I find significant humor and a dash of irony in traditional reference checking, whether it be for a job application, credit application or a contractor. What is so funny, you ask? Well, 99% of the time the person (or company) providing the references stacks the list with only their favorite clients/associates/friends/family. And even funnier, 99% of the time the person (or company) checking references goes no further than the references initially provided. Low and behold, the references come out great! Wow! How unexpected, right? Wrong…
Nothing speaks more about a contractor than the satisfaction of past clients. And not just his favorite past clients, but all of them. So how do you check references in a meaningful way? How do you help avoid that horrible realization that you are paying the wrong person to do the job at hand? These four steps are guaranteed to dig up the past, good or bad:
Do Their Biggest Fans Love them?
Ask your potential contractor for three references from the past five years. He or she will certainly give you his three favorite clients. Call them and ask simple yet informative questions: Were you satisfied with Company X’s work? (Fill in the companies name here, unless you are truly using a company called “Company X,” in which case suggest they hire a marketing consultant…) How much did your project run over budget? Was Company X (or their subs) professional and courteous? Would you use Company X again? These questions provide great insight into their experience. Remember, however, that these references give you a partial picture of past performance. It is almost guaranteed that this initial list will only contain satisfied customers. It is helpful, but not nearly as helpful as Step 2…
Step 1. Do their Biggest Fans Love Them?
Step 2. Are Their Most Recent Clients Happy?
Step 3. Do Their Suppliers Tolerate Them?
Step 4. Are the Feds Hunting Them?