Economic Outlook Among Small Businesses Improves

There's more good news on Main Street, it seems. More than half (56 percent) of business owners feel good about their prospects for the next six months, up 8 points from the fall, according to the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor.

In the semi-annual survey, 35 percent of employers also said they plan to hire full or part-time workers during that time. Even though 44 percent still plan to freeze hiring or cut back, that represents 17-point drop since the fall.

While 31 percent of those surveyed are most concerned with maintaining their current business, 29 percent are still focused on growing new customers and revenue.

"While small-business owners are more optimistic about the economic recovery, they are not turning a blind eye to the uncertainty that lingers," Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, said in a statement. "They are waiting for more proof that the recovery is real and sustainable before investing heavily in growth initiatives."

Most businesses plan to take a closer look at their customer service, as 46 percent said that keeping current clients and increasing customer demand is a top priority. In order to create a good working environment, 57 percent of business owners said they train their staff themselves, while others enlist senior staff members or outside training for the task. In order to keep employees happy, 59 percent of businesses are offering benefits, up from 49 percent last fall.

While growth isn't at the top of the priority list, more than half of business owners have invested in low-cost marketing methods like social media to help grow their business and stay in touch with customers. Some 38 percent are using Facebook, with Google+ and LinkedIn rounding out the top three. Still, most businesses don't feel a social media presence is completely necessary for business success, with only 27 percent seeing the real value in it.

In the current election year, business owners cited their greatest concerns, including tax cuts, access to capital and the ability to hire more staff. However, 33 percent felt that tax relief was the most pressing issue that President Obama and Congress need to address.