“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” -Joseph P. Kennedy
It’s tough being a private investigator (PI) during this recession, just as it’s tough for many small business owners. But now’s not the time to get static. Instead, get dynamic. Rather than wait for the phone to ring with a new case (the popular image in movies and books of what PIs do when business is slow), create a list of marketing tasks to attract new clients.
You don’t have the money to advertise? You think marketing means shelling money out of your already stretched finances? Think again. There are numerous free, or relatively cheap, ways to advertise your PI business, some of which are listed below:
Create brochures. There are easy-to-use, free templates on the Internet that you can download (for example, type “brochure templates free” in your browser). Fill the template with content about your skills, background, investigative expertise, memberships, and tools. Add quotes from satisfied clients… Highlight your contact information (name, phone number, website, blog, etc.), then print. For the cost of envelopes and stamps, you can mail brochures, or skip the mailing costs and take them along on cold calls, leaving one with every office you visit.
Write a letter of introduction about your business and services. Easier than making a brochure is simply writing a letter. Write a punchy opening paragraph that tells them why they want your services. Follow up with a brief list of your skills and expertise. Let them know how to reach you. Mail letters or take them along on cold calls.
Make business cards. For little money, you can purchase business card forms at an office supply store. For free, you can download a business card template off the web. Be succinct as space is at a premium. Name your business, contact information, key skills. Carry the business cards with you at all times – hand them out to people you meet, friends, associates, and other contacts.
Update your website. Add new skills you’ve developed, investigative courses you’ve taken, quotes from satisfied clients, new organizations you’ve joined. Write a short article about your area of expertise, the steps you took to successfully complete a case, or a review of a new investigative tool or book. If you don’t have a website, there are Internet sites that offer free websites to their members (in your browser, search for “free websites”).
Advertise online. Check where your competitors are advertising online, then visit the site and check their requirements for listing your business. Many offer free listings to all who register. (Don’t forget to set up a Google Places account, too. Here is an example: CompassPoint Investigations)
Join reputable PI organizations. For a listing of state, international, and miscellaneous PI organizations, check out http://www.irbsearch.com/links_resources.shtml. Not always free, but worth the price of membership.
Start a blog. You can build a free blog through sites such as blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal. Not sure how to build a blog? In your browser, type “How do I create a blog?” and see how many links display!
Write articles. Lucky for you, the Internet is hungry for content. Check out online article sites, study their requirements, and start submitting articles. Write about what you know–for example, a how-to article for an investigative specialization, a list of recommended equipment for a PI office, a checklist for people wanting to hire a PI, etc. Make sure to include contact information in your byline (your website link, blog link, business email address, etc.).
Speak to a group. Offer to speak to an organization on a topic of interest to them. And don’t forget to bring your business cards!
Start an e-newsletter. Easy to do for free on sites like Yahoo! Add a sign-up link on your website and/or blog. There are many Internet articles on how to set up an e-newsletter (for example, type “how to set up an e-newsletter” in your browser).
Join social networking sites. Doesn’t cost anything to sign up on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites. Post links to your investigative website, blog, articles, etc. Offer investigative tips, insights, resources. These are opportunities to network with other PIs as well as attract new clients.
Broadcast your PI business on YouTube. Use your video camera to film a short piece about an investigative technique, trend, or tool. Add your contact information at the beginning and end of the video so potential clients will know how to reach you. After you download the link to YouTube, share that link on your website, in articles, on your blog, networking sites, etc. Not sure how to structure your video? Check out YouTube for examples of what other PIs have done in theirs.
When the tough times end, and they always do, don’t stop marketing. Continue keeping your business, expertise, and contact information visible by following the suggestions above. Just as the tough get going, they also keep doing.
Colleen Collins is a professional private investigator and multi-published author. She and her business partner run Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc., based in Colorado, which specializes in asset/background checks, criminal/civil investigations, domestic relations, financial fraud, personal injury, skiptracing, and surveillance. To read more about their services, go to http://www.highlandsinvestigations.com