Get off you’re a** and knock on doors

by John A. Hoda, CLI, CFE ,ret.



You can rely on a killer website and Google Ads to put you in the top search position for private investigator or private detective in your state or zip code. You might hire a copywriter to supply you with email subject lines for email blasts that get opened every time. You bite the bullet and send a beautiful brochure with a Call to Action (CTA) letter in a USPS priority mailer to one hundred attorneys or businesspeople. The pros of doing this is that you never have to meet people face to face or talk to them unless they contact you. You wait for the calls, texts, Facebook messages or emails to roll in. I can’t argue with any of those strategies, except for one small fact. Converting clickers, tire kickers, and cold contacts into prospects/qualified leads and customers is in the single digits per cent ratio, like three out of one hundred. *If you are selling services to the public, an SEO optimized website on the first page of Google targeting a specific audience is a must, but don’t get giddy as a schoolgirl thinking your website is a goldmine. There are many steps to make that website payoff for you.


Now that the courts are opening, masking requirements are being lowered, and face to face meetings are returning, you may consider getting out of your cave and start asking people what they do and what they need private investigation services for. It’s that simple.


“Hello, I’m John Hoda. Can I ask you your name?”


“Joe Jablotnick.”


“Hi Joe. I am a private investigator. What do you do?”


“I’m a (attorney, CPA, small business owner, farm implement salesperson).”


“That’s wonderful. I work for (attorneys, CPAs, small business owners, farm implement salesperson). What do you usually need PIs for?”


Why are those exchanges so painful? Why is it so hard asking people to talk about their favorite subject (themselves)?


Hint: It gets easier the more times you do it? You must get over that first one.


Harvey Morse, a guest on my How to Rocket Your PI Business podcast, moved from Boston to Florida and didn’t know a soul. He went to the courthouses with his business cards and brochures and built his business from scratch. You can hear his episode at www.ThePICoach.com.


The last lawyer to leave a CEU class received my brochure as he walked by and called me six months later with a case worth $15,000 and that client that has given me $50,000 in business over the years.


I went to a holiday party sponsored by my favorite lawyer’s law firm. He introduced me to seven other lawyers that night. I met him for lunch a couple months later and he referred me to another lawyer whose firm is one of my largest clients. That was the start of Elm City Detectives which has become Hoda Investigations, LLC.



The mindset for this exercise of making friends and influencing people (apologies to Dale Carnegie) is to get you out of your comfort zone so that you can start making these conversations as painless as possible. The most introverted introverts that I coach tell me that a scripted icebreaker and good listening eliminates most of the reluctance to stick out your hand and say, “Howdy.”


Stop thinking of yourself as the shameless salesman but more of the professional who is a problem-solver.


Top Ten TIPS:


  1. Chamber of Commerce Leads Groups.
  2. BNI Business Network International
  3. Offer to be a speaker at a Rotary Club Breakfast
  4. Ask your favorite attorney to meet you at a Bar Association meeting
  5. Attend your state PI association meetings
  6. Attend a national PI association meeting
  7. Before court, introduce yourself to the attorneys waiting for their clients who are late.
  8. Visit every lawyer’s office in your favorite lawyer’s building after 4:30 pm (gatekeepers have gone home)
  9. Volunteer at a charity event.
  10. Ride your bike, bowl or golf at charity events or at least be a sponsor.

Bonus: attend end of the year holiday parties


The Chamber of Commerce leads groups and BNI are great ways to meet other professionals. Keep in mind that each professional in attendance knows at least forty people and those forty people know another forty people. Regular attendance at either allows people to get to know like and trust you. Then you become the one who they can say, “I know PI who can do something for you about your problem. I will give that PI a call.”


If you are new in business and are not sure what your specialty is, BNI is a great way to meet professionals from across the professional and business spectrum. There is a cost for joining and it’s not cheap but if you work it right, the membership will pay for itself easily. If you can’t afford it starting out, offer to be a super-sub, where you get to sub for members who can’t make it on a particular day. The market will supply you with cases across the spectrum. In time, you will gravitate to the types of faster-paying, higher-paying clients that you like working for, your target audience.



Ditto for Rotary Club. They are always looking for speakers for their breakfast meetings. If you can tell a story while attendees have their morning meal, you are golden. Rotarians are super-connected in the community. If they don’t know a person in your target audience, they know someone who does. I am not a Rotarian, and I don’t play one on TV, but if I had to build a PI business from scratch in a small to mid-sized community, I would join one in a heartbeat not just for the networking, but for the service component. You get so much from giving and it does translate to your bottom line in measurable ways.



CEU classes for may never come back from Zoom, but Association meetings will. Professionals like to see and be seen. They like to press the flesh. It is the nature of attendees to want to go to their association meeting. You may be able to go as a non-member. Make sure to attend the happy-hour and don’t stray far from your favorite attorney or CPA. They will be more than happy to introduce you around.


I can tell you in all honesty that when I vend at the bar association meetings, I am the last vendor to leave. I go to happy hour, even though I don’t drink and am the last person to leave. Where else can you meet dozens of attorneys in a relaxed setting who are more than happy to talk with you between bites of jumbo shrimp? Did I mention lots of alcohol?  My warm calls to the attorneys I met the night before, results in more business than standing in front of my booth all day. Year after year, I watch vendors pack up and leave when the meeting is over. And many of them are business owners like me! It amazes me that they don’t stick around for the drink fest where they can rub shoulders with their warm prospects. It’s crazy.


How much work can you get from other private investigators that you meet around the country? How many have an expertise that you can refer clients to for a commission. I don’t have to invest tons of money and time into GPS trackers, pole cameras, bug sweeping equipment, cell phone extraction do-dads when I know the right PI who does that work. I can advertise those services on my website because I personally know Ned or Netty and am darned sure that they can do the job for my customer.

Earn the reputation at state meetings and conferences as the sub-contractor that everyone uses in your little corner of the county or town. You do that by religiously showing up, volunteering to sit on boards and doing whatever it takes to help the organization run smoothly. Don’t have time? Really? Ask the movers and shakers at both national or state associations how much work they get from the visibility within the organization. They will tell you it’s a no-brainer.

Put the money in the budget for 2022 and go to a state and national conference and network, learn something new, meet people in the same boat as you, but who row in a different pond. If you can’t plan months ahead to spend the end of a work week into a weekend in a neat town with neat people learning neat things, let me give you one more reason, it’s tax deductible. C’mon. What’s your excuse?



A late afternoon visit to a professional building near the financial center or courthouses in your city is not difficult, especially if you have a client in the building.


“Hi Attorney Jablotnick, I happen to be dropping off a successful investigation for Attorney Terrific on the third floor. I just wanted to stop by and ask you what you usually need a PI for?” You have your brochure and business card in your folio ready to leave behind.

Bonus points for the flat-rate price sheet that might include the service he usually uses a PI for. A Flat-Rate Price Sheet will get their attention if they remember how much they paid the last time for that service. Plan one building a week.


Finally, I know a very successful wealth manager who selflessly volunteers for charities that are close to her heart. That is why she does it. The benefit is that the wealthy and famous who attend these events see her in a light when she is not selling them. They get to know, like, and trust her in a relaxed setting. She is breaking sales records every year. Part of that is from people she met while volunteering. You get when you give.


Get out of your cave, get off the street from investigations, dust off your brochures, and meet people who have problems that you have solutions for.