While there's evidence suggesting the jobs market is slowly recovering, a large chunk of small-business owners remain pessimistic and expect the economy to remain stagnant or worsen in 2013, according to a new survey of 600 small firms. Most respondents also said they plan to trim costs, and 87 percent said they did not plan to hire additional employees.
The survey was conducted by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.com in December, and 63 percent of respondents said they expect the economy to remain unchanged or weaken further. E-commerce software companies Vendio and Auctiva also contributed to the report.
"The data showed that while online merchants remain optimistic about their own growth prospects, they are skeptical about overall economic growth," said Annie Xu, general manager ofAlibaba.com, Americas.
Top concerns for small businesses this year not surprisingly are taxes (70 percent, according to the survey), government regulation (50 percent) and the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare (or 36 percent).
While a fiscal deal was reached earlier this month on tax increases and spending cuts, benefits remain elusive for much of Main Street — a key driver of job creation during past economic recoveries.
The National Federation of Independent Business said earlier this month that its small-business optimism index crept up 0.5 point to 88 points in December 2012 from 87.5 points in November. The December reading is the second lowest since March 2010.
(Read More: Small Business Confidence Nearly Flat for December)
"The eleventh hour 'deal' has brought marginal certainty about tax rates and extenders, and will provide some relief to owners, but it certainly doesn't guarantee a more positive forecast for the economy," NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg said in a prepared statement.
Pockets of Optimism
Despite the gloom and doom, entrepreneurs do see growth opportunities in the e-commerce space, with nearly half of those surveyed expected to create a new e-commerce website. Small-business owners (52 percent of respondents) also see potential export opportunities in the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
There was more economic optimism in Wednesday's ADP national employment report. The private sector created 192,000 new jobs in January, better than forecasts and reflective of the slowly improving labor market. Small businesses led the uptick, adding 115,000 new positions. All eyes now are on Friday's jobs report. The monthly nonfarm payrolls report is expected to show the economy generated 166,000 new jobs in January, while the unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent.
'Stagnation' for Small-Business Job Creation: NFIB
Late Thursday, the NFIB released data on small-business job creation for January — in advance of tomorrow's broad jobs report. For small employers, the average change in employment per firm edged up to 0.09 workers, up from 0.03 workers in December, the group said in release.
"This is the second consecutive month with positive growth, and is sadly the best reading since April 2012. That's not saying much," NFIB's Chief Economist Dunkelberg said in a prepared statement.
Overall, 11 percent of surveyed owners (unchanged from December) reported adding employees and 9 percent reduced employment (down 4 points), the NFIB said. But the vast majority — the remaining 80 percent of owners — made no net change in employment. "Translation: stagnation."
The small-firm jobs data is based on the NFIB's monthly economic survey. The next monthly reading will be released February 12.
—By CNBC's Heesun Wee; Follow her on Twitter @heesunwee