.
Outlier Events Single outlier events, such as a pandemic or natural disaster, can significantly impact small business failure rates.
Industry Variance Failure rates can also differ depending on the industry in which the small business operates. For example, restaurants and retail businesses might have higher failure rates than consulting firms or tech startups.
Reporting The accuracy of reporting on small business failures can vary depending on factors such as whether data is self-reported by businesses or collected by government agencies.
Business Health Overall health and profitability of a small business may not always be reflected in the failure rate data.

It’s crucial to understand these variables and caveats when assessing small business failure rates so we can draw accurate conclusions about how and when businesses tend to fail. Additionally, people often overestimate the failure rate of small businesses; understanding context avoids discouraging entrepreneurs unfairly.

To help avoid overestimating the risk, it is crucial to use statistics to stay pragmatic. By keeping track of industry-specific data, analyzing annual variance trends, and focusing on accurate reporting sources rather than sensational news stories providing more realistic risks assessment.

Understanding unique details like those highlighted above allows for better risk assessment for those considering starting a new venture or investing in an existing one.

“Why failure isn’t just falling down, it’s failing to get back up” – the tricky definition of failure in small business.

Definition of failure

Small Business Failure Rate is complex as different factors could contribute to the failure of small businesses. One important aspect of Small Business Failure Rate is the Definition of Failure, which impacts the accuracy and reliability of data. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data defines a failed business as one that has terminated its operations permanently. Businesses could fail due to various reasons such as financial problems, lack of market demand or legal issues.

It’s crucial to take into account several variables and limitations in the data when using this definition to calculate Small Business Failure Rates. Some significant variables that impact Small Business Failure Rates are Annual Variance, Outlier Events, Industry Variance, Reporting Accuracy, and Business Health.

Reporting Accuracy plays a critical role in defining a failed business, and there may be discrepancies in reporting standards by businesses across industries. Therefore, it’s imperative to consider these limitations when interpreting Small Business Failure Rates.

Pro Tip: Use multiple sources to gauge the accuracy of your research on Small Business Failure Rates.

Small business failure rates fluctuate like the stock market – just without the potential for a soaring comeback.

Annual variance

Small business failure rates have annual variance due to several variables and caveats in the data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on small business failure rates, but there are key factors that influence annual variance. These variables and caveats include the definition of failure, outlier events, industry variance, reporting, and business health.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics table on small business survivability rates from 1994-2019, annual variance in small business failures is observable. For example, in 2018, there were 775,867 new businesses formed and 641,437 closures or bankruptcies. However, in the following year (2019), there were 804,398 new businesses formed and only 633,020 closures or bankruptcies. This indicates a decrease in the percentage of failing businesses between those two years.

Year New Businesses Formed Business Closures/Bankruptcies
2018 775,867 641,437
2019 804,398 633,020

While variations occur annually within different industries due to external factors such as economic conditions or market trends that affect all businesses within an industry equally – these tend to be anomalies rather than expected frequencies. Annual variation extends not only across industries but individual circumstances unique to each company’s operations.

It is crucial for entrepreneurs not to overestimate annual variance when it comes to small business failures since it varies from year to year based on multiple factors mentioned above which none can control entirely. Entrepreneurs must analyze their data and the current economic climate to calculate their risks realistically and pragmatically.

Fear of missing out may force novice entrepreneurs to start a business without proper planning or understanding the context around annual variance. Knowing risk factors aids in proper preparation, fewer hit-and-miss strategies, and one increases their chances of being part of the small businesses that overcome statistics in succeeding. If only outlier events could be as easily eliminated as the outlying relative at family gatherings.

Outlier events

The small business failure rate data is affected by outlier events, which deviate significantly from the normal pattern. Outliers can distort the average and make it hard to draw accurate conclusions. These events can include economic crises, natural disasters, and major policy changes. While these are infrequent occurrences, they represent a significant threat to the survival of businesses within their sphere of influence.

These events can cause a sudden spike in failure rates that would otherwise be low. One such example is the 2008 global financial crisis that resulted in a sharp increase in business failures across several industries. Such events are unpredictable, making it tough for entrepreaneurs to forecast risk effectively.

It’s crucial to consider outlier events while interpreting small business failure rates since they can have a disproportionate impact on the industry or region under consideration. An understanding of these events allows entrepreneurs to create contingency plans and prepare for the worst-case scenarios- preventing unnecessary losses.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy was Category 3 storm causing considerable damages to New York’s economy and infrastructure. It had disastrous effects on small businesses especially around coastal areas where many firms had insurance but could not claim due to lack of flood coverage provision in their policies.

Industries with lower failure rates than a Tinder date: exploring the variability in small business success within different industries.

Industry variance

When analyzing the failure rate of small businesses, it’s important to consider the variability across different industries. The data shows that industry variance is a crucial factor to keep in mind when assessing business success rates. Some industries have a higher likelihood of failing than others, and this can be due to many factors such as market saturation, competition, and economic conditions unique to that industry. It’s essential not to generalize or assume one industry’s failure rate applies broadly. Understanding industry variance can help entrepreneurs make informed decisions concerning their business plans and risk management strategies.

A deeper understanding of industry variance may reveal patterns related to success or failure rates within specific sectors. For example, service-oriented industries tend to have lower bankruptcy rates than manufacturing companies because they do not require significant upfront capital investments. Accounting for these factors enables entrepreneurs and industry experts alike to develop more targeted approaches in areas that pose higher risks.

Pro Tip: Understanding your own company’s position in relation to the matched industries is vital for successful business management.

Sometimes the real failure is not in the business itself, but in the way it’s reported.


The process of collecting and presenting data is known as reporting. In the context of small business failure rates, reporting refers to the ways in which businesses report their financial health to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is crucial because failure rates are calculated based on this data. Without accurate and timely reporting, the statistics will be inaccurate and misleading.

It should be noted that not all businesses may report their failures depending on certain circumstances like bankruptcy or foreclosure. Reporting requirements differ dependant on factors such as location, type, size, and industry of the business. Failure to meet these specific requirements would result in unreported information reflecting a lower rate than it should ideally have been.

Additionally, Business owners who perceive business failure as socially unacceptable may report that their business failed for reasons other than financial distress. Such entrepreneurs often resort to concealing weakness from stakeholders within corporations or private organizations impeding realistic calculated risk-taking for potential entrepreneurs.

According to Bureau Labor Statistics from 2018; “the average annual rate at which employer firms entered or exited the economy grew from 10% during much of the period between 1990 and 2005”.

Keeping your business healthy is the key to avoiding becoming a statistic in the Bureau of Labor’s data on small business failures.

Business health

Statistics on small business failure rates indicate that understanding the ‘Business health’ of an enterprise plays a critical role in its longevity. Several factors affect a company’s financial well-being, including revenue generated, cash flow management, and the ability to adapt to changes.

Businesses with poor financial health tend to have high debt-to-equity ratios, low cash balances, poor credit scores, or inadequate reserves for unexpected expenses. In addition to these factors affecting the business health of a company, lack of proper management can also impact it negatively. A successful entrepreneur should establish good operational processes that promote transparency and accountability. Involving all stakeholders in strategic decision-making and fostering an environment of trust and collaboration can enhance a company’s performance.

Understanding the nuances surrounding what affects business health is key. It is important to note that businesses operate within different contexts and environments that affect their overall success or failure rate, and therefore understanding industry variance is crucial in determining if there are unique factors at play.

To ensure optimal business health, companies should focus on tracking their financial performance regularly through metrics such as cash flow analysis or inventory turnover ratio. Performing regular audits may also help in identifying any areas that require attention and prompt corrective action where necessary.

Moreover, implementing effective marketing strategies aimed at improving brand awareness can contribute positively towards strengthening business health by boosting sales revenue through expanded customer base.

Understanding the true failure rate of small businesses can help entrepreneurs calculate risk and stay realistic in their endeavors.

Why the failure rate matters

As someone who has started a small business in the past, the failure rate of small businesses is an understandably concerning topic. In this segment, we’ll take a closer look at why the failure rate matters and its potential implications for entrepreneurs. We’ll examine the common reasons why small businesses tend to fail and identify the crucial periods during which businesses are most vulnerable.

Additionally, we’ll explore how calculating risk based on failure rates can help entrepreneurs stay informed and proactive when it comes to their own businesses. Finally, we’ll discuss the importance of using statistics to approach entrepreneurship realistically and pragmatically, while avoiding common pitfalls.

Understanding how and when businesses tend to fail

Small business failure rates vary significantly based on multiple variables such as industry anomalies, reporting practices, and annual inconsistencies. Despite this unpredictability, understanding how and when businesses tend to fail can inform entrepreneurs about calculated risk-taking.

The data reveals that a majority of small businesses tend to fail within their first five years due to weak financial planning and undercapitalization. However, factors such as location, market saturation, and competition can also lead to business failures. To mitigate the impact of these factors and increase the likelihood of success, entrepreneurs should focus on market research, effective financial management strategies, and adjust business models according to context.

Pro Tip: Having a good understanding of industry trends and emerging opportunities can help small businesses stay ahead of the competition while maintaining financial stability.

Knowing the failure rates of small businesses can help entrepreneurs calculate risk and avoid becoming just another statistic.

Calculating risk based on failure rates

To assess the level of risk when starting a small business, it is crucial to understand the failure rates associated with them. A closer look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on small business failure rates can provide insight into this. The table below shows the number of small businesses that failed in 2019, broken down by industry.

Industry Number of Failed Small Businesses
Retail 35,595
Construction 13,130
Professional and Business Services 8,942
Accommodation and Food Service 8,554

While these figures are helpful in determining the likelihood of a small business’s success in a given industry, there are other important variables and caveats to consider. For instance, outlier events or annual variance in reporting can cause significant fluctuations in failure rates from year to year. It’s essential to keep these circumstances in mind when calculating risk based on failure rates. One unique detail to consider is that people often overestimate the failure rate of small businesses. This tendency may stem from societal norms that place undue emphasis on successful ventures while ignoring those that fail. However, understanding context is necessary to avoid dissuading budding entrepreneurs unfairly. A true fact corroborating this text’s content comes from Forbes magazine’s statistics showing how daunting it is to start a new venture: only two out of ten businesses survive their first year. Numbers don’t lie, using statistics can help keep your business dreams in check.

Using statistics to stay realistic and pragmatic

Utilizing statistical data aids in maintaining a practical and sensible approach when managing small business risks. It allows entrepreneurs to assess the likelihood of failure and implement necessary measures. By recognizing the chances of failure, business owners can make informed decisions that increase their probability of success.

When using statistics to stay realistic and pragmatic, one must acknowledge its limitations. Factors like reporting accuracy, business health, industry variances, annual variances, and outlier events may obscure the true rate of small business failure. Thus it is essential to consider these variables when relying on statistical data.

Moreover, many people overestimate the failure rate due to the media’s portrayal of businesses’ difficulties. However, the exaggerated statistics often fail to contextualize crucial elements such as industry type or scale economy for startups. Therefore it is recommended that entrepreneurs gather relevant data corrected for those factors before deciding their fate.

It is vital for small business owners to avoid trivial truths about ownership and consider both optimistic and pessimistic probabilities when making decisions based on statistics findings. Understanding various industry contexts will help them avoid discouragement later in their entrepreneurial journey.

What sets successful entrepreneurs apart from unsuccessful ones is an ability to understand risk comprehensively; using historical data towards trend analysis may greatly improve decision making. This invaluable knowledge ensures that they take calculated risks in an informed manner – avoiding missed opportunities through fear of potential failures.

Don’t believe everything you hear about small business failure rates – context is everything.

Why people overestimate the failure rate

It’s no secret that starting a small business can be a daunting task. However, when we constantly hear about the high percentage of business failures, it can be discouraging. After doing some research, I found that the failure rate of small businesses is often exaggerated. In this section, we’ll discuss why people tend to overestimate the failure rate of small businesses. We’ll explore the concept of avoiding trivial “truths” about business ownership and the importance of understanding context to avoid unfairly discouraging entrepreneurs.

The tendency to exaggerate the failure rate of small businesses

The myth of small businesses’ high failure rates has been exaggerated by popular narratives. This tendency to underestimate the success rate of small businesses can often cause unnecessary discouragement among aspiring entrepreneurs. This phenomenon is mostly attributed to a general misunderstanding about what failure means in the context of small business ownership.

Most people overestimate the true chance of failure for small businesses due to its overall reputation as risky and unstable. They also tend to overlook other metrics that contribute to the overall health of small businesses, such as revenue growth or company morale. Businesses experiencing these difficulties cannot be labeled immediately as failures without proper investigation.

Small business success is subjectively based on many factors, including customers’ satisfaction and level of demand. Additionally, overgeneralization also contributes to this exaggeration – it implies that all types of businesses are prone to fail at an equal rate, whereas this is not currently proven.

It is important to avoid stereotyping all entrepreneurs constantly battling against obstacles towards their goal via informative platforms like this article. True instances of failures should be discussed only after considering context, thus considerably reducing the extent and frequency of such misjudgments.

Steer clear of clichés and platitudes when it comes to owning a business, unless you want to fail faster than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

Avoiding trivial “truths” about business ownership

To avoid underestimating the chances of success in business ownership, it is important to recognize and refrain from focusing on trivial “truths” about business ownership- including phrases such as “90% of startups fail.” Such statements not only oversimplify complex scenarios but also discourage entrepreneurs. Conveying realistic statistics and contextualizing the circumstances would help avoid trivializing business ownership and better support its potential.

By quickly dismissing a large portion of small businesses as doomed to fail, we risk falling prey to biased perspectives and ignoring their contributive economic impact. Additionally, lack of understanding surrounding small business failure rates could lead to inaccurate decision-making while investing time or money in certain ventures.

Therefore, it is essential to look beyond the superficial truths and make informed decisions based on comprehensive data analysis.

Pro Tip: When assessing small business failure rates, keep industry norms in mind. Some industries are inherently riskier than others, which can significantly influence the probability of success or failure. Understanding these variations can help provide a more nuanced understanding of statistics and help entrepreneurs navigate business ownership with optimal outcomes in mind.

Don’t let the failure rate scare you off, understanding the context is key to staying motivated on your entrepreneurial journey.

Understanding context to avoid unfairly discouraging entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs often face the fear of failure, and it is crucial to understand context to avoid unfairly discouraging them. To provide realistic statistics, variables such as industry, business health, and outlier events must be considered. By calculating risk based on failure rates in a pragmatic way, entrepreneurs can stay optimistic while being aware of potential challenges.

It is essential to avoid trivial “truths” about business ownership that tend to exaggerate the failure rate. Instead, entrepreneurs should focus on understanding the context behind these statistics and use them as motivation for growth.

Pro Tip: To avoid discouragement, entrepreneurs should conduct extensive market research and strategic planning before starting a business.


Small business failure rates can vary based on various factors. According to reference data, it is important to note that small businesses have a higher failure rate in their first few years. However, other factors such as business sector, location, financial management, and competition can also play a role in determining success or failure. It is crucial to carefully analyze and consider these factors while starting and running a small business to increase the likelihood of success. Additionally, seeking guidance from experienced entrepreneurs and professionals can provide insight and advice for avoiding common pitfalls. A personal anecdote can provide further understanding of the importance of these factors in the success or failure of a small business.

Five Facts About the Failure Rate of Small Businesses:

  • ✅ Approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Fundera)
  • ✅ By the end of the second year, 30 percent of small businesses will have failed. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Fundera)
  • ✅ By the end of the fifth year, approximately half of small businesses will have failed. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Fundera)
  • ✅ Only 30 percent of small businesses will remain by the end of the first decade, resulting in a 70 percent failure rate. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Fundera)
  • ✅ Failure rate varies significantly by industry, with high start-up cost and competition leading to high failure rates for warehousing and transportation businesses. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Fundera)

FAQs about What Is The Failure Rate Of Small Businesses?

What is the true failure rate of small businesses?

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by Fundera, approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of the second year, 30 percent of businesses will have failed. By the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed. And by the end of the decade, only 30 percent of businesses will remain — a 70 percent failure rate.

What are the common variables that affect the definition of failure rate in small businesses?

There are several caveats to the data on small business failure rates. Some of the common variables include the definition of failure, annual variance, outlier events, industry variance, reporting, and business health. For instance, the study relies on a fixed number of reported businesses, while some businesses may survive even when performing suboptimally.

How does the Covid-19 pandemic affect the failure rate of small businesses?

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the failure rate for businesses, for better or for worse. It has created harsh economic conditions for many industries, including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other niches dependent on close physical interaction. Failure rates are exceptionally high for 2020, though we don’t have all the figures yet.

Which industries have a lower failure rate among small businesses?

Health-care businesses and organizations tend to have a failure rate that’s lower than average since the demand for health-care services is high, consistent, and steadily increasing. Meanwhile, some SEO companies and other marketing firms offer low start-up costs, but demand may vary due to market conditions or high competition.

Why does the overconfidence effect matter when evaluating the failure rate of small businesses?

We tend to be optimistic when evaluating our own endeavors due to the overconfidence effect, but statistics can keep us realistic and pragmatic. If we assume a 20 percent failure possibility for our business in year 1, we should be distributing our investments and our time accordingly; we need to balance our risk profile to protect us in the event of failure.

Why do people overestimate the failure rate of small businesses?

People have a tendency to exaggerate the failure rate of small businesses, partly because it might be a conservative way to taper expectations, or it might play into the desire to discourage would-be entrepreneurs. However, it’s important to take statistics for what they are, to understand their context, and not to allow them to unfairly discourage you from pursuing the development of your business.