For private investigators, small changes can go a long way toward a more professional image.
Veteran PI Scott Fulmer offers these first steps.
1.You are not James Bond, so stop using his email address.
Something as simple as your email address can convey to potential clients your professionalism. It can also convey the opposite. Email addresses such as WeCatchYourOldLady@yahoo.com or email@example.com do not inspire confidence.
Be sure to purchase the domain name of your company. For example, if your company is Iowa Private Eyes, you should buy the web domain www.IowaPrivateEyes.com. All of your email addresses would then be based on your domain, such as bob@IowaPrivateEyes.com. It certainly looks more professional than a generic address like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Furthermore, sending smiley faces or text message abbreviations such as LMAO does not make you look like a grown-up, professional person. And no one cares whether you have an iPhone or an iPad. Change the default phrase “sent from my iphone” to a professional email signature.
It never ceases to amaze me how many investigators on investigator newsgroups have an email signature that contains little more than their name. At the very least, your email signature should include your name, company name, mailing address, license number, and contact information.
2. Embrace the podcast.
Expand your horizons, improve your professionalism, and hop aboard the podcast bandwagon. There are several excellent podcasts packed with vital information on the latest technology and investigative trends. The best thing about a podcast is that you can download it now and listen to it later. Listen during what would normally be unproductive time, such as when you’re driving to and from a surveillance or sitting in a hotel. Here are a few to start with:
PursuitMag’s The Sound of Pursuit Podcast is focused on a single topic and shouldn’t be missed. The production value is second to none. You’ll learn something every time that will improve your tradecraft and your professionalism.
Paul Jaeb’s American Private Investigator podcast episodes usually last an hour and addresses several topics and guests. Jaeb covers investigative trends and new technology. He was discussing the use of drones in the PI industry before you even considered it.
And finally, there’s The Utah Gumshoe, produced by yours truly. (Yes, I’m plugging my own podcast.) It’s a combination of true-life cases and specific, hands-on tips to add to your tool kit of knowledge.
3. My name is Scott, and I’m a private eye.
A great way to increase your level of professionalism is to associate with others in the business. Join your local or regional private investigator association. If there isn’t one, then start it yourself. You’ll meet investigators from all walks of life and a myriad of backgrounds.
These groups, like the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators, have monthly chapter meetings where you can break bread with fellow private eyes and hear presentations about new databases, GPS technology, and investigative trends. It also gives you an opportunity to make contacts with those who specialize in services other than your own. You may end up doing business with them in the future.
4. Answer the phone!
During a recent private investigator conference I attended, a client survey regarding private investigators was presented in detail. Would you care to guess the #1 complaint clients had about dealing with private investigators? Drum roll…failure to answer the phone or return phone calls. Apparently some of us are hard to get a hold of. And this was a survey of clients, people who had already retained the services of a private investigator.
5. Leaders must be readers.
According to a 2003 survey by the Jenkins Group, 33% of high school graduates never pick up a book after they leave 12th grade. It’s the same for 42% of college graduates.
President Harry S. Truman once said “Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.” To be a professional investigator, you should be reading a couple of industry-related books a month. That includes business books, investigations books, books on marketing, etc. If you struggle with reading, audio books are a perfect alternative. As Jim Rohn’s mentor, Earl Shoaff said “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”
If you haven’t read in awhile and aren’t sure how to get started, try these: The Bug in the Martini Glass by Patricia Holt — the true life story of San Francisco private eye and Watergate investigator Hal Lipset. You can also check out Jay J. Armes, Investigator: The World’s Most Successful Private Eye by Jay J. Armes and Frederick Nolan — the biography of El Paso, Texas private eye Jay J. Armes.
6. Continuing Education.
Emphasis on “continuing.” Every professional, regardless of the industry, should be continually learning all they can. Would you want a doctor to perform surgery on you if he or she hadn’t picked up a medical journal or attended a medical conference in the last 20 years?
There are options online, such as PI Education, offering state-approved continuing education for multiple states. What if your state doesn’t require continuing education? Listening to podcasts, attending conferences and seminars, and reading industry-related books are excellent choices.
Other options include becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners or a Certified Protection Professional through ASIS. I would also consider taking either the Wicklander-Zulawski or John Reid seminars.
7. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “…the apparel oft proclaims the man.” That means dress for success, folks. Right or wrong, people judge you by the clothes you wear. Your first impression should be that of a business professional.
That said, there are a lot of “unique” individuals in our line of work. I know a PI who wears a buckskin jacket. But keep this in mind: When meeting with clients or the media, you should be well groomed and dressed in professional business attire.
8. The client is not your friend.
Years ago, I landed a new client who was very hard to get. I conducted a couple of surveillances for her, and both were successful. She was an adjuster for a large nationwide insurance company. She was friendly, and we seemed to get along well. Her business had the potential to increase my income significantly.
She called me early one Friday evening with a RUSH surveillance for the weekend. I was literally backing my van out of the driveway to go on a camping trip with my sons. I told her I was going camping with my family but I could do it the following weekend. She was very cordial and said she would get back with me. I never heard from her again.
I lost the client because I wasn’t professional. Because I made the mistake of assuming that our friendly banter meant that we were “friends,” and she would be flexible about my personal plans. I’m not suggesting that private eyes don’t deserve time off. What I’m saying is that the client is not your friend. They have retained you for a business service. They expect you to follow through in a professional manner and are generally not concerned with your personal life. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
9. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
At least, that’s what O’Shea Jackson says. Mr. Jackson, better known by his stage name, Ice Cube, is saying that sometimes you need to check your ego before your ego wrecks you.
There are a lot of egos in this industry. It’s understandable. Many private investigators are type A personalities, entrepreneurs who get up every day and control their own lives and businesses. Some, after retiring from a storied career in state or federal law enforcement, suddenly find themselves having to make an adjustment to the private sector. They find themselves having to get information without a warrant or flashing the tin. That’s where rapport comes into play.
I have had dealings with US Congressmen, a former White House Chief of Staff, and other individuals whose identities I cannot reveal. I’ve also interviewed homeless people, ministers, and even a guy who lived in a shack in the middle of the woods. I treated all of them exactly the same. Everyone puts their pants on the same way. I’ve always checked my ego at the door to get the information, resolve the conflict, or solve the case.
A professional investigator knows how to do this. Grandma was right. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
10. Are you in expert mode?
And finally, remember that you’re the expert, and the client is not. Act the part of a professional private investigator, and it will be so. As we used to say in the 101st Airborne Division, “Fake it until you can make it.” When a client comes to you, they’re looking for answers. They’re not looking for a “Gee, I dunno” response. They need help. They are looking for reassurance. A good private eye is part professional investigator, part priest, and part sympathetic therapist.
About the Author:
Scott Fulmer is a licensed Utah private investigator and president/CEO of intellUTAH. He has over 20 years’ experience in the investigative industry and has conducted thousands of complex investigations for high profile clients in the private and public sector. Mr. Fulmer has written numerous articles on investigative methodology that have appeared in Pursuit Magazine and other industry journals. He is a dynamic and in-demand speaker available to speak to your group. He produces a popular weekly blog cast, The Utah Gumshoe. Mr. Fulmer holds a BA in criminal justice and is a decorated combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He lives along the Wasatch Front with his wife and three children. You may contact Scott by email at scott@intellUTAH.com.