Today’s economic climate creates an increasingly difficult environment for private investigators and investigation agency owners to thrive, be successful and remain profitable. In recent years, insurance companies, both public and privately owned corporations, attorneys and private clients have all tightened their belts as financial resources become leaner for everyone. We have seen a continuing trend of business downsizing and cutbacks that have taken a financial toll on all of us, and our industry as a whole.
According to statistics recently released by the State of Florida, we have seen the largest drop in small business licensing renewals, and business closings than any time since the 1970’s. In the Central Florida region alone, there have been twelve private investigation agencies close their doors since January of this year.
The market share for the private investigation industry is one based solely on discretionary income. Whether your primary clients are insurance companies, corporations, attorneys, or private individuals the current economic conditions have created an atmosphere where the majority of our clients are holding on to every dollar they earn in fear of harder times ahead. Regardless of how long you have been in business, or how successful your business is, the truth is that we are all feeling the pinch.
The costs of operating a private investigation business have sky rocketed, primarily due to high gas prices, overly inflated insurance rates and new licensing requirements. As a result, agency owners have no choice but to follow suit and drastically streamline how they do business.
Now, more than ever, private investigators and agency owners must offer a diverse array of services and provide the highest quality product possible to maintain a viable market share against their competitors.
When planning and strategizing, or trying to compete in today’s market we no longer have the luxury of thinking or acting like small business owners. Regardless of your client base it is critically important to adopt the philosophies of large business models. One such model that we are all familiar with in Florida is the Walt Disney Business Model. The worldwide success of the Disney Corporation is due to the fact that Disney money stays within Disney. The vast network of Disney owned corporations feed off of each other by providing goods and services between themselves, and from within. Each individual entity within the conglomerate supports its division as contributing to the whole. When he opened his first park in Anaheim California in 1955, Walt Disney found a way to make his creation almost one hundred percent self-contained. Disney built power plants to meet the vast demands of the park and excess energy could then be sold back to the utility companies. Food services were designed to provide easy to package and prepare themed meals and deliver them anywhere within the park.
By incorporating some of the Disney Business Model Philosophies into your own businesses we can create success almost as easily, though probably not on the scale of The Disney Corporation. The fact is, the next time you sit down to strategically plan which direction to take your business, or which services to add or even remove, think about how does a particular service contribute to the overall success your business. Does the revenue generated by this service support itself? Does it significantly add revenue to your bottom line? Does it help you to positively cross-market the other services that you provide? Alternatively, perhaps it drains revenue and requires constant draw on your resources. Think about it.
With all of this in mind, there is a service that any agency owner or individual investigator can add to his/her arsenal that has a relatively minor start up cost. This service requires no additional equipment than that which you already have. It can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. It can provide consistent income even when other income sources are scarce. The best thing about this service is that it gives you an opportunity to get a leg up on your competition by allowing you to market your bread and butter higher rate services to clients when they need them the most.
Process Service or Document Service can provide a variety of valuable and financially lucrative opportunities when properly incorporated into your menu of business services. Process Service is not tied to the discretionary economic factors like other services are and in fact, can result in the reverse. Hillsborough County currently has one of the highest foreclosure rates per capita in the nation. Each and every foreclosure will require at the very minimum, one document be served before the actual transfer of the property can begin. Likewise, property management companies, large and small, regularly serve evictions to tenants. Attorneys from every field of the legal system need documents filed and served almost daily. Banks, government offices, corporate legal departments, and individuals from all over the United States and the world have documents served in Florida every single day. Process Service can provide you with the operating revenue to get you through rough economic times and give you the edge over your competitors when those big cases come up.
Service of Process
Process Service, when properly marketed, gets your foot in the door with many types of clients, and especially with attorneys. By providing a client with document service, you can become a familiar face, build rapport, and become a valuable resource to them. Through process service, the client gets an opportunity to get to know you, trust you; and most importantly, rely on you. If you successfully build a relationship, take every opportunity to share with them your other skills and services; you will see that over time, you become their sole provider of all outside services. You will get casework from these clients, and lots of it!
It is critical to be mindful of the “Gatekeeper” especially when you are in the initial stages of building this relationship. The gatekeeper is the secretary, receptionist, paralegal, or personal assistant. A box of chocolates, a snack or a cup of coffee is an inexpensive marketing cost that can go a long way when it comes to remembering whose services will be used. It is usually the “gatekeeper” that will contact you for work, not your client. They are your ticket to reaching that client.
While the state does not regulate the fees charged by Process Servers, except for the Sheriffs Departments, the statute advises that a reasonable fee for services may be charged. The average fee for local service in the state of Florida falls between $25 and $65 for standard Service. It is suggested that all agencies or individuals design a fee schedule that includes;
Standard Service 5-7 Days
Priority Service 3 Days or less
Same Day Service 24 hours or less
When developing a fee schedule you should calculate a fee for each of these categories respectively but also include out of county fees for each category as well as out of state fees for each category.
There are many different methods for fee schedules. The simplest is as we have discussed, but some companies use radial pricing that is drive time or distance based. Depending on your location you may want to consider this as an option.
Fees vary dramatically across the country and Florida is still among those states where fees lag behind the National average. In Clark County Nevada, Process Servers are charging $75 per attempt on a single address.
Marketing your Service
Perhaps the best way to get started marketing yourself as a process server is to join both local and national associations. The Florida Association of Professional Process Servers (FAPPS) and the National Association of Professional Process Servers (NAPPS) provide member data bases that allow potential clients to search for you by zip code and or region. Serve Now and other national databases are helpful in getting business to members.
The most effective and best way to develop your Service business is what I call “feet on the ground.” Spend some time going to local attorney offices, banks, and property management companies. Meet them face-to-face and leave a business card and a price list, and drop by occasionally after your initial visit. As I stated before remember the “gatekeeper” they are your best opportunity to get your foot in the door. Every time you get the chance to meet and or talk with them, always cross-market your other services to them. You must do this every time. If you do, you will quickly see them turning to you for a multitude of investigative needs. Once they learn to trust and rely on you, they will do so increasingly and the result for your bottom line is consistent economic security even when things get tight for your competition.
Ken Rutledge is a principal partner at Florida Investigations, Inc. in Lakeland, Florida. His background includes professional work and education in the fields of medicine, psychology, social services, investigations and business. He has the distinction of having been appointed by the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida to teach the required Special and Certified Process Servers training course.
Florida Investigations, Inc. offers full service legal support, document service and an investigations division which includes equipment sales and training. More can be learned about them at http://www.floridainvestigations.com/