Elon Musk has said that 90 percent of being a great leader is hiring great people. He's not wrong, but in today's cutthroat marketplace, you need to aim higher. Don't hire great people. Hire amazing people. It's people that breathe life into a business and make it successful.

For the small business, the stakes are even higher. Considering 80 percent of U.S. small businesses don't have any employees, making that first hire is a tremendous milestone for the small business owner. A single hire, after all, has a direct impact on the bottom line.

The pressure is paramount to find an employee who brings not just skill and talent to the table, but who can contribute to the culture you're developing. It's no wonder that 42 percent of employer firms use contract workers--a simple way to test whether or not they're ready to hire full-time employees.

But finding amazing people--whether you're looking for full-time employees or contractors--is no easy feat. Amazing candidates are likely to be flourishing in their current roles, and have several other employers vying for their attention.

To find (and hire) amazing talent, small business owners should be prepared to ask themselves three simple but important questions:

  1. Where should I find them?
  2. What's the most important quality to look for?
  3. Why should they come work for me?

1. "Where should I find amazing candidates?" Outside your circle.

As your own boss, it's comfortable to rely on your personal and professional network when hiring. Shared educational or career experiences mean that you'll likely feel connected and aligned with candidates from within your circle.

But fresh perspectives and diverse backgrounds are necessary for creativity and business growth. A Harvard Business School professor found in a study that culturally diverse teams in fact promote better ideas and creative thinking than homogenous teams.

Here are some ways you can look outside your circle for qualified candidates:

  • Check out on-demand talent platforms like UpWork, Wonolo, and Catalant, when you're looking to hire a contractor.
  • Attend conferences or trade shows for your industry.
  • If you're looking for someone with niche skills, attend a meetup in that focus area.
  • Join relevant LinkedIn professional groups and start making connections.

2. "What's the most important quality to look for?" Adaptability.

Ask any technologist, scholar, or other expert in the future of work, and they'll likely tell you that the most critical skill for future workers will be adaptability. Particularly in the small business setting, an aptitude for adaptability - the ability to shift gears and pivot when necessary - is what separates the great candidates from amazing ones.

In a small company where resources are limited or processes have yet to be established, employees must often wear many different hats and operate with a great deal of autonomy in their various roles. It wouldn't be outlandish for a marketing manager to also field customer service calls, or the IT guy to help design the business web page, for example.

A few ways you can measure adaptability in a potential candidate:

  • Seek out flexible candidates with some experience working in small, or resource-limited environments.
  • In the interview, ask hypothetical scenario questions to get a sense for how they'd react to change.
  • Ask for specific examples of when they made a business mistake, what they learned and how they pivoted.

3. "Why should they come work for me?" To be a part of something meaningful.

Remember that hiring amazing talent is a two-way street. An amazing employee will want an amazing place to work, so you'll have to convince them to come join you just as much as they'll need to convince you of their qualifications. To do this, you'll need to paint a compelling picture for where your business is headed.

Many of today's applicants are seeking more meaningful work experiences, to help drive growth and be a part of the bigger goal. Elevating the conversation from day-to-day responsibilities to big-picture vision will help potential candidates see the role as an opportunity to be a part of something truly meaningful, rather than just another paycheck.

In the interview:

  • Discuss your mission and core values, and what inspired you to start your business in the first place.
  • Share a high-level vision for the future, including your five or ten-year plan.
  • Provide anecdotes that illustrate your unique culture.

Smart hiring is important for businesses of all sizes. But for the small business owner, hiring the right person can mean the difference between prosperity and failure. Don't settle for great talent when what you really want is amazing talent.

With a thoughtful and strategic approach to the hiring process, every small business owner can ensure that the right people are brought into the fold--and that those people are poised to make a massive contribution to the business's success.