"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"  --Charles Dickens

It feels appropriate to quote Dickens after the latest results from SurePayroll's survey of 40,000 small business owners.

For March, SurePayroll's Small Business Scorecard found an even split in terms of the outlook for small businesses. Half of those SurePayroll polled are looking to invest in the second quarter in things like marketing, technology, and, most importantly, new employees. The other half are continuing to exercise caution, and don't plan to invest in the second quarter.

More Business Owners Are Optimistic

That said, optimism is up to 68 percent in March, after closing out at 59 percent in February. In addition, 50 percent of the small business owners SurePayroll surveyed expect results in the second quarter to surpass the first quarter.

While you've certainly faced a number of challenges that have created a cloud of uncertainty over the small business landscape, it seems many small business owners like you were prepared for them.

As many as 80 percent of small business owners said in the SurePayroll survey that the first quarter either matched or exceeded expectations, despite 58 percent saying macroeconomic events that are out of their control had a negative affect on business. They were referring to the 2 percent payroll tax increase, sequestration, and fiscal cliff deal.

Still No Uptick in Hiring

Meanwhile, though, the Scorecard hiring and paychecks numbers have remained flat. In March, SurePayroll found that hiring fell slightly (0.2 percent), and paychecks fell too (just 0.1 percent). I've yet to see the uptick I'd like in overall hiring.

SurePayroll asked what was holding owners back from hiring again, and many said they're still dealing with a lack of consumer demand, and uncertainty from the government.

While it's great that half of small business owners expect the second quarter to be better than the first, let's hope by the end of the year you're all prospering together.