The smaller the business, the more hiring the right people matters. When employee #100 turns out to be a disaster, the impact on the business is relatively small, and usually confined to a small group of employees. When employee #4 is a disaster, everything suffers.
Attitude is everything; you can teach skills but it's incredibly hard to teach and instill enthusiasm, teamwork and independence (you need both), and motivation.
The best small business employees:
Feel "it's all 8 hours to me." I first heard the expression when I asked an employee to help me clean up after a sewer line backed up and spread waste water across the warehouse. He said, "Sure. It's all 8 hours." He felt he was paid to work for 8 hours, and what he did during that time didn't matter (in a good way.) Great small business employees -- great employees period -- are willing to do whatever it takes and are more concerned with overall objectives and goals than their individual duties.
Possess one outstanding skill. Small businesses have a variety of specific needs: Running the website, processing orders, generating leads, etc. Many roles can be outsourced. If you have the choice, only bring roles in-house because the candidate is truly outstanding...
Don't care about a job description or organizational structure. A prospective employee who asks to see a detailed job description is waving a large red flag. "What does the job entail, you ask? Whatever I need you to do." A small business owner pays an employee to work, not to hold a position. (If you don't think there's a difference you haven't run a small business.)
Are a little bit "off." People who are quirky, sometimes irreverent, and happy to be different may seem slightly "off," but in a really good way. Employees who aren't afraid to stand out stretch boundaries, challenge a small business owner to think in different ways, and often come up with the best ideas.
Want to learn something--and take it over. Face it, you're often overwhelmed. The luxury to "delegate and forget" is incredibly valuable. While employees with an independent streak can be more difficult to manage, the payoff is worth it.
May lack polish, but have personality to spare. Think about your favorite customers or suppliers; aside from practical business aspects, what comes to mind first? They're personable, friendly, outgoing... they make your day a little more fun. Look for the same qualities in new hires. Customers buy from people they like.
Knocked on your door. A friend of mine runs a mid-size company. One day a college senior walked in and said, "I've checked out your website, and forgive me for saying this but it could be a lot better. I graduate soon and would love to work for you. Here is a list of the changes I would make in the first three months, including how those changes would improve conversions and SEO results." Targeted approach, had done his homework... and showed a level of initiative every small business owner hopes to find. While a great employee will rarely try to crash your small business party, when one does give them serious consideration.
What's on your list of must-have qualities?