Once that little company you've been operating out of your guest bedroom starts to grow, you're going to face some big, complicated questions about your company's growth. In any decision, you may have several potentially good, safe choices, and one potentially fantastic option that comes with a high level of risk. What to do?

You can look around for a crystal ball. You can also hire consultants to help you help you navigate your choices.

Even though we have a number of different consulting agencies helping us in a few different area, digital agencies are the ones that have lately been giving me the biggest headaches. Given that Internet marketing is a global, rapidly-expanding field, the demand for experts, from SEO to Web developers, far exceeds the supply of really talented people. Here are a few things to consider before signing on:

Don't believe the hype. Vet them thoroughly.

I know of several high-profile Internet marketing firms that do a great job boasting of their laundry list of achievements and brand-name clients. Unless you have a big (and I mean HUGE) wad of cash to throw at them on a monthly basis, all that means nothing to a small startup. Read every online review of them you can find. Ask them for direct client references so that you can talk to the clients yourself. Have they worked with clients in your same industry? Are they good at meeting deadlines and delivering what they promised? This all matters when the price tag is hefty. And if your firm is in-demand, a hefty price tag is about the only thing you can count on.

Figure out if you are a good fit

In the past, we've worked with companies that simply don't "get" our product. We sell luxury swimwear, and our industry has a strong following. Sadly, if the firm you hire does not understand the allure behind your brand, they won't be able to pinpoint winning strategies to convert more clients. The consultants need to be able to use your voice to develop a rapport with clients. If the consultants don't dig it, it won't work.

Leverage your strong points

Make sure your consultants understand why you are a strategic client for them. Many agencies are very brand-driven or susceptible to being wooed by big-name companies. Are you the next e-commerce hit? Are you doing something different that will change the way others look at your industry? Were you referred by one of their current clients? This all helps you become their priority.

Don't settle for less

Are they overwhelmed with their big clients and planning on taking you on with a lower level of importance? It happens more often than you think: The agency owner courts you in the beginning, but once you sign on the dotted line you are delegated to a junior associate who knows very little about your needs. Meanwhile, the owner is on to their next target. Ask what the agency team assigned to you would look like once you become a client, and be specific about your goals and timeline. Make them put it in the contract, and hold them to it.

I've had my share of nightmare consulting companies--and at the beginning, from the outside, these companies looked like the best thing ever. Remember, these folks are good at marketing, and they want your business. Make them deserve you.

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