INTERMOUNTAIN PI BLOG | 10/13/2020 25 TIPS FOR PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR SUCCESS IN 2021
2020 has been a real kick in the teeth with metal cleats. Are you experiencing Covid fatigue? How will you prepare for the continued effects of the pandemic next year? Perhaps you’re worried about the survival of your private investigation business? You’re not alone. Operating a small business is difficult under normal circumstances, let alone in a pandemic. Either way, I hope these 25 tips for private investigator success in 2021 will help you. There’s a lot you can do now to prepare for success in 2021.
1. ATTITUDE AND MINDSET The great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that will determine your altitude…” I’ve always found that to be true. I understand that hope is not a strategy. But neither is focusing on when Covid-19 will be over. It’s a waste of time. No one knows. It will be over when it’s over. There’s no use in allowing yourself to ride the emotional ups and downs of the pandemic. Instead, stay positive and focus on your business.
2. FIND A MENTOR If you haven’t already, consider a mentor. Everyone needs help from time to time. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s, SCORE program provides free mentors, training and workshops. Even with Covid-19 they’re still able to assist you remotely.
3.TOTAL TRANSPARENCY In addition to attitude and mindset, it’s important to be totally transparent during this time. That means being honest and upfront with employees, contractors, vendors and clients. Especially in terms of pay, invoices and work. You may have to lay off employees or consider using contractors for your business to survive.
4. CASH RESERVES (OR THE LACK THEREOF) Cash flow is the life blood of every business. Having a large cash reserve and a credit card or line of credit can get you through tough times. This business can be feast or famine. But it doesn’t have to be, even with the pandemic.
Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz, offers a multitude of financial strategies to help you survive financially. For example, saving 10% of all income and placing it in a reserve account for a rainy day.
5. MULTIPLE REVENUE STREAMS Another financial strategy for survival is creating multiple streams of revenue. Domestic investigations, for instance, typically offer transactional revenue; meaning the client pays just once for the service. Whereas, with recurring revenue the client pays over and over again.
New York private investigator Matt Spaier of Satellite Investigations has a new product called The Investigator’s Toolbox. It’s available by subscription. That’s an example of a recurring revenue stream. Other private investigators sell advertising on their podcasts or blogs. Advertising fees are another type of revenue stream. My private investigator business has several different revenue streams, including royalties I receive each month from my book, Confessions of a Private Eye.
6. GOVERNMENT GRANTS AND LOANS Speaking of the U.S. Small Business Administration, they, as well as your state government are offering various types of Covid relief. Some of this money does not have to be paid back.
7. VIDEO CONFERENCING If you haven’t already, you need to transition to video conferencing to communicate with clients. Products such as Zoom and GotoMeeting can also be used to work remotely with employees, contractors and vendors. Even if you’re a one or two-person operation you can harness this technology and compete on a level playing field with the big regional and national firms.
8. REMOTE WORK GEAR Covid or no Covid, a successful private investigator should have remote work capabilities. That means a laptop or tablet, webcam, headphones, external hard drive and a Hotspot or mobile broadband source. The days of having to wait to get back to the office are over. You can’t afford to wait.
9. HOME-BASED OFFICE Is 2021 the year you move to a home-based office? Aside from the tax advantages you can also save considerable time and money with an office at home. Especially if you’re not meeting clients in person. If you must have an office, at least scale back the size.
10. CUT UNNECESSARY EXPENSES Go over your budget. There are numerous ways to cut expenses and still offer the same excellent service. Make coffee instead of dropping $10.00 at Starbucks five times a week. Make your own lunch instead of ordering out. Do you really need three proprietary databases? Can you survive with one or two? Are you using Gas Buddy? There are plenty of free apps that will help you save money on gas and other expenses.
11. EXPECT A DROP IN REVENUE You already know the private investigation business is cyclical. Expect your income to drop in late November through about early February. Be prepared for it. Which brings me to #12 of my 25 tips for private investigator success in 2021.
12. PAY EXPENSES AHEAD OF TIME I’ve paid over half of my regular business expenses one to two years in advance. It has been critical in dealing with #10 and #11. Plus, it’s lowered my stress and allowed me to instead focus on marketing my business. It’s one of the secrets to my success.
13. EMAIL INVOICES Stop sending your invoices by snail mail. A continuous, positive cash flow is critical for your success. Email your invoices immediately; due upon receipt. Give clients plenty of options to pay; credit card, Venmo, bank wire, etc. A wise P.I. once told me, “Make it easy for clients to give you their money.” I’m talking about 25 tips for private investigator success in 2021.
14. NEGOTIATE DEBT With regards to transparency (#3), negotiating debit is especially useful when dealing with your bank and creditors. Keeping them informed of your situation is critical. It might surprise you how willing they are to work with you. But don’t wait until it’s too late.
15. FACTORING You may want to consider factoring as a means to keep your cash flow…well, flowing. But it’s not for everyone. You’ll need to have at least $36,000.00 to $50,000.00 in revenue coming in every month to qualify. Factoring is not new. It’s been used in the trucking and logistics industries for a long time.
16. MARKET LIKE YOUR BUSINESS DEPENDS ON IT (BECAUSE IT DOES) Invest in your marketing action plan. Aside from the actual private investigation work you do, marketing should consume your thoughts daily. Every potential client should be asked how they found you. Everything you do should be quantified.
17. EXPAND YOUR MARKET Speaking of marketing, perhaps it’s time to expand your market? Do you offer process service in Dallas but not Ft. Worth? Are you offering private investigation services in Omaha, but not licensed across the Missouri River in Iowa? You may be missing out. Look at your geographical market and consider if you can expand.
18. JOIN ASSOCIATIONS You should be a member of your state private investigation association. Some associations, like the PPIAC are very active despite the pandemic. Others, not so much. Either way join and find ways to contribute.
19. STAY AHEAD OF YOUR CLIENTS What types of issues are your clients dealing with? Are you familiar with the journals, blogs and magazines they read? What are they saying on social media? If they’re not attending conferences how are they getting their CE or CLE credits?
20. ANCILLARY SERVICES It may be time to consider adding services. I’ve never been keen on serving process. The only way to make money at it is through volume. In the past I contracted it out. But with the pandemic I take what I can get. Perhaps it’s time you consider adding other services. Process service dovetails well with criminal defense. TSCM (bug sweeps) is a great addition to domestic investigations. Other services, such as GPS trackers, custody visitation monitoring and cell phone forensics can be added to your repitroire.
21. CONTRACTORS OR EMPLOYEES? Contractors are less expensive and less of a headache than employees. However, your clients may contractually require you to use employees instead of contractors. If there is no such stipulation, I would consider the use of contractors as we move into 2021. It might surprise you to learn that large companies such as Google, UPS, IBM and United Airlines use contractors and temporary workers to stay in business. Why shouldn’t you?
22. SALES IN THE TIME OF COVID Selling your services during a pandemic is not the easiest thing to do. You’ll need to find alternative ways to do the things you used to do. I’ve already mentioned video conferencing. Of course, much of this depends on the type of clients you service. This goes back to #19; stay ahead of your clients.
23. REVIEW YOUR LICENSE AND INSURANCE POLICIES When was the last time you actually read your business insurance policy? I thought so. Are you over insured? Are you licensed in four states but 90% of your work comes from only three of the four? It may not be worth it paying for the license, bond, insurance and marketing for that fourth state. Paying your insurance in one lump sum rather than monthly payments will save you money.
24. BEWARE OF COVID FATIGUE One of the causes of the recent spike in Covid cases has been attributed to Covid fatigue. Frankly, we’re tired of being cooped up and careful. This is something to look out for as we move into 2021. Contracting Covid-19 could leave you out of work for a couple of weeks or more. That would certainly affect your bottom line. And finally,
25. STAY IN CONTACT WITH CLIENTS Stay in touch with your clients. Let them know you’re open and ready to provide services. This pandemic will eventually end. Your success is just around the corner.
Until next time, this is Private Investigator Scott Fulmer reminding you the game…is afoot
SCOTT FULMER IS A 30-YEAR VETERAN UTAH PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR AND THE PRINCIPAL AT INTERMOUNTAIN PI. HE IS AUTHOR OF THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED TRUE CRIME MEMOIR, CONFESSIONS OF A PRIVATE EYE AND A DECORATED COMBAT VETERAN OF THE 1991 GULF WAR. HE HAS A DEGREE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IS A MEMBER OF THE PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS ASSOCIATION OF UTAH. HE SPECIALIZES IN DOMESTIC INVESTIGATIONS AND CRIMINAL DEFENSE INVESTIGATIONS. SCOTT LIVES SOMEWHERE IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS NEAR THE CROSSROADS OF THE WEST IN HISTORIC SALT LAKE CITY. CONTACT HIM FOR A FREE PHONE CONSULTATION.
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