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Always ask for references, and always check them. Keep in mind though that the only references you'll get are people who the contractor is certain will give him a good review. You'd also be well advised to check online review sources in Madison as well, which will give you a broader view of customer satisfaction for a given company.
The question is great for some industries and non-applicable for others. A general contractor, for example, will by definition employ subcontractors. Most Madison Plumbing companies do not, but there are exceptions. You should always ask this question to your service providers. If they do use subcontractors, ask if they're all licensed and insured independently.
This really only matters if you have a preference, but it is good to ask. If you have a strong ideological belief about unions or nonunions, it's perfectly acceptable to make a decision based on the preference.
Though a standard question, it's important to ask. Most contractors will tell you how long they expect the job to take without you asking. If they don't volunteer that information, be sure to ask. It's also helpful to ask if that's a hard finish date, meaning that it's the definite finish date. If it's a soft finish date, it may be extended for any number of reasons.
This is very important, since an estimate is just that. Many contractors will submit a "paper estimate", meaning they've written the estimate down on paper. The bill is the true amount owed and will almost always say "Invoice" or "Bill" at the top of the page. The bill should also list the date it was issued, the due date of payment, and a list of services rendered.