It's been a challenging year for small businesses, but we seem to have ended on a good note, with signs that the small business economy is starting to rebound.
But is the worst really over? Let's take a look at the December 2009 hiring and salary numbers to find out.

According to the SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, our economic indicator that aggregates data from tens of thousands of small businesses, hiring is up 0.8 percent month over month -- that's the greatest month-over-month hiring increase we've seen since February '08. That brings us to a year-to-date increase of 3.4 percent.

Now, if you've followed the Scorecard throughout 2009, you know that hiring has been up for much of the year, but it's been driven by small businesses playing it safe and hiring temporary workers versus full-time employees. That has shifted. This month, we see the contractor index increasing at a much lower rate, meaning more of the month-over-month hiring increase is made up of employees and not contractors.

And some more good news. Salaries are declining at a decelerating rate. The month-over-month decrease was only 0.4 percent, bringing us to a year-over-year decrease of 8.3 percent. While salaries are still declining, this is the second month they did so at a lesser rate.

So, I see some trends telling us we're finally starting to bounce off the bottom and that the worst is behind us. And many small business owners agree.

In a late December survey, two-thirds of SurePayroll customers indicated that they predict their revenues will be up in 2010, and the same number feel good enough to say they believe the economy will get better in the new year. It makes sense. After all, with the continual and drastic declining salaries of 2009, small businesses couldn't count on increased revenues -- no one had the money to spend. Now that we're seeing more hiring, we should see more spending, and so an upward cycle can begin.

That's not to say business owners won't have tough challenges in the year ahead. A rebound doesn't happen in just a month or two. But if trends continue -- along with small business owner optimism -- I predict we'll be reporting on some kind of a recovery by summer