A new survey has found that most (69 %) U.S. small businesses were profitable in 2008.

The survey, conducted by Herndon-based Network Solutions and the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, polled 1,000 small-business owners in December 2008 and January 2009.

Sixty-nine percent of those reporting a profit said their success last year was equal to or better than their performance in 2007. The survey also found that 70 percent of small businesses expect their companies to be in business in five years, as opposed to closing, being sold or transferred.

There are more than 27 million small businesses in the U.S. that employ more than 40 million workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearly 50 percent of the small-business owners surveyed believe the economy will improve or remain unchanged in 2009. And 67 percent of the companies plan to spend the same or increase overall business spending this year.

Companies surveyed were for-profit, privately owned businesses with fewer than 100 employees and had a payroll and/or contributed to at least 50 percent of the owner’s household income.

Seven percent of the companies reported that they broke even last year.

“Small business owners’ optimism during the current economic downturn has a correlation to how competitive they are in being customer oriented,” P.K. Kannan, director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the Smith School, said in a statement. “Those that are more engaged in understanding their customer needs, creating relationships with customers and increasing the value of their customer base through marketing activities and innovations are also those that are the most optimistic.”

The survey is part of a new “Small Business Success Index” launched Thursday by Network Solutions and the Smith School. It is designed to measure the health of U.S. small businesses.

Boston Business Journal