First of all, ask friends and family for references. Who remodeled their kitchen? Who landscaped their backyard? Who did that amazing job on setting up their pool? Make sure you respect their privacy, but be sure to explain what you are interested in and what you need to know. Also gently ask if they were happy with the job, if they are still happy with the job that was done, and if they were content with the price. Do they wish that they had gone elsewhere instead of sticking with the contractor that they did? This step is important because it builds up a small contact list for you to work through in the next step. Don't forget to mention that if you choose who they went with you will be sure about asking for a referral bonus for your friend/family!
Now that you have names and some numbers, start calling! Your contractor needs to understand your vision and not force his/her ideas onto you. Does the contractor work with you and come up with supporting ideas or does he/she make a joke of your vision and steamroll you into other, and more expensive, ideas? Make sure that you and the contractor are a team and there is no sneaky behavior on their end. Remember to ask for a timeline for when it will take place and end and get an estimate for the total cost. Also, does the contractor offer any specials or discounts? It never hurts to ask!
Finally, before you commit, check the reviews on the internet. What are random users posting about this contractor? Is he/she reputable and established or new and floundering? The more information you can find on the contractor the more educated you are. And last but not least, don't forget, if you find that the contractor and you are not a good fit, do not be afraid to ask the contractor if he/she can recommend another person to you. Finding a contractor is not the easiest task to do, but when you do find a great balance between cost and quality you will be so happy with the results that follow.