Small business owners’ confidence levels are the highest they’ve been since 2008, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index.

The poll found more than half of small business owners surveyed are very or extremely satisfied, and 39 percent of them consider themselves very or extremely successful. “Net small business owner satisfaction now matches that of July 2008 – during the recession, but before the full fallout of the financial crisis on small businesses,” the report explains further.

This sentiment matched a National Federation of Independent Business study that came out in August, showing a bump in owners expecting better business conditions in six months.

Despite the rise in satisfaction and self-proclaimed success, the Wells Fargo/Gallup study did find small business owners were less optimistic about the economic climate as a whole and the implications it will have on their businesses.

And this is where things get interesting.

During the same month the NFIB and Wells Fargo/Gallup research came out, another report hit the news – one from the National Small Business Association – showing a decrease in small business confidence: 60 percent of owners are feeling confident about the future (down from 75 percent in December 2011). Other negative feelings: 34 percent of owners expect a recession in the next 12 months (up from 14 percent in December 2011); 66 percent expect the economy to grow or remain unchanged (a drop from 86 percent in December 2011); and only 45 percent expect sales to increase (compared to 56 percent in December 2011).

Similarly, getting a sense of small business hiring has been difficult. Some reports say they are picking up their pace, while others say they have slowed hiring.

On top of that, small business sentiment is and will continue to be a hot topic in the presidential election campaign, so I’m sure we’ll continue to hear a variety of positive and negative views coming from surveys focused on the small business community.

Is your head spinning yet? Basically, what all of these numbers tell us is small business owners are torn. Some feel more confident and more successful than others. A lot of the sentiment regarding these figures is left to interpretation as well. For instance, in the NSBA study, 60 percent of small business owners feeling confident is still a majority, despite the drop from 75 percent six months prior. To me, that doesn’t sound so bad – but I’m a glass-half-full kind of person.

While looking at the numbers, checking market trends and staying aware of small business news is always important, I think each landscape business owner needs to look at all of this information in the context of his or her specific company and local economic conditions. Then, owners can take the pulse of their businesses in a perspective that makes a little more sense to them, without letting all this contradicting news get in the way of their business goals and plans.

For instance, drought had taken its toll on Springfield, Mo.-based Creation Lawn and Landscaping this year. CEO Chad Gray reported business was down 14 percent overall, and he had to cut back on hours because the phone wasn’t ringing. Recent rains, however, were making up for the loss in August as grasses greened up again and temperatures cooled. Fall is a big planting season for Creation Lawn and Landscaping, and Gray says he is optimistic this will improve his numbers this year. Mike McDaniel, owner of a two-man landscaping service, McDaniel’s Lawn Care & Landscaping, Jacksonville, Fla., says he saw some improvement in business as well this year, crediting an effective company website and good cost management for keeping his business in good operating shape.

So where do you stand? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

If you find yourself jumping in with the glass-half-empty crowd, here are some interesting facts from the University of Phoenix School of Business that may make you want to begin to change your outlook.

– In the competitive business environment of today, workplace optimism is deemed as a competitive advantage.

– Studies show optimistic individuals are more likely to succeed in their lives because they turn problems into opportunities and exploit difficult situations.

– Studies uncover optimists are dramatically more likely to achieve their financial goals.

– Research reveals optimists are more effective in sales and are less stressful.

– Statistics show optimistic employees are more dedicated.

– Workplace optimism is positively correlated to effective managerial decision-making, low employee turnover and increased profitability.

Even in the Wells Fargo/Gallup study, 90 percent of small business owners surveyed consider themselves at least somewhat successful. The report explains: “That says a lot about their optimism and resilience.”

As you plan for business in 2013 and continue to hear contradicting research, remind yourself to take another look at that glass. Seeing it half-full could make a bigger difference than you think.

Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She is currently a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.’s marketing/corporate communications department. Visit her blog at or reach her at [email protected].