After a year of infuriating government shutdowns and mind-boggling health care reform, small business owners are entering the new year with confidence. The December 2013 SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard® survey found their level of optimism rose to 70 percent, up from 55 percent the year prior. 

In 2013, the focus was mainly on recovery for small businesses with one to ten employees, as hiring and the average paycheck were slightly down or flat most of the year.

However, 2014 could be more promising, as the Scorecard survey found that three in four small business owners plan to ease their dependence on independent contractors, which they tend to rely on when business feels shaky. When they feel confident, they tend to invest in new staff, better technology, more equipment, and smarter marketing, which all help to drive the economy. 

Beyond this sense of optimism, seven out of 10 business owners said they fared the same or better than they did a year ago in the fourth quarter. As a result of this, they expect to improve in the first quarter this year. 

So what's changed since last year? 

Well, survey respondents were discussing cutting costs to increase profit last year. But in 2014, they're focused on hiring and improving their online presence. 

On a macroeconomic level, the Scorecard survey found health care, slow economic growth, and repercussions from the federal budget are still major concerns. On the micro level, retaining top talent, rounding out teams, and navigating an ever-changing advertising and marketing landscape are the biggest priorities. 

Do you feel more optimistic this year? Share your thoughts in the comments.