If an outsource company insists on paying other vendors itself, ask to see those vendor bills. The amazing thing about meeting planning is that your work is never done. While you are handling the internal "public relations" on site, someone must be checking on the meeting rooms, airport transfers, rooming lists, and myriad other details in the meantime. Ah, if only you could clone yourself.

While that solution isn't available--not yet, anyway--another more practical answer is to outsource some of your problems away. Just as your company probably has business partners to help bring its products to market, so can you partner with an outside firm to help you manage events and meetings. The upside: You can increase your potential to excel in your job, limit the number of crises, and free up your time. The downside: You may leave decisions to people who don't know enough to make them, who don't understand your business culture, and who don't understand your standards for quality.

So, how do you get all the benefits of partnering with an outsourcing firm without the drawbacks? Follow these tips:

1.Are they flexible? Pose some what-if questions, and ask for specific responses. For example: "What if your president asks them to pick up his dry cleaning or some special item at a store 20 miles away." Everybody makes boilerplate claims about service--find out what they'll really do.

2.How do they get paid? This is a legitimate question. Are they working by the job, by the hour, for a percentage of billings, or some combination? How they get paid tells you a lot about their incentives to perform.

3.How do they handle payment for other vendors? Make sure all bills are itemized. If an outsource company insists on paying other vendors itself, ask to see those vendors' bills. Don't be surprised that many outsourcing companies may resist that request. Nobody likes to reveal markups.

4. How long have they been in business? What type of work do they most often handle? Just as in manufacturing, there's an experience curve in services.

5. How big is their staff? Inquire about the staffing breakdown: How many full-time and part-time employees; and how many sub-contractors? What kind of qualifications do the employees possess? This information can help you gauge a company's dedication to the business, and it may also be an indicator of its ability to be flexible.

Budgets and References Just because an outsourcing firm has a good client list does not mean it will give you the best value for the money. Some are more budget-conscious than others. A budget-conscious outsourcing firm will require that all clients sign vendor contracts and pay them directly, even when the firm negotiates the contracts for them. This eliminates any question regarding costs, markups, or commissions.

Be sure to speak with the individuals named in the firm's references directly, and ask specific questions regarding the kind of work the firm did for them. Was the work similar to what you'll be asking them to perform?

Expect the meeting planning company to ask a lot of questions. It might seem a bit annoying at first, but attention to detail is the true test of professionalism. Give the vendor specific information about what you are looking for, so that your request can be properly priced.

One more thing to remember: Meeting and event planning is very much a people business. Make sure you're comfortable with the people you'll be working with as well as the information that they are giving you. Enter into a relationship with a meeting planning company as seriously as any other partnership that helps your company to achieve its marketing objectives.