The date is set. The invitations need to go out in the next couple of days. The theme is decided and the decorations are waiting for you at the party supply store… Oh yeah, why don’t we have an entertainer for the kids this year.Cue the screeching brake noise…now.If you’re at this point in the process the pickin’s are gonna be slim in the entertainer department. You need to back the planning truck up about four weeks to make sure that you have time to locate and book quality entertainment. Yes, it is possible to find a quality entertainer last-minute–but don’t expect them to be there just waiting for a phone call. A good entertainer will start seriously booking shows for birthdays about six weeks in advance. Four weeks is still a fairly safe bet, but beyond that the dates get tight.Most people want to have the party on a Saturday about mid-afternoon. Well, an entertainer only has about eight of those coveted spots in any given month. Once they are taken, you go to late afternoon/early evening or perhaps a Sunday (which is getting more popular nowadays). So Rule #1: Plan ahead at least one month.As I mentioned earlier, you can still get a good entertainer sort of last-minute, but you have to be more flexible with the party time or date. For instance, if possible, think about a mid-week party. Those times are usually more available, and some entertainers will even give a bit of a discount to fill an otherwise unproductive date.Once you’ve found a list of potential entertainers. Then what? How do you decide which one to invite into your home?Rule # 2: Do your research. First, visit the company website if one is listed. A good website should give you fair idea of what this performer is all about. Keep in mind that the flashiest web sites don’t always belong to the best performers. However, a nice site does at least tell you this person is serious about his or her business. Be sure to read all the testimonials, and look for names that you might recognise. If there is video, check that out as well. Look for kids laughing in the video. Don’t worry so much about the show. Most living room-type shows seem a bit sluggish or even campy when viewed on video. If the kids are laughing though, that’s a clear indication that this is a good children’s entertainer.You might also ask friends about an entertainer? Have they heard of him or her? If so, what have they heard? It should be all positive. Of course, you’ll want to call the entertainer and find out what you can expect to experience if he or she does entertain your child. Think of this as an interview for a job, and you are the employer. Here are a few questions you might ask.Are you a full-time entertainer? (A part-time entertainer may be just fine, but someone-who makes a living from entertaining will have more experience and may be more reliable because this is a business.)What do you do? (This is a general question. Don’t expect a blow-by-blow description, but listen to what is said and how it is said. the description should captivate you somewhat. Remember, this person will most likely be talking to or with your child and the other guests for quite a while.)How long have you been doing this? (That’s an important one. The longer someone does a job, the better that person gets at performing it. Nowhere is that more evident than as an entertainer. )Are you insured? (Accidents happen. You don’t want to be on the hook for the glass of purple water your entertainer spills across your new white carpet.)Do you have any references? (They may already have testimonials listed on their website. But if you can get a recent reference to actually talk with, that’s a plus. This may not be available — would you want to be the person getting calls in the future from folks?)In addition to these questions, note how many questions your potential entertainer asks you. Expect to be asked about the location of the party, the date, time, age of the children and what you are expecting. A good entertainer will want to know what environment he is getting into. He’s already planning for the event with every question. Conversely, if you get off the phone and realize that you did most of the talking — well, go back to your list and try another number.Rule #3: Decide what type of entertainer will fit the theme. There are a host of themes depending upon the age of the children. Your options at this point depend upon the interests of the birthday child. Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, spys, magic, princess…the list goes on. Once this is decided, you might go to the internet and just search a few key words for your area regarding the theme you’ve chosen. For instance, if you’ve chosen Harry Potter as a theme, and you lived in Milwaukee, you might go to the internet and search for Milwaukee birthday magician. That should bring up a page with several choices. This might not be as clear with a specific theme like Blues Clues, but you might find a list of costumed characters that can visit your home.Some may still wish to let their finger do the walking and find someone who advertises in the Yellow pages. Keep in mind that the more savvy entertainers are fleeing the yellow pages in droves. The ads are expensive and most performers are finding the internet a better choice. So your choice will be limited in the actual printed book.If you follow all these tips, there still is no guarantee that you will get the best entertainer. You will have done your due diligence though. Not much more that to do. Do be sure to talk directly with the entertainer that will be coming to your home though. Sometimes, an agency will pop up first on the internet search. This agency may seem like it is located in your town, but in reality it might be on the other side of the country or in another country altogether. In most cases, these ‘agencies’ don’t know the entertainers and are just looking to put a warm body at the gig. Be careful. If you can’t speak directly with the entertainer — that’s a sign to move on, because you don’t know who may show up at your doorstep on the appointed day. You be the judge.