What types of customers have you worked with?
Branding is the cornerstone of all marketing. Every project I do examines the branding first. Very often, the goals of a particular piece (brochure, website, etc.) are difficult to attain because the branding is too weak to be effective. When this happens, I always offer to re-brand before time is spent developing a piece that will ultimately be a waste of time and money because of poor branding.
And branding is more than just a logo. Consistent use of colors, fonts, textures, and layouts are critical to ensuring that people recognize a company when they see it regardless of where they see it.
What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
When hiring a graphic designer, make sure they understand your target market. It's not enough to have a design that "looks cool"; it has to attract the customers you want and that requires a full understanding of how design works.
Things like colors, shapes, and typefaces say specific things about your business, and you need to make sure that your designs say the right thing about you in a way that the people you are trying to reach will quickly grasp.
A good graphic designer will also be quick to let you know when your ideas won't work and how to adjust them so they will...BEFORE they waste valuable time (and your money) making ineffective changes.
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
More than anything, I wish customers knew that Graphic Design is a true professional trade skill that requires the same level of discipline, education, research, dedication, and talent as any lawyer, doctor, electrician, or mechanic. This level of expertise deserves both respect and trust.
And just like in those other trades, getting the right person to do the job will provide benefits that simply cannot be measured in dollars.