What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
It is our opinion that the customer should not be required to pay up front costs. You should not be asked to pay until after the job has been completed to your satisfaction.
We have been called out to complete many jobs where the customer has already paid "material fees" and then the contractor disappears or comes up with endless excuses for endless delays. The best way to avoid this is to not pay until the job is completed or for larger jobs set up a payment plan where payments will be released upon certain project milestones.
Also, make sure that they provide a warranty for the work they complete. It is a good idea to make sure that you have that in writing.
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
It would be great if the customers knew all the true costs of doing business. I think customers would have a more realistic cost expectation if they better understood the licensing, business taxes & fees and insurance requirements imposed on businesses. For some industries these account for over 50% of the cost to do business.