Purpose – To conduct the first national study in Australia of women in small- to medium-sized enterprises, and to develop a profile of the self-employed woman and her business to serve as a benchmark for follow-up research.Design/methodology/approach – Comprised a self-administered questionnaire which dealt with a broad range of issues concerning the start-up and operational aspects of a small to medium-sized business. The women participants were self-selected and were obtained through mail-outs to business and professional networks, and a nation-wide advertising campaign. Three focus groups were also held to provide more background on some of the findings from the survey.Findings – The study found a consistency in the characteristics of the women and their businesses, similar to those found at the localised level. A benchmark profile of both the Australian small business woman operator and her business was established. Originality/value – Is the first national Australian study, and provides a benchmark for later studies in the same area.