The sad truth is that most private investigators do not market. They think that building a static website that focuses on them and all their wonderful achievements is all that that is necessary to have the phones ringing off the hook. Unfortunately, after initial success, work begins to dry up and then starts the slow race to the bottom. Within two years, 75% of the intrepid investigators will not renew their license or their errors and omissions policies. When they do an autopsy on their business plan, they will see that they did not attract enough of the right kind of high-paying, fast-paying customers that they hoped for. To keep the business afloat, they might find themselves subcontracting for about a third of their normal rate or working for someone else; something they swore they would never do.
I’m here to tell you that executing a one-hour a day marketing plan can save your business or take you to the next level. I’m living proof of that.
As I dictate this article, I walking along the shores of Chautauqua Lake in Western New York on Labor Day weekend. Twenty-three Labor Day weekends ago, I launched my first business, Independent Special Investigations. My grand plan was to have a super-regional private investigations company from Bangor, Maine to Baltimore, Maryland handling insurance fraud investigations and complex casualty investigations for special investigation units and insurance defense attorneys.
Just the other day I dug out my business plan and saw that I’d been tinkering with that idea from 1991 until my launch date and my initial success actually turned out to be a curse. How can you say that growing to nine employees in three years and being licensed in four of those states was a failure? It came about because it reinforced my belief that excellent service and word-of-mouth referrals would create enough billable hours for my growing company. It reinforced my initial ideas of how I was growing the company were correct and that when things went bad suddenly, I realized I didn’t have a clue as to what I was facing.
A couple of national firms came in and using a password-protected dashboard and 1-800 numbers convinced the highest levels of the insurance property and casualty claims departments to contract their services. Solos and regionals like myself were suddenly frozen out of all local claims departments and SIU units. My customers railed at being forced to use the national firms and having to pay more money for what they perceived as poorer service, but their hands were tied. Within 60 days, 55% of my business evaporated. 55% of my payroll did not and I had just spent quite a bit of money investing in on external training for my staff. To add insult to injury, both of those nationals approached my firm and asked us to work on their cases for my old customers at about half of what we had been charging.
Maybe if I was older and had a pension, I might have just folded my tent and walked quietly into the sunset, however, I too stubborn or too enraged to give up. At first, I tried just doing more of what I had done and actually expanded my contacts further and further out to companies that had not been approached by the nationals. At the same time, we began doing more casualty adjuster-related work for the insurance companies that fell outside of our area of specialty. It was a slow downslide. In the end, two of my employees had to be laid off, and that caused me great distress. I rebranded as a solo investigator doing general investigations in the Greater New Haven area and so began my journey on how to run a business that provided investigative services.
The most important question to ask yourself now is what is it that you will do one hour a day. Remember the diet you do is better than the one you should do, but don’t. The exercise you do is better than the exercise you should do but don’t. So continuing the adage, the marketing you do is better than the marketing you should do, but don’t.
The next most important question is how do you do it? That is where most investigators get stuck.
The next questions are what customers do you want to attract or what clients do you want to reach out to? Pick one.
If you can’t pick, just pick one to work on at a time.
Too many investigators I know try to be everything to everybody and consequently become nothing to nobody with a website that does not speak to any particular customer’s needs and wants. They appear to be just another investigator that got a license.
Does your website speak to your target customer’s needs and wants? Have you even identified your target customer? Does your website give them an opportunity to easily contact you? Do you have a strong call to action (CTA) that compels them to contact you and and if they do, do you have a proven method of receiving their inquiries, determining if they are a good fit, seeing if they have the proper budget to do what they want to do, and can you execute the plan?
Most importantly is that in that in your website and all your free content and in your discussions with the prospect are you giving them an opportunity to know, like, and trust you that by the time they agree to pay your retainer they can’t wait for you to start the investigation. Can you have them click on a button where they choose your service and provide a credit card to get started.? Is your retainer imbedded as part of the language for when they press the pay button that they have read all the terms of your contract?
With customers, the hour that you might spend daily is tweaking your website content, providing more free content for customers, and working on your search engine optimization. Where does your customer say they spend time? Do they watch YouTube videos?. Do they ask questions on Google? Do they check their Facebook or Instagram feed on a daily basis?
You want to cast your net in the pond where the fish are plentiful. Recently I googled B&H in Manhattan. They are providers of technical assistance and low-end surveillance cameras amongst other things. I needed to determine what my best choice was for new employees. The ads I began seeing in my YouTube and Google feed from B&H is a prime example of how my inquiry turned into a laser focused ad on my needs.
Just to clarify on your reaching out to customers or consumers with a good website and a call to action mostly. This is for all consumers in the business to consumer model. (B2C) You’re competing for eyeballs against other private investigators in the same niche. Look at other investigative firms and see what they’re doing to attract customers and getting them into the sales funnel. Part of your marketing effort is to keep track of how many people make inquiries, how many people you talk to, and how many people can you convert from prospects and customers. Additionally, you want to track the dollar value of the cases that you receive. A simple law assignment log with a field for on final payment amounts would be enough to give you an idea of how many cases on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis you receive from consumers and what the average payment you receive from them.
Separate and completely divorced from this process is the activity you undertake to attract clients. Consumers or customers may be a one-shot deal. They may or may not make referrals to other persons with similar or like problems. However, it is clients or businesses that can give you a steady flow of assignments.
Over two decades ago, I launched a business that had five major insurance companies making up over 50% of my business. Today, I provide a very similar specialized skill set of insurance investigations, however, I provide them for personal injury attorneys throughout the state of Connecticut. I count over fifty plaintiff firms using my services at least four times a year. Same skill sets, but a different focus.
Previously, I was business-to-business or B2B and now I am professional to professional or P2P.
Incidentally, I still retain one insurance defense law firm from back in the day and they work mostly for specialty insurance carriers who have the occasional need for a private investigator.
You can start off by using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of your client contacts and all your follow-up dates. You follow a script you ask for either a Zoom meeting or as the lockdowns ease up, a face-to-face meeting across their ten-foot-long conference table. Any business or professional that you’re looking to attract belongs to the Association. You can obtain their contact information from the associations. As we approach a new normal in the Pandemic, those associations will start meeting again, however, there will be plenty of opportunities to provide free webinars as the associations are starved for content for their members.
How do you position yourself on your website to speak specifically to this audience? Does everything about your website, your handouts, your free content speak to the needs of that specific audience?
Hint: the more you specialize, the more you can charge, and the more you get word-of-mouth referral from the right kind of client to other like-minded clients. There is a place for word-of-mouth in this marketing scheme but it comes from delivering excellent service, on time, every single time. If you truly want to know what word-of-mouth marketing looks like go to my How To Rocket Your Private Investigation Business podcast episode with Mike Spencer, a private investigator in Oakland California and Alameda County.
How do you spend your hours a day marketing to businesses or professionals? The smartphone in your pocket is probably your greatest tool. Because you can actually use it as a phone. The goal of your phone call is to get a return phone call. Once you have a return phone call, you can spend a few minutes framing the issue for the prospect and letting him or she know that you are available to meet with them on Zoom to discuss their needs further. The whole purpose of the phone call and return phone call is to schedule your Zoom call or an in-person meeting with the prospect.
I would contact every attendee at the seminar or conference of my target audience’s association where I had an exhibitor booth. I keep track of the numbers. The averages have remained incredibly accurate.
20 phone calls or five phone calls a day, four days a week plus follow-up phone calls, generate 16 return calls That are not to say that 20 calls generated 16 return calls. 20 people contacted over the course of the week sometimes twice or three times generated 16 return phone calls. Those 16 return phone calls converted to meetings about 50% of the time for 8 meetings. Those 8 meetings, usually before court in the morning, before their day got out of their control generated 4 new customers. 20 contacts = 4 new customers in only 5 hours a week.
The remaining 4 attorneys have my information available and I’ve gotten contact is as much as three years after a meeting until they finally had a need for a private investigator.
The numbers don’t lie and that one marketing technique grew my new business Hoda Investigations to where we are able to support myself, my son and a part-timer.
if you’re interested in learning more about the what and how related to a one hour a day marketing plan, please contact me at the www.PICoach.com and mention that your subscriber to PI magazine and I will offer you an additional 1/2 hour FREE consultation so we can laser in on exactly what your wants and needs are. That may be the best hour of your time as it relates to marketing your business.