Investigators: Are you trying to compete with fly-by-night background search sites? Here’s why you should stop doing that right now.
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value…”
~Thomas Paine, The American Crisis
In the quotation above, Thomas Paine was talking about freedom. But if I may expand his point a bit, I’d say that anything obtained on the cheap tends to be undervalued, including the products of human labor—our services, our expertise, and our time.
Nominal fee-based sites such as Intelius, PeopleFinder, Pipl, Spokeo, and BeenVerified have thrown the professional investigator under the bus, as it were, by giving people the illusion of instant access to seemingly credible information.
Anything obtained on the cheap tends to be undervalued, including the products of human labor—our services, our expertise, and our time.
Perception is reality for most people, and the perception that “fast and cheap” will do just fine has done lasting damage to the market for professionally-conducted background checks and due diligence investigations. Even companies who should know better aren’t above being romanced by fast-and-nearly free information on potential new employees or business partners.
One of the greatest challenges we face as professional investigators is communicating the value of our services to clients in a marketplace glutted with mass-market information providers.
“But I can do it myself, right?”
I find that few people (and few companies) fully understand what is and what is not involved in the process of due diligence. Yes, the Internet is an amazing invention, making information more accessible to virtually anyone on the planet with a computer and a Wi-Fi connection.
News flash: Not all of the information floating around in cyberspace is accurate.
When it comes to due diligence and background checks, many clients don’t know what they don’t know. They’re not sure what they’re looking for, let alone how to ask for it. And they have no idea where to begin the search.
Still, many clients feel sure that they’re just as capable as I am of doing the due diligence. When I advise against taking the quick-and-dirty route, most potential new clients are genuinely confused. “Why would I pay the company you work for X number of dollars for XYZ information when I can just Google it?” they ask. “After all, it is the Information Age and, well… ya know, anyone can Google, even my cats!”
And then there’s my absolute favorite: “I was watching NCIS the other night and…”
I love this one! Please, folks: Tell me again how you watched an episode of CSI: Insert Name a Major City and are now an expert at body language, psych-linguistics, ballistics, blood spatter analysis, background investigations, interview and interrogation, and data retrieval.
Dear clients: I am here to tell you that CSI has as much to do with the reality of our work as Star Trek has to do with actual space travel.
I also get lots of requests from clients for “tips”: What is the best site to run someone’s name through? people ask, or Can you teach me how to run a license plate? What they’re really asking is: How can I do your job? Because I don’t want to pay you.
Sure, there are a few basic techniques clients can master on their own. But those of us who do this work for a living don’t play at it, we work at it. Every. Single. Day.
Valuing What We Do
Many clients have no idea how to assign a value to the information retrieval and research process. Many first-time clients expect immediate while-I’ve-still-got-you-on-the-phone results, without understanding what’s involved in conducting a detailed investigation.
Routinely, new clients expect us to retrieve the full name, date/place of birth, pet’s middle name, dental records, favorite yoga position, blood type, current toenail polish color, stock holdings, personal assets, horoscope, food allergies, and a lock of hair from some mysterious instantaneous database, all for the low-low price of $9.99.
Add to that the fact that we, as investigators, sometimes fail to ask for precisely what information clients are looking for; instead, we run with what we think they want. This lack of communication produces mixed results.
So, with Google, social media, and dozens of McBackgroundSearch.com sites out there, luring clients into believing that information is cheap, if not free, where is the incentive to pay us well for our work?
Thousands of dollars vs $9.99 isn’t a tough choice to make if we let clients hold onto their misperceptions of how a proper background check is done. I often want to ask clients, “Why are you seeking my services in the first place if you think that you can do it yourself with the click of a mouse and for free?!”
What I think I’ve discovered is this: Businesses and individual seekers of information routinely assume that I use the same databases they do, but that I am somehow able to extract faster and more accurate information than they could. They also assume that it requires little or no time, money, or skill to produce this extra information; therefore, they shouldn’t have to pay much for what they want.
As professional investigators, how do we reverse this trend? How do we convince potential clients that they not only need us to provide the information which they seek, but they also need to pay us more than $9.99 per information request?
The Internet is a beautiful thing, but in the wrong hands, it’s scary—especially when it comes to digging for accurate information. Accessing and synthesizing such information happens to be my one of my strengths, but even I run the risk of putting the pieces together incorrectly if I’m not detailed, methodical, and let’s face it, s-l-o-w. Why? Because speed of information retrieval doesn’t guarantee accuracy of information, and we all know this by experience.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that most people don’t see it that way, particularly paying clients. They tend to like the illusion of free instant information that they can pull from any questionable site promising quick results from the latest FlyByNightBackGroundChecks[dot]com.
It’s time we started to challenge that illusion. We can never compete with our fly-by-night “competitors” strictly in dollars and cents. Instead, we must find a way to educate clients about the differences between the work of professional investigators and cheap-and-easy McSearch background-check results.
And to do that, we’ve got to value ourselves.
About the Author:
Amy Lynn Burch is registered private investigator in the Commonwealth of Virginia employed by various agencies in the Virginia/DC/Maryland area. Amy is also a sexual assault advocate who devotes her time pro bono to victims of assault and those falsely accused of sexual crimes.
Amy is the mom of three teenagers, a freelance writer, super-secret ninja, cat whisperer, perpetual college student, would-be foodie, and obsessive gardener (even though she has been known to kill plants). She is regularly unseen by the general masses and could very well be right on your heels. Follow her on Twitter at @Amy_Burch.