This is another in 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!

Will you be happy with the supplier’s work? That’s the question that many clients ask, and it’s closely related to the one they should be asking — will you be happy with the working relationship?

Effective, satisfying work usually begins with a positive working relationship between the client and the service provider. One of the best ways to determine whether you’re likely to have that kind of working relationship is to see how the supplier has worked with other clients.

Ask for names and numbers of current (and even former) clients. Then invest some time to talk with them to determine what they think of your prospective supplier. Instead of inquiring about ethereal topics such as creativity, concentrate on business practices and aspects of the working relationship. For example, inquire about whether billing matches estimates, and whether the provider takes deadlines seriously. Talk about the working relationship, and ask how the provider reacts to suggestions and requests for changes. By the end of the conversation, you shouldn’t have any doubt about the client’s impressions.

In addition, don’t make the common mistake of assuming that a long list of awards equals great work. Although the industry focuses a great deal of attention on award competitions, clients rarely benefit from awards (except for a momentary ego boost). With very few exceptions, award competitions do not consider the criteria that are most important to clients — such as whether the entry met marketing objectives, whether the budget was reasonable, or if the entry was consistent with the client’s strategy. Far too many are judged by jaded creative people who only want to see something new, clever, or different, and who have no interest in whether the entry was a business success.

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!