By Carmen Sutherland, Cofounder of ThreeDefined

Hiring an agency is a commitment, though it’s also not like picking a life partner, so don’t sweat it too much. Maybe this is your first agency or maybe you’ve had a bad experience, but here are a few things to ask yourself and them before tying the beautifully-designed knot:

You want it when…and for how much? Lead with the answers to these. Even the best fit of an agency isn’t going to work out if they are not available during the time period you need them. Determine at least a ball-park figure that you are willing to spend on the project and then share that number. Agencies will quickly be able to tell you if they can play in that range. Budget discussions early on can save everyone a lot of time. Also, note that the more options you want for your project, the bigger your budget needs to be – you are paying for creativity, not just the final project deliverable.

What do you want from me? This question goes both ways – what level of service are you looking for? Do you like to meet in person or prefer conference calls? Do you want to be involved with the creative process or do you just want the finals shown to you for approval? Different agencies have their own processes and preferred methods of working. Some are flexible, and remember you are hiring an agency for a reason – so you don’t have to do everything yourself! It’s a good question to ask before your first conference call gets scheduled if you thought you were going to have all in-person meetings (usually the first 1-2 meetings are in person, to determine fit, but then processes sometimes change, so ask!)

What should I expect from you? Any creative agency should be able to take your ideas and run – in that direction and then some. But others can simply execute to your specific orders. What you want probably depends on your level of experience in marketing. If you are an expert and just need the team to execute, that’s a very different agency than one that will brainstorm new and creative ways of shouting your message. Be clear on what you want – it’s going to be frustrating for everyone involved if you want executing monkeys and you end up with creative genius’ – or vice versa!

Does Industry Matter? Most agencies have a breadth of clients and any agency worth their salt is going to catch on to slight industry nuances in a hurry. If your business really does operate in its own world and you think that will be beneficial, then this is a great filter for you to start with. But don’t think of your industry too narrowly. An agency may have an e-commerce specialty, but this crosses selling lots of different things online!

Carmen Sutherland/Marketing Strategy, ThreeDefined‘s big-picture person. Carmen is the “anchor” at ThreeDefined,  keeping the team on-track, in-line and on-budget. Armed with an MBA from London Business School and big-company experience with Gap Inc., Carmen also brings years of small-business management and practicality. When she’s not buried in Excel and analyzing data from every angle, our Superwoman can also be found running around Austin’s Town Lake, meditating, clubbing (book clubbing, that is), traveling with her family, karaoking or writing about any of these things in her blog. Follow at @threedefined.