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Will you survive to profit from the recovery?

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Small-business owners are feeling cheerier these days. The National Federation of Independent Business's monthly member survey saw business owners' optimism about the future rise a couple of points in August, a change the organization described as a meaningful uptick.

Similarly, American Express OPEN's Small Business Monitor survey saw a big jump in optimism. Back in March, 45 percent of respondents were optimistic about their near-term prospects--in September, that had risen to 55 percent. The OPEN study showed one troubling trend, though--a widening gap between the optimists and those who appear to be circling the drain.

Stats on how businesses are staying afloat are troubling: 32 percent of business owners said they're tapping personal funds, up 9 percent from March. The number of entrepreneurs who report they have cash-flow problems rose from 57 percent in March to 60 percent.

More small business owners said they're in danger of closing their doors--17 percent, vs. 11 percent six months ago. Prime reason: their personal funds are tapped out.

So while a majority of business owners are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, a distinct minority are feeling like they may not make it out into the sunshine.

Business owners who feel bullish are starting to hire again, even in hard-hit retail. The Kronos Retail Labor Index, which uses Kronos's software to track actual hires among its major-retailer clients across the country, reports that nearly three hires resulted from every 100 applications submitted to clients in August, a 9 percent improvement since January, when retail hiring hit a three-year low.

So forward-thinking operators are beginning to staff up again as the economic wheels slowly start to turn.

It's time to ask yourself which camp you're in. Will you be ahead of the curve, or too late to the recovery party?

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