The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
"Particularly in a fast-changing field like digital marketing, look for an agency that has a large proportion of clients who continuously seek their guidance. Agency fit comes down to two factors: helping to create something new based on current conditions, and when specialization is needed to make a project come to life."
Point of contact
"Who will your point of contact be after the deal is closed? Will the 'salesman' disappear and leave you with an intern as a point of contact? Make sure you know who you will be dealing with at all times and request the best account managers so you don't get brushed off to a bad one."
"The key to the game, once you have decided to co-work some parts of your digital strategy, is to have someone help you with the right credentials. You need a digital agency that can prove results -- both hard, fact-based and number-oriented results. Beautiful colors and slides cannot replace cold number results. If your agency is not able to show you numbers, look for another agency."
"You want to ask them about their process. A good agency should be able to create a 6-month plan for you where they can describe the approach for on-page optimization, content marketing, social marketing, blogging, backlinking, etc. The plan should show the cost, all activities to be performed, and the expected result. The plan will allow you to know their strengths and decide."
Proof of experience
"There's an old saying in the ad business. It's not what you can do -- it's what you've done. Get proof they've done this before. Any digital agency worth their salt will give you direct access to speak with two of their key clients. Ask them about performance, problems, and their opinion on whether they think the agency can help your business or not."
"I would ask them for two or three different examples of campaigns that they have done in the past (with analytics proof) of the return on investment to the customer. This should give you a good feel on if they are an agency that even cares about these metrics. I find that when an agency has this ready, it's something they've thought about in the past and care about. If they don't have it ready, I find it means they don't care enough."
"Nobody knows a business like your own people. This is the Achilles' heel of the agency business. If digital marketing is something so important to your company that you can't exist without it as a startup, grow digital marketing expertise from within. When you're ready to make the agency hire, maybe start with a freelance engineer first to see the scope of what you really need."
The questions they ask
"Most startups fail because they don't have a clear understanding of goals. Cost per lead doesn't matter if you don't know what a lead is worth. Agencies that ask the right questions and challenge the goals and assumptions of startups are the best partners. Look for an agency that challenges your assumptions with a detailed understanding of business metrics, not just marketing lingo."
Return on investment
"One key metric to ask a digital marketing agency before hiring them is what their ROI (return on investment) range is among their customers. Ask them for the lowest and highest ROIs as well as the average, especially for comparable companies in your industry. They might even have case studies you can read. This will give you a sense of the expected impact they can have on your business."
The numbers they ask you for
"A great digital agency isn't going to disclose clients' performance numbers, so don't rely on that as an indicator of their skill. However, you can glean a lot by paying attention to what they ask you. If they only ask you about your web traffic, keep looking. That's a vanity metric. You want an agency that probes you about meaningful marketing metrics, such as customer acquisition costs."
Experience in my field
"What I really like to see is experience with clients who are in my field. I prefer people who have done marketing for people in my industry long enough to understand my unique needs. Working with someone who has never marketed for construction means a lot of extra work explaining my motivations."
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