This is the first of a seven-post series on how to choose the right creative service provider (writer, designer, photographer, etc.) for your business or organization. This advice is based on what I’ve seen companies do the wrong way over the years. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!

The first step is making sure you avoid the biggest mistake of all, which is to ask your prospective provider “What’s your hourly rate?” Do that, and you’re probably not going to end up with the best provider for your needs and budget.

When you hire any kind of professional, price should be secondary to expertise, knowledge, talent – and value. A veteran supplier with a healthy business is rarely going to be your choice when hourly rates are the primary metric. Besides, low hourly rates provide a form of false economy. Provider A may charge half as much per hour as Provider B, but if it takes A four times as long to handle the work, he or she is actually twice as costly. Or Provider A may lack the experience or talent to do justice to the project, so the quality and results will suffer accordingly.

If you needed an attorney or a surgeon, you’d seek the most capable, not the most affordable. Similarly, your best bet is to seek the greatest value your budget will allow.

A more sensible approach is project pricing. You and the provider discuss the needs and scope, and the provider develops an estimate for your approval. As long as there are no significant changes to the scope of the project, the provider bills you for the specified amount. You know what to expect, making budgeting and payment easier. The provider has an economic incentive to perform the work as efficiently as possible, which may speed turnaround time.

Learn more in our free report, The Smarter Strategy for Selecting Suppliers, which offers practical, proven advice for choosing the right creative service providers. Get your free copy!