Conference Report: When a PI association fulfills its mission—to educate and support its members—everybody wins.
Dear friends in Iowa,
After a week and a half of traveling the country in search of witnesses, I settled into a comfortable hotel in Des Moines, Iowa last Thursday to prep for two presentations to the Iowa Association of Private Investigators.
At one of the presentations, a new investigator asked one of the best questions I’ve ever heard at a seminar: “How do you balance your desire/need to get work in the door with some semblance of a personal life?” She was dealing with the same conundrum all new investigators have: You need to build a book of work, but you also need to have a life. I get it.
Work-life balance is hard for someone stepping out on their own, hanging out their shingle. There’s a sense that you have to be available 24/7 and take every case that comes along. I still sometimes feel that way after several years in the business. So, what’s an investigator to do?
Breathe. Take a long, calming breath and give some serious thought to what you want out of this work. In the early years, you may have to keep the phone on all the time and be available at crazy hours. In the early years, you may have to take a variety of types of work. This is okay. If you approach it with an open mind, you might just find that one specialty is what you love and what you’re best at.
For me, it was defense work, criminal and civil. I’ve schlepped around in surveillance vehicles. I’ve served process. I’ve helped people find long-lost family members. But after a few years of working all sorts of cases, I learned that defense work is where I feel my skills are best applied.
Once you figure out what’s in your wheelhouse, you can focus your efforts on becoming an expert at that kind of work and getting the word out to potential clients in that category.
If you love connecting adoptees with their birth parents, there’s plenty of that kind of work out there. If you have a knack for blending in and following people doing things they shouldn’t, surveillance is still one of the best and most available lines of investigative business.
So take a little time and put in the insane hours to figure out what you like. Then start to focus your efforts on the specialty that thrills you. I’ve found this to be a self-leveling process; work and life tend to balance themselves—if you give yourself enough time to get through the lean years of saying yes to nearly everything.
You may find yourself taking on other jobs along the way, things that you don’t necessarily love. But when you find your bailiwick, that thing that you love to do, you can be a little more selective. That’s when you’ll start to address the bigger questions: What do I want from this work—and this life? Money? Respect? A sense of mission? Or all of the above?
I have to say that I was totally impressed with the Iowa professional investigators. It’s always great to see professionals supporting each other, offering advice, and shepherding new investigators in the ways of the business. All of us, every one of us, had to start somewhere. I think it’s nice to remember how difficult it was to just start.
So here’s a shout out to the Iowa Association of Private Investigators for your hospitality and your professional approach to helping and encouraging new investigators. Thank you for the chance to spend a little time with such a fantastic group of professionals.