Small business owners are feeling far more optimistic than they were a year ago, but they're still holding off on taking major risks.

That's the key finding to The Hartford's annual Small Business Success Study. The financial servicer's survey of more than 2,500 business owners was recently released and was conducted over the summer.

Overall, 48 percent of companies say they are optimistic that the economy will improve in the next year. While not a majority, that's up big time from 33 percent a year ago.

However, an air of caution underlies that figure. While optimism appears to be up, 69 percent of companies said they are not taking any more risks than they were a year ago. Only 16 percent have said they are taking more risks. 

And the survey turned up another caveat about that optimistic outlook, showing a stark contrast between younger and older companies. While 64 percent of owners of 1-to-2-year-old companies said they were optimistic, just 36 percent of owners of 40-or-more-year-old companies said the same.

The survey turned up a number of other interesting data points:

  • 53 percent of small business owners say their priority is maintaining their company at its current size, compared to just 36 percent who prioritize growth.
  • 70 percent of business owners think their company is operating successfully, an incremental improvement from 68 percent last year.
  • Only 15 percent would take a job at another company and give up their business, even if they could be guaranteed equal or greater success in that role.