Choose carefully and thoughtfully. Starting and growing a business is daunting enough. But marketing it in the digital age is a whole other (virtual) can of worms. So, how can you choose a reliable, creative digital partner to promote and manage your online marketing needs? To “friend” or not to “friend…” Your approach to entering a relationship with a marketing agency can mirror to a limited degree your approach to choosing a new friend: get to know him/her, ask a lot of questions, do a little research, check out their vibe, determine if there’s chemistry (yes, chemistry) between you, then trust your gut. Here are a few points to consider, as well as some questions you should ask a prospective agency. Use the force (of your gut). Begin your search with credibility and experience in mind. Read their website closely. Are they local (if that matters to you)? Speaking of websites: how does theirs feel to you? It might look slick and full of bells and whistles, but does the website appear high in search results (which indicates its own SEO acumen)? Are its social media pages current and properly maintained with relevant content? Ask (a lot of) questions. The first step is to ask a prospective agency a blunt question, says Paul Pita, Rebel’s chief branding officer. “Have you ever worked with clients that have similar goals or with similar challenges that my company has?” The answer can help you determine whether or not your goals, methods and philosophies are aligned. Then, Rebel’s vice president of content and creative, Allison Minutillo, suggests “putting on your investigative journalist hat.” She recommends asking yourself — and the prospective agency — some probing questions to dig deeper. After meeting them for the first time, ask yourself, “Do they feel and sound authentic? Are they just like the agency I’m moving on from? Did I get a good vibe?” Did you respond to their excitement? Did they spark any new ideas or do anything to make you feel special as a potential client? Do they seem to genuinely want your business?When they discuss their marketing services, are they regurgitating industry buzzwords and jargon that you could have just Googled, or are they actually educating you on strategies and tactics you didn’t even know existed? Are they truly experts in their field? Do they focus on marketing channel diversity or new ways to target audiences? How do they think about marketing, advertising and search, and is it the same approach your last agency took? Did you leave the conversation wanting to collaborate more, and do you feel as if they’ll provide true value to your business? Craig Wilson, vice president of marketing strategy, adds a few more questions to check off your list: Who from the agency will be assigned to my business, and why? Based on the challenge/opportunity I’m facing, can you provide client examples of similar situations [the agency] has addressed?What KPIs are your agency accountable for? But perhaps the most critical question, says Allison, is born of the following sentiment: “Do you crave learning from this agency’s talent and insight?” Size matters. Or not. Creative director Swav Cembrzynski adds: “Consider whether or not a smaller agency would be a better fit for your business than a bigger one — or vice versa.” Smaller agencies, he says, have less overhead and the cost of doing business with them might be lower. In fact, Swav contends that smaller agencies tend to focus more on their clients because there are fewer of them versus in a larger agency. And, food for thought: the price paid to a bigger agency might include helping to pay for a Madison Avenue rent… It’s all about the website. Marketing today means digital juju. Bryan Czajkowski, Rebel’s vice president of technical strategy, has this to say about the tech piece: “Your business’ website is your digital business card — and then some. It tells the world who you are, why you do what you do and how you do it, and it needs to be designed, built and hosted carefully.” Suffice it to say that your potential agency should have a deep understanding of website development technology. Pulling the proverbial trigger. After you’ve shortened your shortlist to only legitimate contenders, decide what you really need from your agency. Just like choosing a friend, everyone wants something different from different relationships. After all, marketing should be exciting for business owners who spend most of their time doing the day-to-day work of actually running their enterprise. Now that you’ve done your due diligence, choose an agency that aligns with your needs, your personality, and your gut. You know, just like a friendship.