When it comes to running a business, there are a million and one things for you to worry about, and unless you’re a marketer, chances are high that marketing is not your highest priority. Because of this, outsourcing marketing work to an agency or freelancer is a popular option for business owners.

Here’s the thing though: even as the owner of a content marketing agency, I would never recommend you jump into hiring an agency just because it’s what all your entrepreneurial friends are doing.

There are a number of critical things to consider before making the leap and hiring a firm that will save you money, time and headaches. Here they are.

1. Do your homework.

I’m about to spill the beans on my industry here.

First things first, take the testimonials on an agency’s website with a grain of salt. It’s not always an accurate indicator of an agency’s abilities. I’m not naming names here, but a lot of testimonials out there are either fabricated or fake altogether. In many circumstances, agencies even cut a deal with clients, exchanging free work for a positive testimonial.

Instead, go straight to the source. Begin by checking if the agency you’re consider to hire has Yelp or Google reviews. Many of them will not. If they don’t, you can check out sites like Clutch.co, which is a discovery and review tool made specifically for agencies.

2. Take a close look at their prices.

There’s a reason why shirts at Ross cost $10 and those at Calvin Klein cost ten times that amount – in most cases, you get what you pay for. It’s just that simple. If the agency you’re pursuing is charging curiously low rates, it’s most likely because they’re inexperienced or they suck.

On the other hand, some firms will charge you an arm, a leg and your first born child to work with them. While many agencies are justified in charging these high rates, just as many aren’t.

3. Take an even closer look at their case studies.

To get the best idea of how legitimate a marketing agency is, take a close look at their case studies provided on their website. If you’re trying to determine whether or not an agency has experience driving results for businesses similar to your own, case studies will almost always have the answer you’re looking for.

If they don’t have case studies covering the specific services you’re searching for, reach out to them to see if they have experience in that area given not every client makes it on an agency’s case studies page.

4. Treat the agency like you would a potential employee.

When hiring a marketing agency, go into it the same way you would when hiring a potential employee. Why? When hiring an employee, you don’t just screen candidates based on their merits – you also look to see if they’d be a solid cultural fit for your organization.

The same rules should apply when searching for a marketing agency. If you and your agency partner don’t share similar values, things are likely to be rocky down the road. Be mindful of this when conducting outreach.

When Not to Hire an Agency

There are also times when you absolutely shouldn’t hire an agency, and should go with a freelancer or an in-house specialist instead. Here’s my golden rule when trying to see which option is best for your company:

If you can’t do it right yourself, hire a freelancer. If a freelancer can’t do it right, hire an agency. If an agency can’t do it right, hire an in-house specialist.

When it comes to properly allocating budget, you should always test small, and only go bigger if the test actually went well. Because of this, it’s always smart to go with the less expensive option first to determine whether or not your marketing efforts can successfully be done for less.

For instance, between paying for benefits, office space, salary and more, most in-house positions will cost your company much more than partnering with an agency or freelancer. That being said, similar to above, you usually get what you pay for here. The further you go up the ladder of options here, the more refined the marketing services you hire for will be.

Lucky for everyone, today there are viable options for entrepreneurs of all budgets – whether that’s using a platform like Upwork to hire freelancers or hiring a seasoned veteran to be your in-house employee.

Hiring a high-quality marketing agency that also happens to be a great fit for your organization is tough, but definitely not impossible. By applying the tactics laid out in this article, you’ll be in a terrific position to begin your search the right way. Best of luck.