When I'm out talking to people about their websites I often come across business people who aren't happy with their current website and yet have spent thousands of dollars with no satisfaction.
I feel really bad for these bad experiences. Hiring a web consultant should not be a difficult process. Even start up businesses should have some kind of portfolio or sample of what they could do for your business.
Samples should be posted right to the internet and should work as you navigate them. If the web consultant doesn't have good examples then before your business hands over a dime you should ask for a working example, maybe even something worked up specifically for your business.
Building a website is like building a physical building. The final payment shouldn't be paid until you are satisfied. And you should ask for a guarantee up front.