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1. Is this survey mandatory?

Yes. Title 13 United States Code, Sections 131 and 193, authorizes this collection. Sections 224 and 225 require your response. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by Section 9 of the same law to keep your information confidential and can use your responses only to produce statistics. The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in a way that could identify your business, organization, or institution. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, your data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit data.

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2. I am a very small business. Why do you want information from me?

Taken together, small businesses have a real impact on the economy. Your firm or EIN was chosen from a scientifically selected sample of businesses and represents many other small businesses like yours.

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3. How was I selected for this survey?

Your firm or EIN was chosen from a scientifically selected sample of businesses. Taking a sample is less costly than contacting every business in the country. Firms or EINs selected for the sample represent other similar businesses.

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4. Why don’t you get the information you need from the IRS?

The Census Bureau uses IRS administrative data whenever possible. However, the IRS data does not provide the level of detail or all of the data items in the SBO.

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5. Why ask about gender, race, ethnicity, and veteran status?

The SBO is the only source of statistics about the demographic characteristics of the owners of approximately 28 million American businesses, including their business organizations and activities. SBO statistics have been produced every 5 years since 1972 and have proven useful in helping to understand changes taking place in our dynamic and growing economy. In addition to comparing business owner demographics, the SBO results help profile changes in business performance and highlight conditions of business success and failure, and compare minority-/nonminority-, women-/men-, and veteran-/nonveteran-owned businesses.

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6. Who establishes the ethnicity and race categories listed on the survey?

The ethnicity and race categories listed on the Survey of Business Owners questionnaire are consistent with those mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. These standards were developed by both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Federal Government.

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7. Who uses the data?

Government program officials, industry organization leaders, economic and social analysts and researchers, and business entrepreneurs are anticipated users of Survey of Business Owners statistics. Examples of data use include:

  • The Small Business Administration and the Minority Business Development Agency to assess business assistance needs and allocate available program resources.
  • Local government commissions on small and disadvantaged businesses to establish and evaluate contract procurement practices.
  • Federal, state and local government agencies as a framework for planning, directing and assessing programs that promote the activities of disadvantaged groups.
  • The National Women's Business Council to assess the state of women's business ownership for policymakers, researchers, and the public at large.
  • Consultants and researchers to analyze long-term economic and demographic shifts, and differences in ownership and performance among geographic areas. Individual business owners to analyze their operations in comparison to similar firms, compute their market share, and assess their growth and future prospects.

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8. Besides reporting electronically, are there any other ways to report?

The SBO is accessible via an electronic reporting tool only. By implementing an electronic-only collection, the Census Bureau is able to reduce the cost of mailing and processing this annual survey. If a respondent does not have a computer or Internet access, we encourage the use of a tablet, smartphone, a family member’s or friend’s computer or public library. If further assistance is needed, please contact our customer help line at 1-888-824-9954, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, Eastern Time. Please note the customer help line is only accessible during the open data collection period.

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9. Are estimates acceptable?

Yes, carefully prepared estimates are acceptable if book figures are not readily available.

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10. Can I be paid for completing this report?

No. The law authorizing this report (Title 13, U.S.C.) does not authorize funds for payment.

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11. How do I navigate between items in the electronic reporting tool?

You can use the "Back" or the "Save and Continue" buttons to navigate to items immediately following and preceding the current item you are viewing.

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12. How do I submit my form?

When you have completed your survey, at the end of the reporting instrument select the ‘Submit’ button to send your information.

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13. My company does not keep track of some of the detailed data you are requesting. What should I do?

Provide your best estimate if exact values are not available. Your best estimates will still provide useful information to the users of the SBO data results.

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14. How should I respond if a question or item isn't applicable to my company?

Respond with "0" if there is a space that requests an amount and you do not have the activity.

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15. My company is owned by another company. How should I respond?

If your company is owned by another company, please select the applicable response in the “Number of Owners” question. You will then be directed to answer the remaining questions that pertain to the business.

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16. My company is owned by a foreign (non-U.S.) company. Do I need to respond?

Your company was selected because it has operations in the United States and/or reports some activity to the IRS. Please respond to the survey for this portion of the company.

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17. Who was eligible to receive the Survey of Business Owners?

Businesses that reported any business activity on any one of the following Internal Revenue Service tax forms were eligible for selection:

  • 1040 (Schedule C), "Profit or Loss from Business" (Sole Proprietorship). Many self-employed individuals do not consider the activity reported on their Schedule C to be an actual business (for example, babysitter, sales representative, construction contractor, real estate agent, and so forth). Any activity reported on Form 1040 (Schedule C) meets the definition of a business for purposes of this survey.
  • 1065, "U.S. Return of Partnership Income"
  • Any one of the 1120 corporation tax forms
  • 941, "Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return"
  • 944, "Employer's Annual Federal Tax Return"

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18. How is the Survey of Business Owners (SBO) different from the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE)?

The Survey of Business Owners (SBO) is conducted every five years as part of the economic census. The Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE) is a supplement to the SBO. The ASE introduces a new module each year to capture information on relevant business components.

The SBO samples both employer and nonemployer firms, while the ASE samples employer firms only,. Moreover, the ASE estimates are published in less detail than the SBO, with ASE statistics available only at the U.S., State, and top fifty metro areas level of geography, and at the 2-digit industry sector. For more information please visit the SBO website.

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