I can honestly say that I have been overwhelmed by all of the replies and I appreciate the time and thought that were put towards the matter at hand: what should *I* do next...?
Trying to find a reputable/affordable SEO firm in 2010 is very different than it was in 2001.
I hope this makes sense...I've used two kinds of mustard for most of my life, yellow and spicy...a few weeks ago, I came to realize that, in reality, there are actually over 500 kinds of mustard out there. I was blown away by the choices presented to me. (Seriously, go search around for a bit in the world of mustards, when you have a chance, and let me what you picked as the best tasting option. And, no, my site has nothing to do with mustard.)
My point is that it seems almost impossible to decide on the best SEO company (or mustard)in this day and age with so many options and without spending a lot of money before a winner is determined...
There are so many SEO agencies out there, large and small, all of them offering "the solution" that I "need".
The "trust factor" is what is killing me. I've come to the conclusion that I can't ever know for sure if any of them are competing with me on sites they may own and/or performing SEO on competing sites. I've decided that I'm going to keep things in-house for now.
Again, I really appreciate all of the replies, you've all given me a lot of important things to consider in the future.