During the height of the downturn, many small business owners were too cash-strapped to hire workers, even if they saw the opportunity to grow with more staff. The economy is a bit less sluggish now so business is improving for some entrepreneurs. But a new study points to an irony: Apparently, the improved economy is making it hard to hire, too.

The corporate-information portal Manta reports 57 percent of small-to-medium-size businesses plan to hire this year. But one in four of those entrepreneurs say they're having trouble recruiting quality candidates because they can't compete with big businesses. Top applicants are turning them down because they are holding out for the big corporate jobs.

If this is you, here are five ideas for how to find great hires for your small business:

1. Network. Rather than posting a Craigslist ad and getting 2,000 resumes to wade through from mostly unqualified candidates, let colleagues, family and friends know what you are looking for in a new hire. Maybe they know someone who'd prefer a small-business environment to that of a larger corporation. Nearly 60 percent of participants in the Manta study found their hires through their network contacts.

 2. Consider recent college graduates. Recent grads are often hot to find work and pay off student loans -- and it's one of the toughest hiring markets for grads in ages. If you have a position you could train someone for, you could nab someone with great potential.

  3. Allow telecommuting. This is an angle that attracts younger workers. A study from freelance marketplace Elance found more than half of Millenials consider telecommuting options important in selecting a job.

  4. Create a flextime position. Many workers need to work odd hours so they can pick up kids from school or attend classes themselves. If you offer some flexibility then you might improve your chances of getting a quality hire.

  5. Offer more responsibility and reward. What can you offer an employee that a giant company can't? At a large company, an employee often is a tiny cog in an enormous machine. Smaller companies can consider offering a small equity stake as well as the chance to have a greater say in company decisions. Both are things workers often can't get in "corporate America."

Are you looking to hire this year? Leave a comment and let us know where you're looking for staff.