When you’re a small player, it can be hard to attract the best and brightest employees. Big corporations or even well-funded startups can lure talent with big salaries, stock options and other perks.

Elisa Miller-Out, who runs Singlebrook Technologies in Ithaca, N.Y., says expanding her team is difficult. “Hiring and retaining great technical talent is constantly a challenge for a custom software company like Singlebrook,” she says.

How can small businesses compete for top talent?

Our impressive panel (see their full bios here) provided answers below for this special “Secrets of Growth” series.

TSE_Emily-Blumenthal_150x150Getting and keeping top talent are two different topics altogether. I have found that for us personally, we have been able to do more with the “young and hungry” types than “educated and entitled.” Drive and motivation are critical when it comes to hires. But once they’re on board, doling out the right amount of positive reinforcement and including them in the decision-making process is key to keeping those burgeoning stars. It also helps to have everything done on a Google doc or shared file so those hires can be watched and monitored for progress, without constant micromanaging. Above all, empower your team by making them feel like they are part of your common goal to succeed, grow and make money.

Emily BlumenthalHandbag Designer 101, follow at @HandbagDesigner

TSE_El-Brown_150x150Have you considered becoming a Military Spouse Employment Partner? Military spouses (I’m one myself) are a highly skilled population who move frequently, which makes maintaining the traditional career path difficult. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Defense developed MSEP to connect potential employers and the military spouse population. The organization hosts free career fairs for employers and military spouses all over the country. Once you become a partner, your job listings are posted on the MSEP website and made available on military installations around the world. In the age of the Internet, many military spouses are able to remain with their MSEP employers through multiple moves, bringing with them global knowledge and experience.

El Brown, KinderJam, follow @kinderjam

TSE_Sarah-Kunst_150x150There are two important parts of hiring: Building a company people want to work for, and then finding the right people to hire. Evaluate your company to figure out why you may not be attracting people — is your salary low, work conditions not accommodating, or does your company have a bad reputation? Once you design a company that you’d want to work for (not just be the boss of!) you should be able to move to the second part of the equation and actually hire. A commitment to constant recruiting and casting a wide net is important. Make sure people know what kind of people succeed in your organization, and that you are always looking. Places to grab tech talent include Hired and AngelList. If you are looking for part-time talent, look at Power to Fly or even oDesk. Check in with your existing employees and larger network and see why they aren’t referring job candidates your way. Consider putting a bounty on new hires as an incentive.

Sarah KunstFortis, follow at @sarahkunst

TSE_Lori-Horberman_150x150Hiring good tech talent is one of the biggest challenges facing an early-stage company. Not only is the money to cover salaries scarce, but good tech talent itself is rare. Many of my clients have bridged the gap via outsourcing — hiring teams of developers overseas to help build out technology at lower cost. This is not always an ideal solution, as the quality control tends to be a major issue, but sometimes it is a very effective way to build an early version of your technology. Talk to other entrepreneurs and get recommendations. Also, make sure that any agreement you enter into with any developer (domestic or international), contains the magic words: “work made for hire.” These 4 words (along with many others) mean that the developer is creating work that you (not the developer) will own.

Lori HobermanHoberman Law Group, follow at @lorihoberman

TSE_Nell-Merlino_150x150Build your reputation as a great person and wonderful company to work for. Get details on how prospective employees do their best work: Is it at home, at a standing desk or in a big active space with co-workers? Find out when they need to take vacation — such as around school holidays or after a big product/project completion. Make it all about them and the company’s mission. If their requests and suggestions are reasonable, work it out. Give employees what they want and need to lead a balanced life and move your salaries in the right competitive direction. Remember, money is not the first thing that people are looking for at work. People want to work on something that is bigger than themselves. Employees want to build products that matter and provide services that make a difference in people’s lives. Build and describe your company’s mission with a larger purpose, always show people respect and you’ll find loyal employees.

Nell MerlinoPersonal BlackBox, follow at @nellmerlino

TSE_Laura-Zander_150x150As a small-business owner, I have experienced this very same issue. We’ve made it a practice to develop our junior employees into “top talent” ourselves: All of them start at $9 to $11 an hour working in our warehouse. We can’t afford to do it differently, but we’ve also found it rewarding and effective to groom our staff into high-level roles. You can read more about how we grow talent in this post I wrote for Inc. magazine: Grow Talent; Don’t Buy It.

Laura Zander, Jimmy Beans Wool, follow at @jimmybeanswool

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