Q: As the owner of a small business in a small city, I'm having trouble attracting and retaining good employees. There is also a larger, richer employer in town, and the talent pool is relatively small. How do I compete?

Terry, 52, owner, insurance brokerage

A: Be sure that you are creating an environment where top people would prefer to work.

It doesn't all come down to money. In fact, the company culture you create could be your strongest selling point.

However, if your current culture is less than ideal, it could also be working against you. It may not be easy, but spend some time reflecting on your company.

What are you like as a leader? Do people enjoy coming to work? What feedback do you receive when people leave?

Be brutally honest with yourself, and seek feedback from others who may be candid with you. Employees vote with their feet, and reputations spread quickly.

Consider your company's needs. Are you realistic about the skill sets you need? If you have a mismatch between level of expertise needed and the people you hire, you are setting everyone up for disappointment.

If you are hiring entry-level people and giving them too much responsibility without sufficient training, they are apt to fail. If you hire senior people and don't give them sufficient challenge, they will be bored and move on.

Likewise, if you don't offer opportunities for growth, strong employees are likely to seek new opportunities elsewhere.

Pull together a vision for your company extending across tangible and intangible benefits you could offer. For example, perhaps you decide to be "an employer for the whole person."

As a smaller company, you likely have space to be more flexible to achieve a vision like this. Since each employee will differ in what they need and want, cafeteria-style benefits beyond core offerings send a message that each person's needs matter.

Rotations through the different roles in your firm give people growth, and also protect you from overreliance on one person's knowledge. This is a risk if they leave and puts them at risk of burnout if they are chronically overworked.

Ongoing education training demonstrates an investment in your team members, especially if you may be helping them prepare for roles that are not an obvious fit with your company.

Be open with them, sharing your vision for the company and the challenges you face. Your trust will send a powerful message. You should be exhibiting compassion and living your values, even if, as the owner, you have to sometimes make hard decisions.

Now take a step back. Think about your company as it is and the company it could be. Do the steps you've thought through here get you there? If you were a job candidate, would you want to work there? If not, push yourself even further to lead an organization that people are drawn to.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.