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updated 2/8/2013 1:21:19 PM ET 2013-02-08T18:21:19

In the past few years, many companies were affected by the less than ideal economic conditions, and many instances, small businesses were hit harder than most. For these companies, the ability to be nimble and quickly adapt to changing economic conditions can be the difference between failure and success. However, there's an equally important factor that affects the fate of a small business: its employees.

Certainly employees and talent are the backbone of any company, but for small businesses -- particularly those with 50 or fewer employees -- their role can be even more crucial with right balance of skills and personalities having the ability to make or break a small business. Quite simply, the best business strategy in the world doesn't mean anything without the right people to execute it. That's why, more so now than ever, it's critical to carefully consider every hire and make sure each employee fulfills the right role needed for overall success.

When it comes to staffing your small business, here are the five employee "types" every company should have:

The Mentor: Many small businesses lack the formal training-and-development programs available in larger organizations, but that doesn't mean that your junior employees shouldn't have an opportunity to learn on the job. Fortunately, there are certain people who are born to teach -- even if it's not in the traditional classroom. Having a few employees on-hand who genuinely want to share their knowledge with others can take a load off small-business owners' minds. Not only does it eliminate the extra cost of hiring outside trainers, but it also offers a layer of institutional knowledge that only people on the inside of a company possess.

Related: How to Start Off New Employees on the Right Foot

These company "teachers" can extend beyond just the technical skills and share some of the things that are unique to a business -- the culture, processes and how they fit into the business strategy. This education ultimately helps groom the next generation of leaders for the company, which also carries the added benefit of supporting the development of a succession plan, something that is typically challenging for small-business owners.

The Knowledge Seeker: Not every employee is born to lead, or wants to -- and that's OK. What's more important is that there are employees on staff who have a passion for the business and a thirst for knowledge. Such employees aren't satisfied with just knowing enough to do their jobs. They want to continue learning, whether it's on the job, through extra training courses or even graduate school. This type of attitude is something that can rub off on other employees and perhaps inspire them to further their education in some way. Additionally, this employee can also keep the larger team up to speed on the latest industry trends or technical advancements, always a good thing for staying current.

The Renaissance Man (or Woman): Small-business owners often wear many hats -- from chief executive to human-resources manager, so it helps to have employees on staff that are as equally multifaceted. People who can dabble in several different areas of the company -- pinch-hitters -- can be immensely valuable. Small-business bosses can become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of work to do at various points throughout the year, with limited staff to tap into to get it all done. So, with others to juggle some of the duties, owners can focus on growth and strategy.

Related: How to Afford Your First Hire

The Morale Booster: For every small business that has managed to thrive despite the economic downturn, there are several more that have had an unbelievably hard time staying afloat. Working for a company that is going through financial hardships can have a severely negative impact on employee morale. That's why it's imperative to have some people on staff that can find the bright spots in what may seem like the most hopeless situation. It may not change the company's fortunes, but it can have a positive effect on employee psyche and culture, which has an impact on day-to-day business.

The Challenger: Having employees that support management's decisions 100 percent is never a bad thing, but it's also good to have a few people around you who will speak out and challenge the status quo -- or even a direction the company is considering. Surrounding yourself with "yes men" doesn't have any benefit for you as the owner or the business in general, simply because obviously not every idea is brilliant. Instead, what you want to cultivate is an atmosphere of healthy debate and discussion to be sure your business has strong strategies and ideas. Every now and then we all need a reality check -- and the people who are living and breathing your business on a daily basis are just the ones to give it.

Managing any size business these days isn't easy because of the financial pressures all are facing, and many would argue that small businesses have even more at stake. By ensuring that your company has these five types of employees, you can rest assured that your employee mix will be a competitive advantage that can be leveraged to achieve success.

Related: What Really Motivates Employees? [Infographic]

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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