Half of all small business owners in the United States feel business conditions are good or excellent, the most since at least 2010, and 44 percent expect to grow their business in the next 12 months, up from 37 percent two years ago, according to a survey released by Citibank Small Business Pulse.
The results mark a steady rise in outlook, up from 48 percent reporting the same in spring 2013, 43 percent in spring 2012, 32 percent in spring 2011, and 24 percent in August of 2010, when the survey was first fielded.
One year ago, 22 percent of small business owners said they intended to grow by increasing their use of online sales. This year, 42 percent report having some online sales and 18 percent earn more than one-quarter of their total sales online.
In addition, more than half (52 percent) said they plan to make use of new technologies or applications for smartphones or tablets in the next 12 months to market or expand their businesses.
"The improved outlook among small business owners matches what we have seen on the ground," Robert Kleiber, head of Citibank Small Business, said in a statement. "Still, owners are facing real challenges, with many citing an unprepared workforce as a major obstacle to hiring."
Despite the positive outlook on current business conditions and higher growth expectations, 75 percent of small business owners do not plan to hire in the next 12 months – similar to last year – and only 17 percent plan to hire full-time employees.
When asked to describe the current hiring environment for their business, 37 percent said applicants are not qualified and 31 percent said applicants' skills do not match the open positions.
While half of small business owners say on-the-job training is the best preparation, many see an educational opportunity to improve workforce preparation, with 59 percent saying trade schools and apprenticeships should receive greater emphasis in schools.
Owners are also using the Internet in numerous ways, including customer communication (70 percent), marketing and sales (57 percent) and professional networking (55 percent).
However, even with increased use and greater realization of benefits, most small business owners (51 percent) do not rigorously monitor or manage their businesses social media activity, with 28 percent not monitoring it at all.
When asked how the Internet and social media has benefited their businesses, owners cited improved sales and lead generation (60 percent), market insight (48 percent), increased visits to their location (47 percent), greater customer loyalty (43 percent) and reduced marketing expenditures (36 percent).