Trying to find the perfect agency today is kinda like walking around a bookstore where all the genre signs have been taken down and patches of duct tape are obscuring the book titles. Thousands of obscure options to choose from, and absolutely no clue where to start looking.

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Finding an agency doesn’t have to be like this. And seriously, that bookstore is weird. Get out while you still can and follow a few quick tips that will bring you from thousands of average and not-the-right-fit agencies to a half-dozen great agencies shortlisted and ready to interview.

You need to have a few things figured out before setting off to find an agency

Knowing your needs is the secret sauce of finding a great agency. A little preparation goes a long way here. You’ll want to know:

  • …If an agency plays nice with others. This is especially important if you have an in-house marketing team and are supplementing that team with a specialized agency. How often do you want the two to interact? What platform will you use so that they stay up to date with one another? Who’s in charge of keeping up the dialog between your in-house marketing efforts and your agency’s efforts? Overlap of the two marketing efforts can get expensive, fast.
  • …Whether you prefer in-person meetings vs. conference calls. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Having face-to-face access with an agency can create stronger bonds which in turn leads to more trust and a stronger relationship. Choosing a non-local agency gives you a much larger pool of agencies from which to choose from, which could yield better results in the long run.
  • …Your marketing strengths and weaknesses. You’ll want to leverage the strengths of an agency to eliminate your own marketing shortcomings. Be careful here! Agency mission creep can be deadly to your business partnership. The agency should stay focused on what they know. If you give them objectives outside of those core strengths, be prepared for poor results.

Search Through Partner Directories on Marketing Automation Sites.

Marketing automation is so sexy right now. Agencies are clambering over one another to use these services and get more done with less. And wouldn’t you know it, these marketing automation companies are awesome places to find an agency. All it takes is a little search within their partner directories.

If your in-house team already uses something like HubSpot, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, or Marketo, then by all means, check those sites out first and find an agency using the same tools as you are (huge plus). These partner directories are also great when it comes to vetting agencies (in our books, partnerships = credentials.)

Find out Who Is Writing at Your Favorite Marketing Blog.

Someone has to churn out all that content, right? Most of the time we expect them to be content marketers hired by the site, but plenty of publishing platforms like Moz, HubSpot and KISSmetrics use guest blogging to augment their content needs. These guest bloggers are very often the CEOs or CMOs of awesome marketing agencies, so they’re worth the click through to check out.

Good Ol’ Fashion Organic Search.

Organic search is a fantastic ally no matter what stage you’re at in seeking out an agency. When you’re just starting to look, you’ll want to visit as many agencies as you can with a notepad in hand. Write down services and any branding touches you like about each company. Later on down the road you’ll want to use long-tail keywords to define your search even further. A quick search for “marketing agency” isn’t nearly as helpful as “Houston inbound marketing agency.”

Ask Other Businesses About Their Agencies.

If you’re focused on local, you’ll immediately see a trend in the most and least popular agencies in your area. Local business conventions are a great place to ask around. LinkedIn is another, albeit one that may not achieve the same results in the same amount of time.

Most businesses are more than happy to share their experiences with the agency in question, so don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll receive mostly unbiased information that you can use to narrow down your search.

We write about the prep work that goes into hiring an agency in our Ultimate Guide to Hiring an Agency, which you can download free here if you’d like to learn more. For now however, let’s look at some of the best places to find a great agency.