Business At A Glance
Startup Costs: $2,000 – $10,000
Home Based: Can be operated from home.
Part Time: Can be operated part-time.
Online Operation? No
As a private investigator, you’ll delve into the secrets of people’slives and solve mysteries, but you’ll spend far more time on the phoneand at your computer than any fictional private eye ever does, and oddsare you’ll never be involved in high-speed chases or shootouts with badguys. Instead, you’ll perform background checks on prospectiveemployees, tenants, business partners and marriage mates; do skiptraces (missing-persons searches) on parents who owe child support orpeople who’ve left town owing money, investigate insurance claims, andnose out evidence for lawsuits. You can specialize in any of theseactivities, or in finding lost loves, children abducted by noncustodialparents, or corporate fraud. If you’re a computer whiz, you canspecialize in hacker crimes and advise companies in online security.
The advantages to this business are that it’s creative, challenging,glamorous if not conventionally exciting, and reuniting people withloved ones or finding criminals who can be brought to justice can bevery rewarding. You’ll need dogged self-motivation, and you’ll requirehigh levels of creativity and intuition to guide you to new andinnovative ways of obtaining information when normal channels fail. Youshould also have A-plus people skills, the ability to sift truth fromprevarication, and a healthy dose of self-confidence–you’ll deal withall sorts of characters, and not all of them will want to talk to youor tell you the real story.
Your clients can be attorneys who handle criminal or civil cases,insurance companies, apartment complexes, corporations and privateparties with a variety of mysteries to solve. Solicit all of theseentities, except individuals, by sending your sales letter and brochurein a direct-mail campaign, then following up with phone calls. The bestway to reach individuals is through an ad in the Yellow Pages. You canalso develop clients by networking among professional and civic groupsand giving talks or seminars.
In most states, you’ll need a private investigator’s license, whichrequires you to have experience in a similar field–law enforcement inthe public or military sector, collections, claims adjusting, sometimesinvestigative journalism, or of course a background in a privateinvestigative agency. To set up your office and get going, you’ll needa computer with a laser or inkjet printer, the usual office software,internet access, and a fax machine.You should also have a camera or avideo camera, a tape recorder, and a pocket organizer or notebook forkeeping track of expenses, which you’ll bill to your clients.