What’s an SME?

What’s an SME?

Don't be baffled by definitions for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises...

By Elma Glasgow

99% of businesses in the UK are small and medium-sized business, with many making a big impact in their industries and markets.

But for those business owners just starting up, getting to the bottom of the bureaucracy can be confusing. One of the baffling issues tend to be which definition best describes your business in terms of size. Is it number of employees or turnover? Getting it right is crucial when filing annual returns and looking for small business funding and grants.

The criteria can vary from authority to authority, but as long as you’re aware of your status according the organisation you’re working with at any time – be it HMRC, Companies House or any other UK or EU government department – you should be fine. But as an overview, below are the main criteria you need work to.


This is the most widely-used definition, and was created as a Europe-wide practical tool so SMEs can benefit from support from the EU and its members countries:

Companies House

For enterprises registered with Companies House, business owners and accountancy staff need to know the organisation's definition of SMEs before submitting annual returns and accounts, since they differ to the above descriptions.

A micro-entity should meet at least 2 of the below:

Small businesses should meet at least 2 of the below:

Medium-sized enterprises should meet at least 2 of the below:

For R&D tax relief purposes

HMRC has a different definition for SMEs seeking tax relief on research and development. According to the government department, an SME has less than 500 employees with either:

SME funding

When it comes to applying for funding for SMEs, many providers may stick to the above EU criteria. But to be safe, always carefully read the criteria on the application to make sure your business falls within the requirements in terms of employee numbers and turnover. If you're looking at non-EU schemes, the criteria for SME might be different again, depending on the country.

Watch your figures

We’d recommend keeping a close eye on how your SME grows. If you exceed any of the figures mentioned above, you may need to change your status the next time you submit a business grant application or a tax return. You wouldn't want to cause any delays or face penalties for inaccurate information.