What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
Compare quality NOT price or quantity. One photographer may have a cheap package for $25 with all high resolution digital images, while the other is $200 with little to no print. You need to ask your self, does the quality match up? Is it worth spending your money on? Remember even if it's only $25, it's still money going to waste.
The price of custom professional photography is expensive, so you have to be prepared for that. Photography is not about just owning a camera and snapping pictures. Photographers spend a lot of money on photography classes, equipments, props, softwares, etc. Then there is the cost of labour (the time taken to consult with the client (via phone or internet), time spent getting to the location and setting up all props, the time spent working with the clients (at least an hour), the time spent sorting the images (eliminating the images with closed eyes, sneezing moments, or just not cooperating), then there is the time spent professionally processing every single image to give it that extra bright, beautiful and crisp look. that's over 10 hours already.
Keep in mind, You're hiring a professional for a reason...
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
I am very easy to work with. Very understanding. I think not just as a photographer BUT also as a client.
I am very patient (previous clients can verify that). When their kids are throwing a fit, to shy or just to active and they're ready to throw the towel in, I'm still there trying to get that perfect shot even if it's just one.
There are times when even adults come to me with a very shy personality and worried that they won't do or look great in the final images. I assure you, you're never to old to be shy :D you just need a photographer to understand you and work with you patiently to get that great shot.