Throughout my career, I have hired and worked with outside consultants and freelancers and have had, for the most part, positive and workable experiences and successful project outcomes.

Here are 10 tips for selecting an outside vendor:

1. Define the Project, the Scope and Rough Schedule
Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any vendor.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can provide clear, complete information to your selected vendor and this will in turn help you get more specific information from them.

Be realistic about schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job.

2. Interview the Vendor
Ask questions—lots of questions.  You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people that not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too.  Then request that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process.  Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

3. Look for Specific Experience Fit
Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

4. Review the Vendor’s Work
Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews.  Make sure that your expectations regarding style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and manner are applicable to what you want and need.

5. Confirm Who Will be Doing the Work
Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay.  But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved.  Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a printer.  But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced.  If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

6. Test
If you can, start with a small, simple project.  That way you can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what you need.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project.  This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

7. An Agreed to Schedule
By this point, you have defined with your provider a working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals.  This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points.

If any course corrections need to be made you will have adequate time to make those and you won’t be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late.  My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

8.  Final Product Ownership
For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are agreeing to provide.

9.  Define What You Expect as Far as Any Ongoing Support
During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes?  If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications.  That seemingly little detail  can save you time and money later.

10. Get Everything in Writing
Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to price, schedule, criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement.  Save email exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member.  There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.