Why Many Private Investigators Fail and How to Not Be One of Them

The PI Profession is Changing

There are many private investigators today who are taking the industry to new levels, bringing professionalism, due diligence, and respect to a category of work that has traditionally been regarded as sneaky, mysterious, and sometimes even just a slight step above the criminals and other nefarious individuals we ourselves are hired to investigate.

Part of that distorted image of private investigators is due, in part, to simple lack of education or knowledge.  So, many of us today are working to educate and impart knowledge through transparency in our blogs, newsletters, articles, podcasts, speaking engagements, and other forms of communication.

In fact, some of my colleagues have been hammering away at changing the face of our profession for so long that I think the tables are slowly turning for us.  I want to get behind that momentum and pitch in whatever I can to further the process along.

I am also a big fan of helping out my fellow PI’s whenever I can, so I think this blog post that addresses private investigator failure might actually help a brother or a sister out.

Here goes.

Be on the Side of Change

As is the case in every profession, there are some of us who are failing as private investigators.  We are failing because of our own lack of knowledge, laziness, or downright disregard for the industry.

If you are a private investigator who wants to succeed, read on.  If you are a private investigator (or even any other professional) who likes to blame others for your lack of success, admit that it starts with you, then read on.  If you just don’t care and are set in your ways, you should probably stop reading now because you’re not going to take my advice anyway.

So.  You’re still reading.  Good for you.

Here are my own thoughts on why many private investigators (and other professionals, especially solo practitioners) fail and what you can do to stay out of that unfortunate category:

Develop Good Business Sense

Anyone who is a solo practitioner or owner of a PI agency/firm really needs to develop good business sense along with their investigative skills.  We simply cannot downplay the business side of our jobs.

We are all responsible for investigating, but many of us must also extend our reach into marketing, financial upkeep, website development, social media awareness and interaction, and a host of other responsibilities associated with our businesses.

Choose One or Two Practice Areas To Hone In On

In an industry that has historically encouraged a “jack of all trades” mentality, we must all realize, however harsh it may be, that “jack of all trades, master of none” is a more realistic picture.

Don’t be the guy or gal who boasts expertise in ten different investigative areas.  It simply cannot be, unless your firm employs a variety of investigators who each are very adept at one or two things.  This means that if you are a solo practitioner, as I am, don’t try to do it all.

Recognize the value in achieving expert status in one or two areas, rather than attempting to tackle everything.  When a case calls for an expert in cell phone forensics, don’t assume you can stumble your way through it, unless of course cell phone forensics is your baby.

Participate in Training

Don’t be a know-it-all.  We all need regular, continued training.  So seek out qualified training.  Two of my own personal favorites are PI Education and OSMOSIS.

Don’t write off your state’s private investigator association and whatever training they might offer as well.  I belong to associations in both Missouri and Kansas, where I am licensed.  Kansas Association of Licensed Investigators provides great training every other year that can be found here.

In a professional industry that is constantly changing and developing, neglecting training is a surefire way to nowhere.

Know Your Industry News

There are so many different avenues you can take to stay abreast of private investigator industry news.  It’s especially important for us solo practitioners who can easily find ourselves isolated and just plugging away in our home offices.

On a personal level, I purposely shy away from pretty well most news sources.  But on a professional level, it is important for me to stay aware of much of what is going on around me, especially news relevant to private investigators.

Much of my PI industry news comes from social media (especially Twitter), Pursuit Magazine, PI Magazine, and other investigators’ blogs and podcasts.

Abide By the Law(s)

As private investigators, it is imperative for us to maintain sufficient knowledge of applicable laws and ensure that we are following every one of them.

At the very least, we should all familiarize ourselves with the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, and Fair Credit Reporting Act.

As a general rule, private investigators must also seek out state laws that absolutely vary from state-to-state.  These include but are not limited to audio recording laws, licensure requirements, trespassing laws, privacy laws, and gun laws.

And for goodness sake, please don’t impersonate a law enforcement officer, tamper with mail, wiretap a phone without consent, hack into a social media account or email, acquire bank account information/financial records, uncover phone records without a warrant, or place a GPS on a vehicle without consent from a registered owner.

Seek Out Relationships with Other Private Investigators

One of the best proactive approaches private investigators can have to avoid failure is to seek out and develop relationships with other private investigators.

Connect.  Network.

There is no excuse for even the most isolated individual to fail to reach out to others in their industry.  The majority of my own “reaching out” has involved sitting at my computer in my home office, reading other private investigators’ articles and blogs, commenting on them, and starting conversations with the author.

That’s it.  Easy as pie.

One of my most valued relationships began when an aspiring PI reached out to me after he read one of my blog posts that was especially helpful to him.  That email turned into a series of emails, then a phone call, then a few Skype calls, and continues today with regular communication.

Just this past year, as I reached out to other private investigators via social media, the doors of opportunity have opened to me on various levels.  As a result of my efforts to connect, I have become a regular writer for Pursuit Magazine, been interviewed on Francie Koehler’s P.I.’s Declassified internet radio show, co-hosted a webinar with Hal Humphreys of PI Education, and landed some great sub-contracting gigs with other private investigators.  I’ve also obtained clients through private investigator referrals.

Ask For Help

Another vital component for success is never shying away from asking others for help.  This is so important, especially for private investigators new to the scene, but veteran PI’s should not discount the importance of reaching out for help when needed as well.

If you don’t have any other private investigator to reach out to, start with me.  Ask me for help and if I can’t help, I’ll surely point you in the direction of another individual who can.

Create an Intake Process for Clients

I didn’t even know what an intake process was until not very long ago.  Every single business owner, myself included, should create an intake process before spending time and money on marketing.

An intake process is simply an automated system set in place to screen clients, schedule appointments, provide an intake packet (homework) to be filled out by the client during the interim, then carry out the initial meeting with the goal of securing that client’s business.

Market Yourself

Once an intake process is set in place, it’s time for marketing.  It’s amazing how many private investigators take the time to become licensed, invest in a business, and set up a practice, only to completely neglect marketing or just barely touch on it.

Very few of us will see success without marketing ourselves.  If you’ve hung out your shingle and are twiddling your thumbs waiting for the phone to ring, you might revisit your marketing strategies.

Fact Check Your Sources

Any private investigator worth their weight should absolutely take the time to validate information gleaned from databases and check information against multiple sources, even primary sources when available.

If you aren’t doing these things, please start now.  You are failing your clients if you are cutting corners and operating a lazy investigation.

Be a Professional

We are professionals, so we must play the part.  This includes dressing better than our clients, providing clean reports that are error-free, and operating our businesses with high ethical and moral standards.

Don’t fail for lack of professionalism.  This one should be a no-brainer.

A Note From New Hope Investigations

Best of luck to you and may all of our businesses prosper in 2018!

A special note regarding the frequency of my blogs for 2018:  New Hope Investigations is transitioning from weekly posts in 2017 to bimonthly posts in 2018.  Same solid content.  Same author.  As this business continues to grow, more of my time is needed in other areas.  It’s a great problem!  Best wishes.