Making the Money!
By Edmund J. Pankau
You can be the best investigator in the world, have the skills and resources to find the facts and information to make a client sing your praises, but, if they donít know who and where you are, sure as shooting, youíre gonna starve in this business.

Of all the questions asked by new, budding and even experienced detectives and investigators, none are raised so frequently as, ìHow do we get new business and clientsî? Who should we target as business prospects, what kind of work should we specialize in, and how should I advertise to find new work?

One of the real secrets in the investigative business is that the best investigators donít advertise. At least, not in the telephone book, the business directories or by mass marketing. The few places that smart private investigators promote are not the traditional ones. The real way to get new business is by referrals, but you can help your marketing of your business by being listed in resources like these:

The Internet

Many smart, and some not so smart investigators have invested in a web page or the PI Mall so that prospective computer literate clients can find them and their services. The smartest ones offer some type of free advice, articles, links or information that gives benefit and value of its own, thereby giving the potential client a taste of what they might expect from your services.

Local and State Bar Journal

The official publication of your friendly neighborhood lawyer association, this is the one paper that almost every lawyer reads cover to cover (its free, and its their own personal gossip sheet). All of them look to see who won what big case, who got reprimanded by the Bar and what the latest rumor is in the legal community. This is usually a very cheap form of advertising (a º page ad can run $150-$250) and is targeted like an arrow, to attorneys specifically.

Targeted Trade Journals

Almost every trade has an official publication that espouses the goals of the industry and reports on is latest happenings. Again, everyone in the trade gets a copy. Why? Because itís free, it comes with the membership; itís a part of the dues. (One of my former students who went into the PI business after taking my class advertises in the transportation industry newsletters and gets 80% of his business through their leads.

The Clients

In this business, everyone you meet can be a client. Every single person in the world wants to find out something about someone or something, but, are they willing to pay? The people who are most willing to pay for our services are those who can either use the information to charge someone else an even higher fee or those who need the information to make money from someone else.

Of the many types of clients that you can target for your business, I believe that the very best as a group are lawyers. Why? Because lawyers use investigators more often than any other class of clients. They represent a wide range of clients, with a wide range of investigative needs and are always in need of information to use in their cases. Lawyers, especially those that litigate cases, need witnesses located, parties served with papers, background and financial information on the people they are suing (They donít want to waste their time on a suit where there is no money to go after) and information to prove up lies and false information claimed by their opposition.

An individual client may need you once, maybe twice, but rarely more than that. They may refer you to a friend who becomes another client, and then again maybe they wonít. An attorney or lawyer is another story. They have multiple clients and may use you on two or three cases at once, and have more for you to do once you finish on those cases, especially if youíve done a good job. Most investigators donít realize it, but more than one person sees their report. Usually, the investigators report is seen by the lawyer, the lawyerís client, the opposing lawyer (he is usually entitled to it in discovery) and his client and the judge. Thatís five people just to start, and three of them are lawyers. If you do good work, each of them becomes a client of yours down the road. Some of the best referrals Iíve ever gotten were from judges that sent people to me that went to them for help.

Once you have decided to market to lawyers, then youíve got to let them know who and where you are. How are you going to do it? Hereís how it worked for me, and some of the other premiere P. I.ís in the business.

1. Go to the local Bar Association and get the Bar directory. It has the name, address, telephone numbers (home and office) of every member, and even a picture of them. (A great side benefit of this directory is that it makes it easy to serve them with court papers when you get papers to serve on them).

2. Tear out the attorney listings in your local phone book and save the section that lists the specialization of attorneys in certain areas of practice that you are interested in.

3. Get a list of attorney seminars put on by the Bar and other organizations that train attorneys. Find several seminars that are general in nature or in your chosen area of interest and go to them, both to learn and to meet and greet the lawyers who attend. (Last year, I went to a Bar sponsored seminar on Environmental Law. While there, I learned a lot on the new requirements for Environmental Inspections and Investigation and got the business cards of over 70 attorneys, eight of whom became new clients because they knew that I had experience in that field.

4. Request a list of all of the local attorney associations in your area from the Bar Association and offer to be a speaker at one of their monthly meetings. They are always looking for guest speakers and are tired of the same old stuff. Make up and bring along some color slides that show them something new, like how to use CD ROMís to locate witnesses on weekends, when the county computers are off , or how to locate someone and tell their age through their social security number. Knock them dead and you will get more business than you can shake a stick at.

5. Hit the downtown office buildings. Go door to door and meet every lawyer, paralegal or secretary you can and give them your card and brochure. If you meet enough people, you will get some business; you just gotta keep plugging! One caveat that I offer is that you should invest in good-looking business cards and stationary. Many more people will see your reports, cards and stationary than will see you. Make it look good!

6. Go to a lawyer association social function (or any other charity function if their isnít one) and do an investigation as a door prize. Everyone will hear it and see it, and one lucky person will win it. My favorite is ìLocate your heartís desireî where I locate the person the winner most wants to find. It brings me great PR when we find them and write it up in the Bar Journal and shows new clients just how good we are.

7. Search the records of court cases through the court clerk to target the attorney that you want to represent. If you want to work for Wal-Mart, find their local lawyer by finding out who represents them in court, and then go see them and sell them on your services. It worked for me!

8. If the Bar Association has its own watering hole (restaurant and bar), then make a practice to go there and eat once a week and cruise down there around happy hour every now and then. The food and drinks are usually good, and you have now got a lawyer out of his office and in the mood to talk (at least after a few drinks)!

9. Find out which lawyers teach at the local law school and offer to be a guest lecturer for their class in case of emergency if they are called to court. Students love it and you can make new contacts through students that work part time in law firms while going to school. (They also grow up to be lawyers someday and need investigators too).

10. Make up a nice, but inexpensive tri-fold brochure that tells about you and your services. Send it out to ten new law firms each week. And follow it up with a telephone call and a personal visit at your earliest opportunity.

Some of the best lawyers used to be private investigators, thatís how they paid for law school and how they learned the value of good investigative work. The best example is F. Lee Bailey, who credits his experience as an investigator as the reason he became such a great lawyer (Read his book, FOR THE DEFENSE sometime when you want to learn how lawyers think).


By Ralph Thomas