What happened? Why did the business fail? What could they have done differently? Sadly, poor customer acquisition and retention is the number one culprit.
When I launched my first PI business twenty-two years ago, I thought I knew enough about the business side of things to take the leap. Boy, was I wrong, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know until a few years later, when I had grown the company to nine employees in four states. In 60 days, I watched 55% of my clientele evaporate like water on a hot sidewalk after a brief rain shower. That is when I had to learn how to replace the business I lost to competitors who understood marketing much better than this insurance fraud expert. Also, I had to do it pronto.
How I wished that there was a book for private investigators by a private investigator about the business of private investigations.* It would have saved me so many sleepless nights and squandered capital (time and money). Especially, a book that didn’t refer to the reader as a Complete Idiot or a Dummy.
So when the fine folks at PI Magazine asked me to write every issue on marketing the profession which has given me so much, I jumped at the chance to give back by sharing my learnings from the school of hard-knocks, while I still continue my journey as a practicing PI.
Why me, you ask, what makes me the expert? Well, I might say that eighty-eight consecutive quarters of being in the black is an answer. I could add I didn’t have a pension to rely on or a massive loan from my rich family ( I wish), so that counted for something, but I really think I can relate to hungry readers for two reasons:
Firstly, I have gone through many of the battles that you are experiencing now and I did so while providing services B2B, B2C, P2P (professional to professional) as both as a specialist and as a local generalist. I can speak to a wide range of business models at various stages of development.
Secondly and probably more importantly, I got knocked on my butt so many times and didn’t wallow in the mud whining, “Oh poor me!”
I got up and kept punching. I did not quit and I wouldn’t quit. It was facing those adversities that made me stronger and smarter. I was learning from my mistakes.
At some point, I started going to marketing conferences, business-building seminars and started listening to podcasts and webinars not on the craft of my profession, but on the business of my profession. During these three decades, I made some crazy stupid money and I also stood peering into my Post Office mailbox slot waiting for the clerk to slide in that promised check so I could cover payroll. It has been a roller-coaster for sure, one that I would not have traded for any comfy corner office in the corporate world.
Learning about business also allowed me to create a business that let me still go out on cases (fulfillment). Would I have liked a business that could run everyday without me? One I could have sold to my employees? Yes. Would I have missed out on making career cases with my own shoe leather? Even more. The life-style business I created for myself allowed me to market, run a business and still get out on the street making cases. Most times, I was able to keep a sane work/life balance which was also important to me.
So here’s the deal, I promise to inspire, inform and hopefully entertain you. Every post will have a specific topic, a story or two to reinforce that topic and either a checklist or bullet points for you can apply IMMEDIATELY to your business.
*Now about that book. Full disclaimer, I have just published three separate books on launching, marketing and boosting your PI business and I have incorporated all three into a complete series. From time to time, I will excerpt portions, especially the checklists and questions, but I hope to kept this column fresh and current with changes in our industry.
Two tips until next time:
Mindset: The sooner you start thinking of yourself not as investigator, but as a business-person selling investigative services, the sooner the marketing medicine will go down easier.
Instead of sending your clients and their support staff or your customers Holiday cards (You are, aren’t you?), send them Thanksgiving cards the week before Thanksgiving thanking them for their business. I suggest you start culling your customer lists and order your cards with your name, logo and tagline while prices are lower in the summer months – It has always generated a nice uptick in work to help me finish December strong.