When choosing a painting company, never decide based on price only. Painting requires skills based on knowledge and experience. Look for painters that have references that establish a reliable track record. Also keep in mind that there are many types of painting such as interior, exterior, decorative and basic. When choosing a painting company, it's important to choose one with expertise in the kind of painting you need.
Just as you wouldn’t go to a heart specialist for a knee problem, don't consider a painting company that specializes in decorative painted cement floors when you need your living room walls painted. Good references won't matter unless they apply to the type of work you want. If a neighbor or someone you know had a painter that did great work on a similar project to yours, by all means consider the reference and ask the painting company to provide you with further references.
It is crucial for painting companies to have good references to let you know they finish a job and provide quality work. You may want to look for painters that are members of a professional organization such as the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) and/or the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Don't just take displayed decals or logos from professional organizations as a sign the painting company is a member of good standing. Put the painting contractor on your list and then phone and ask the organization what they know about the company.
Narrow down your choices of painting companies down to three and then invite those businesses to give you quotes. Be sure to find out the breakdown of the pricing. Does it include any applicable taxes? Does it include moving any furniture, especially heavier pieces? You can use the information you gather from the quotes to make your final decision on which painting company is right for you.