A Boston PI dispels a few myths about the world of private investigations. (hint: It’s not as Ferrari- and helicopter-infested as you might think.)
A career in the private investigations field can be very rewarding.
The case work can be fascinating. You frequently work with extremely smart and interesting people. Mobile surveillance can be a blast. However, there are several stubborn myths that have attached themselves to the investigations industry.
Let’s explore some of the myths and the (sometimes) harsh realities of being a real PI.
Myth: Boom! It’s payday. All PIs are rolling in dough. Magnum had a helicopter and a Ferrari 308 GTS!
Reality: The vast majority of investigators are simply working stiffs. They run a sole proprietorship or have a single partner or employee. Sure, we have what some consider a high billable rate, between $60-100 hourly, but what newcomers fail to recognize is that we do NOT keep to keep all that ca$h. Not even close.
Usually there is an effective corporate-personal tax rate of about 46%. Shocked? Don’t be. Add in liability insurance and arcane bonding requirements, and you’ll have very little left over for hiring T.C. to fly the helicopter.
We are working stiffs—that is the reality. Skip the Ferrari and focus on the 401K. You can do very well financially; just know that you EARN every penny.
And by the way, as I’m sure you’ll recall, the Ferrari wasn’t Magnum’s in the first place. Neither was the chopper or the beachfront estate.
Myth: A “real” private investigator? How exciting! You conduct surveillance and use spy cameras? You must be like James Bond!
Reality: You are sitting on a subject’s residence, on ten-hour surveillance shifts. Midway through the second shift, at around noon, the subject finally ventures out to collect her mail. Thrilling, right?
Nope. It’s not. But this the game. You’ll have some excitement certainly. However, there are many, many days where recording a video of someone retrieving the mail is the highlight of your work day.
Do we need to talk about waiting in line at the court clerk’s office? Yawn!
Myth: Do a great job, and your clients will be loyal.
Reality: The investigations industry is a fickle one. I have personally saved clients millions over the course of a contract, and suddenly, poof! They no longer take your calls. It may be for all sorts of reasons, and you may never know why they stop using your firm. It’s the nature of the business.
If you need constant, positive reenforcement, this business is not for you. A paid invoice is usually your sole acknowledgment. Know that going in, and keep on plugging away.
Myth: My business focus is going to be “general public” clients. They are easier to deal with, and I can charge more for my services.
Reality: Members of the general public have a skewed view of what we do. Sometimes agonizingly so. They have no idea why we can’t just tap someone’s phone or break into a vehicle.
When you explain that you’d end up in prison if you complied with their requests, they’re confused. I mean, they saw it on the “Rockford Files,” so why can’t you just…(insert felony).
A surprising number of people are also very difficult to deal with. Some are simply mentally and morally deficient. You’ll meet your share of both. Always do your own due diligence on your client no matter whom they claim to be. Go ahead — charge that higher rate. You’ll need it for aspirin, as you will have a great many headaches.
Myth: If I am the Sam Spade of my era, the world will beat a path to my door.
Reality: Investigative acumen, drive, and a cool hat are simply not enough in the digital age. You definitely need those characteristics, sans fedora, but you will also require a deep understanding of marketing, networking, and SEO strategies. You need to have a professional domain name and an optimized website. You’ll want to be active in your state’s PI association. You may even want to… (gulp) write an article for an investigations magazine!
Private investigation is a great career. I am not trying to dissuade you from joining our ranks — I simply want you to know what you’re in for. Deal in reality (you’re just not going to have a helicopter!), and you’ll have a gratifying and profitable career.
About the Author:
Barry Maguire is a twenty-year veteran of the surveillance industry. He has conducted and /or supervised more than 5,000 surveillance private investigations cases to date. Barry has owned and operated New England Risk Management Investigations since 2001. He lives in the Metro Boston area with his wife and three children. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn.
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