How to Start a Private Investigation Business

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Private investigation business
Learn how to get your private investigation business going.

The first step to starting a private investigation business is obtaining a private investigator license for the state where you plan to operate. For more detailed information on licensing, visit our Private Investigator Licensing section.

Setting Up Your Private Investigation Business for Success

Now that you’re officially licensed in the state to conduct private investigations, the next step is to start and run your own private investigation business. Learn about business licensing and insurance coverage requirements. In addition, learn about the equipment and supplies you’ll need, how to establish an online presence, website, social media, email, and more.

Determine if you need a Business License

Many states require a business license and a private investigator’s license. Check with the state licensing authority to learn about the specific requirements for your state. It takes a while for your application to be processed, so start immediately.

Protect Your Private Investigation Business with Private Investigator Insurance

Insurance requirements for private investigators will vary from state to state. Also, insurance needs may vary based on the work performed. In most cases, private investigators will need the same type of coverage as any business, but there are some unique situations to consider.

Due to the nature of private investigation work, you could find yourself liable in many different situations. For example, claims against you for bodily injury, financial losses, negligence, auto accidents, worker’s compensation, and more.

The types of private investigator insurance you might need include:

  • General Liability Insurance – General liability insurance for private investigators provides coverage for bodily injury or damage to another person.
  • Commercial Automobile Liability Insurance – If you’re doing surveillance work or searching for missing persons, you’ll likely spend a lot of time on the road. Auto insurance will provide coverage for auto accidents.
  • Workers Compensation – If you have an agency with employees, you may be required to carry this type of insurance to cover accidents that your employees have during the course of doing business.
  • Property Insurance – This type of insurance will only be necessary to protect the building you operate if you own it.

Depending on the work performed, other specialized types of private investigator insurance may be necessary. Discuss the details with your insurance agent and lawyer, and contact multiple insurance companies to get price quotes before deciding.

Decide Whether You Need Office Space

A critical decision you’ll need to make is setting up a physical office space. An office will provide a place to conduct your private investigation business, meet with clients, interview witnesses, and store materials, equipment, and supplies. In addition to its functional benefits, physical office space may help promote your business, especially if it is located in a high-traffic area.

Street and window signage will be essential marketing and advertising tools to inform people about your business and services. The downside of having a physical office space is, of course, the cost. The potential expenses associated with maintaining an office include rent, utilities, equipment, supplies, parking, and other expenses.

On the other hand, a private investigation business can be run without a physical office. A private investigator can easily run a business out of their residence. Meetings with clients and witnesses can be conducted in convenient public places such as restaurants, coffee houses, or a more private location if necessary.

The money you save from not paying for an office can be redirected to marketing and advertising efforts or toward additional profit for your company.

Buy Equipment and Supplies for your Private Investigation Business

Whether you decide to run your business in a physical office space or out of your home, you’ll need to purchase equipment that will be used to run your private investigation business. The type of equipment and supplies you need will depend mainly on the services you plan to provide. Following are some ideas for the essential items you’ll need to get started:

  • Computer or laptop – If you plan to offer data retrieval services, background checks, missing person locates, or similar services, you’ll need a computer with an internet connection. In addition, you’ll need a computer to prepare reports for clients, develop marketing and advertising materials, manage your website and social media accounts, and send/receive emails.
  • Computer accessories and peripherals – In addition to a computer/laptop, you may need peripheral devices such as a printer, scanner, and fax machine. Consider how you’ll be communicating with clients before investing in this equipment.
  • Camera – If you plan to offer surveillance services, you’ll need to invest in a high-quality digital camera. When you evaluate various camera models, consider how and where the camera will be used. You’ll need a portable, durable camera, take high-quality photos, and have key features like optical zoom. And don’t forget the extras such as a durable camera case, spare batteries, memory cards, and special filters and lenses.
  • Office supplies – You will need a supply of office materials such as pens and pencils, notepads (for taking notes), copier/printer paper, etc. I recommend buying these as you need them. Don’t tie up your cash flow in the office supply inventory.
  • Smartphone – Private investigators spend much time communicating, especially on the phone. Investigators spend time on the phone with clients, law enforcement, attorneys, information providers, courthouses, and others. A high-quality, durable smartphone is a necessity for private investigative work. In addition to making calls, investigators use smartphones to run various apps to perform searches, navigate around town, send and receive emails, etc. Also, your smartphone camera will be an important backup if you don’t have your digital camera.

If you are used to buying personal products through Amazon.com, I highly recommend setting up a free Amazon Business Account. With an Amazon Business Account, you can select from thousands of business-only products. Each account includes convenient delivery options, flexible payment options, and built-in purchasing analytics. The marketplace is competitive, so prices are low, and you can even get discounts for buying in bulk.

Optional Equipment

  • Badge – In most states, private investigators must carry a copy of their private investigator license, but they are not required to carry a badge. However, some private investigators choose to carry a badge as a form of proof and prestige. However, it is important to note that carrying a badge carries no official “weight” and does not mean you have any special capabilities or authority. Learn more about badges.

Sign up with Database Information Providers

If you plan to offer data retrieval services, such as background checks, missing person searches, social media investigations, and employment history reports, you’ll need access to a database information service, such as Accurint, from LexisNexis, Clear for Investigations, from Thomson Reuters, Intellicorp, IRB Search and TLOxp (TransUnion). See a list of the most popular providers.

Investigate these companies to determine the solutions you’ll need for your services. Contact the service providers that best meet your needs and schedule a demo or sign up for a trial offer.

Establish an Online Presence

Establishing an online presence for your business is one of the most important steps in setting up your private investigation business. An online presence includes your business website, email account, social media accounts, and directory listings. These will represent your business twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, so it is important to get them right.

Create a Website for your Private Investigation Business

There are many options for setting up a website. The most economical route is to create your own using a free service such as Blogger, Wix.com, or Weebly.com. These sites offer easy-to-follow wizards for creating a website with pre-built templates and themes.

These sites also provide web hosting services, so you don’t have to deal separately. Additional costs are necessary when you decide to upgrade and install add-ons. I recommend using these sites if you’re new to the web.

If you are comfortable with basic website design and development, you can save money by doing everything yourself. With this approach, you’ll need to:

  • Register a domain name through a registrar
  • Establish an account with a web hosting company. I recommend using either SiteGround or Kinsta. I use both to host various business websites, and I’m happy with the results. Siteground is an excellent option if you’re on a budget but still want excellent service. Kinsta is the best all-around, although it is slightly more expensive. View a complete list of the best web hosting companies.
  • Install a content management package, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. Most web hosting companies, including SiteGround, allow you to install these for free, so you don’t have to buy them separately.
  • Create and configure email accounts, also included with most hosting plans.
  • Build website content, add photos, links to other sites, etc.

If you have enough money, hire a web development company to create a website to your specifications. This is the best way to get precisely what you want.

Setup Email

I recommend that you set up a website first. Many web hosting providers include a certain number of email accounts with any hosting package. The primary benefit of using the email account associated with your website hosting is the domain name will be the same.

For example, if your domain name is floridabestinvestigator.com, then your email account would use the same domain name, such as gumshoe@floridasbestinvestigator.com. This has two benefits. First, every email you send will help promote your website. Second, it is far more professional. It suggests that you are running a serious business rather than running a “fly by night” operation with a cheap email service provider.

RELATED: How to Setup a Website

Setup Social Media Accounts

As a private investigator, social media allows you to promote yourself, your ideas, your business, and your services to a worldwide audience. There are hundreds of social media networks, but I recommend focusing your efforts on just a few: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Plus.

There are hundreds of social networks, but I recommend focusing your efforts on just a few. Create an account in your company’s name on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. If you plan to post a lot of photos related to your business, add Instagram and Pinterest to the list.

For each of these networks, do the following:

  • First, create an account in your company name
  • Fill out the entire profile to describe your company and services
  • Add photos to enhance the look and feel of your profile
  • Search the network for private investigators and those in related industries, such as process servers, attorneys, bodyguards, security guards, etc.
  • Send requests to connect to start building your network
  • Post regularly on each network. Posts can include such things as work you recently completed, website updates, interesting investigation news or articles, etc.

For more information, read our article How to Use Social Media to Promote Your Business.

Join a Private Investigator Directory

There are several good private investigator directories available online at a reasonable cost. These directories can help potential clients learn about your services and can be a reliable source of business.

I recommend signing up with at least one directory for a period of one year. During that time, evaluate the website traffic, emails, and overall private investigation business you receive. Then, renew your listing only if the business you receive exceeds the cost of the directory.

Join our private investigation directory for as little as $1.95 a month.

Join an industry association

I highly recommend joining an industry association to help promote your private investigation business. Private investigation industry associations are organizations that promote the private investigation profession.

Industry associations can be focused on the state and/or the national level. In addition, many focus on specific aspects of the industry, such as forensics, etc. View a list of industry associations.

Questions and Comments

If you have any questions or comments about how to get your private investigation business off the ground, please post a message below.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.

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