Why your private investigator business might be failing!

What are your competitors doing?

Have you carried out any research in respect of your potential competitors? Many people enter into business wearing a blind fold and operate in a vacuum. They seem to pay little heed at all to what is going on around them.  It’s all well and good looking around you and thinking that there are lots of private investigation agencies that are doing well in the market place and that all you have to do is set up, advertise a little and then you can emulate their success…..the truth of the matter is, it takes a lot more effort than that!

Competitor Intelligence, SWOT Analysis

Have you checked out how many PI agencies are out there operating in your area? Have you researched the services that they have on offer? Have you made any attempts to find out your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and therefore be in a position to understand just what you and your business will be up against (SWOT Analysis)? So many new inexperienced business people I come across have no idea who their competitors are or anything at all about them. From a personal point of view, I can name all but one or two of my competitors, and to be honest the one or two I can’t name really aren’t worth worrying about.

So what is the benefit of knowing your competitors? Well, knowing your competition will have a massive impact on your business success, it is a fact that, it is extremely detrimental to the success of your business NOT knowing the following information;

  • who your competitors are
  • what are they doing right/wrong
  • what share of the local market do they control
  • what they offer (their strengths)
  • what can you offer that they can’t (their weaknesses)
  • where are they advertising
  • What other marketing they are involved in
  • why are they successful (or not as the case may be!)

This process should be revised regularly, it’s no good spending days, weeks, months setting everything up and thinking you are the best around only to find one day your competitor has outdone you. In order to stay in the public eye (especially in your local area) you need to focus heavily on this at ALL times. When was the last time you looked in the Yellow Pages (book) and realised there were more PI’s in your area than you first imagined? Having this information to hand may indicate to you that this could be a reason why client enquiries for your services have decreased and your business revenue stream is reduced. So how do we change that?

An Internet Presence is A Must

Imagine if you wrote down every conceivable advertising media you could think of that was within your reach (either paid for or free), by doing this you will come to realise that Yellow Pages is a very small advertising pebble in a very big marketing pond. It will make no difference at all if you were at the top or bottom; but if it were your only form of marketing then you would be totally dependant on it. A number of private investigation agencies only advertise in printed media like yellow Pages or Thomson’a Local; they have no internet presence whatsoever. The good news is that gone are the days when we had to rely solely on printed advertising media. The fact remains that the internet is now the primary medium for sourcing information and if you as a business have no on-line presence then you are missing out on a marketing rich environment. A good quality well designed and well optimised website is a MUST. Only recently did I view a website created by a PI (self developed) and I have to say it was awful. There were spelling errors, poor grammar, poor graphics and absolutely no Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) etc… I could go on!

What that tells me (and any potential client viewing your site) is that you may have spent hours building it (dedication, which, is good!) but failed to give adequate care to the most fundamentally important aspect of marketing a business i.e. creating the right impression. Your client is no doubt considering employing your services, until, they read some of the content of your site and then they wonder what on earth the statement of service, affidavit or report will look like; especially when it will  be produced in court and be read out by officials who would struggle to come to terms with the fact that a professional document appears to have been produced by a 7 year old.

It doesn’t have to be gold plated, but it does have to be right and it does have to create a positive impression in your client’s mind. If you spend a significant amount of time producing good work don’t overlook the five minutes it would take to check it over, check spelling, grammar, images etc. You will be rewarded!

Advertising & Marketing

It is important to look at where your competitors advertise and ensure that you do the same, better still, find places where they don’t advertise! You will be surprised. There are literally hundreds of free business listing sites… take the time to find them and to list your company and a link to your web site ( very important).

Look at what your competitor is offering that you don’t – Some only offer process serving, others only investigation assistance and so on. Seek out training, acquire knowledge and build the confidence to offer a broader range of services. If you do not feel able to commit yourself to certain services due to lack of knowledge or skill, spend time getting to know those PIs who do possess the skills; negotiate with them and build a strong dependable network. When the work comes in, you can either negotiate a referral fee from an associate or you can outsource the assignment.

Make a point to visit every one of the legal firms and solicitor’s practices in your area. Take a couple of days out and arm yourself with some quality business cards (not the cheap DIY printer ones – they look inferior) a good set of business cards costs around £25.00 for 250 and is worth it as they will create the correct impression, believe me!

Get in front of the secretary/receptionists of the law firms; ask questions and build a rapport but be professional, it’s amazing just how much useful information you can obtain from them, such as who their current enquiry agent/process server/private investigator is. Whether they have much call for your services? etc, etc….

In relation to pricing your services: DO NOT advertise your prices on-line, why? Obvious really but here goes. If you do you are giving away valuable competitor intelligence therefore giving your competitors the upper hand . If your happy openly advertising your prices then fine, but to me it makes no business sense at all.

A recent practice has evolved within the private investigation industry of offering private investigation ‘packages’. Remember that we are professional service providers in the legal/investigative industry, so why offer “Buy Now”, “Half Price”, “Discount”  type investigation packages. DONT!!! Have you ever seen a solicitor offer half price divorces! Or half price personal injury cases or any half price service for that matter?” Believe me it looks tacky and unprofessional and creates the WRONG impression.

Having an extensive sales and marketing background, the acronym ‘KISS’ is a concept that I learnt many years ago in the sales and marketing industry it has many variations, one being… “Keep It Simple Stupid”, another being “Keep It Short & Sweet”

Start off basic, don’t over do it with the bells and whistles, tell your prospective clients what “they” want to hear, not what you want to tell them. Ninety per cent of visitors to a website never read the content, they skim it, look at headers and buzz words, such as, “Process Server” and “Affordable, Reliable, Efficeint” (AKA buzz words) then they look at your contact details. The rest of the marketing and glossy image can come later but for now, concentrate on what matters, getting the clients through the door and the bills paid.

This article was written by Private Investigator Chris Seagal. Chris is the Managing Director of Seagal Investigations LTD, a successful Private Investigation Company based in Bournemouth, Dorset.  As well a being a Professional Investigator Chris has extensive experience in Sales and Marketing and is a Fellow of the The Institute of Sales & Marketing Management.