Highlighting the resolve of operating a small business in this economy, nearly 1 out of 4 owners of small companies said they have worked without pay for a year or more, according to a recent nationwide survey by Citibank.

While that might sound like a grim statistic, the survey of 750 small company leaders found that one-third said their business is in better shape than a year ago.

That’s due to the can-do attitude of many small business owners, according to Maria Veltre, who is the manager director of small business for Citibank.

“Business owners are wearing more hats, working more hours and taking less profit,” she said. “They don’t sit idle, they’re asking, ‘What do I need to do to make my business grow?’ There is a level of sacrifice small business owners take for their businesses.'”

The survey said one-third of the company owners believe their business will expand by at least 10 percent this year.

The study also disclosed a number of other sacrifices made by small business owners. Seventy percent said they have worked longer hours in recent years; 78 percent said they have decide to take less profit for themselves and 69 percent said they have funneled their own money into the company to help the bottom line.

A total of 54 percent said they have not foregone a paycheck on occasion to help the company, while 23 percent say they have refused any salary for at least a year to ensure the financial health of their company.

Perhaps more remarkably is that nearly 40 percent of small company chiefs said employees have agreed to work overtime without compensation, while 18 percent said workers have agreed to have paychecks delayed to help out the company.

Veltre of Citibank speculated that the difficulty in getting credit could explain the actions by business owners. However, she said many small business leaders simply want to avoid borrowing at all costs.

“Access to financing doesn’t come up in the top five most important issues among small business on our survey,” she said. “We don’t see that they are saying, ‘We need cash.’ Instead, they are saying, ‘We need sales, and we need consumer confidence to be addressed.'”

The survey took place during the first 18 days of May, with a margin error of slightly more than 3.5 points.

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