Turn Business Optimism into GrowthEven before the Labor Department reported that 200,000 new jobs were created in December, a funny thing was happening: Business owners were starting to feel more upbeat about 2012. 

Surveys of owners' attitudes started coming back showing rising confidence:

  • Peer-mentoring organization Vistage International's CEO Confidence Index hit the highest level since the beginning of 2011. It also saw the biggest single-quarter uptick since 2009.
  • The National Federation of Independent Business -- which always seems to have the gloomiest or, depending on how you look at it, realistic data -- found small-business owners' confidence in December had risen for the fourth month in a row. Their headline: "While Economic Winter Continues, It Appears to be Getting Warmer."

So what's going on?

Is it just that we don't want to be depressed anymore? Or maybe four (going on five) long years of pent-up, American-consumer demand may be all we can take before we've just gotta buy.

Perhaps owners are simply feeling better these days because they're having an easier time getting the money they need to grow. A Thomson Reuters/PayNet survey showed business lending hit a four-year high in November.

There are still plenty of negatives out there, though.

The unemployment rate is still high, at 8.5 percent. Some say Americans overspent on the holidays and may not be able to buy much for at least another couple of months. And Europe remains in economic chaos.

If you sense a positive change in the wind, here are three ways to lay the groundwork for growth in 2012:

  1. Up your marketing spend. Money invested in marketing now should pay off in more new customers as the economy improves.
  2. Consider a hire. It's a great time to snap up talented applicants. And thanks to hiring subsidies offered for employing veterans, the move could make even more sense. 
  3. Move in a new direction. If you've been holding off on a new product or business initiative, now's the time to put it in gear. Get a jump on the competition before everybody catches on to the upswing.

What business-building, if cautious, moves would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know.