Investigators: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planning for 2013
- December 31, 2012
- by Kimberly Faber
- Business Tips
Over the course of the year several investigators have discussed strategies for setting business goals, continuing to shape effective marketing strategies, and determining the best ways to increase business. It’s important to spend some time looking into what you’ve learned in the past year as you develop plans for your private investigation firm in 2013. By closely evaluating what has and has not worked for your firm, identifying opportunities for improvement, and analyzing the effectiveness of your marketing investments, you will likely discover new ways to grow your business in the coming year. As reviewing a year’s worth of achievements, setbacks, individual cases and business issues can be a daunting task, we’ve provided some questions to guide you through analyzing what your business has achieved in 2012.
Here are a ten questions to ask yourself before you commence planning for the 2013 calendar year:
1. Did I experience an increase or decrease in revenue this year?
Once you have final numbers for 2012, set aside some time to compare them with your revenue from 2011. If you’ve experienced an increase in revenue, look into what you’ve done differently in the past year and how you can keep those changes consistent in the coming year. Is your advertising and marketing budget invested in new arenas? Have you focused on maintaining a higher level of customer service? By identifying definitive causes of your revenue increase you’ll have a better picture of what to carry over into your plans for 2013.
If you’ve experienced a decrease in revenue, look closely at the differences in spending and investment numbers of 2011 and 2012. Identify what may have affected this year’s revenue by investigating whether or not your firm had significantly larger expenses this year and whether or not any costs were unnecessary or unavoidable. In a situation where the difference is negligible, compare the number of leads and clients. Decreased revenue may be an indicator that it’s time to rework your marketing strategy.
Tip for 2013: Set a reasonable and achievable revenue goal for 2013 and pair it with a set of strategies for achieving that goal. Whether it’s through cutting costs, investing in a new advertising options, offering a new service, or finding new ways to reach out to potential clients personally, name the actions you will take to work towards the goal. Having multiple strategies and several backup plans will help you stay on track as the new year progresses.
2. Where have I invested my money?
Looking into where your money is being spent is just as important as tracking where it’s coming from. Make sure you have the opportunity to mull over your various investments, budgets, and spending plans before making any decisions for 2013. Consider looking at your total expense amount versus your total revenue and determining whether or not the ratio between the two is acceptable for your business. It’s also a good idea to take a look at every aspect of your budget individual as it will give you a better sense of where you can cut costs and where further investments can be made.
Tip for 2013: Focus on cutting small expenses. Take, for example, magazine subscriptions, software applications, and other monthly products. Many services, applications, and publications that charge a monthly subscription fee offer discounted rates when the year’s fee is paid up front. Though the savings per month may seem small, the mantra “every little bit counts” exists for a reason!
3. Where are my clients coming from?
Before you delve into the specifics of your marketing plan and advertising expenses, you need a concrete understanding of where your business is coming from. This is why it’s important to track the number of clients that are connecting with your firm through each advertisement.
Look over your tracking and calculate what percentage of your clients are coming from:
- Word of mouth
- Attorney and professional referrals
- Yellow Pages, newspaper, magazine, and print ads
- Billboard and poster advertisements
- Local search listings on Google (listings with the red balloons on the map)
- Online directory and network listings
- Your website
Gathering this information is the first step in analyzing what marketing investments are paying off. If you discover that the majority of your clients are finding you through word of mouth, then you’ll know that customer service and ensuring your clients are satisfied are crucial to maintaining business. In contrast, if only a handful of clients are finding you through a magazine ad, you’ll probably want to look further into that opportunity and determine whether or not the cost is worthwhile. Gather as much information as you possibly can on how clients are finding out about your business to identify gaps in your marketing plan.
Tip for 2013: Online search is now the main method people use to find products and services. When asking your clients how they found your firm, don’t be afraid to press for specifics. Settling for an answer as broad as “The Internet” or “Google” is not valuable to your company. Asking clients what specific website they found you through and whether or not they called based on your local profile listing will result in useful, actionable data. If you’re not comfortable asking for more information at the initial point of contact, try getting more information later on when the relationship with your client is more established.
4. Is my marketing plan getting me a return on my investment?
A Return on Investment percentage is a calculation that shows how much profit you are getting from an advertisement. Some investigators feel comfortable with their existing spend and revenue stream and don’t spend much time looking into the details, but a healthy marketing strategy must evolve. An advertisement that was once high performing may now only account for a small portion of your referrals. Calculating your business’s Return on Investment for each ad is a simple way to look at what advertisements make up for the bulk of your referrals.
To calculate your Return on Investment (ROI) percentage for a specific ad, subtract the total cost of the ad from the total profit of the ad. Divide the resulting number by the total cost of the add. This one or two digit number is your ROI percentage. The higher the number, the larger the return on your investment is for that opportunity.
For aspects of your marketing plan that have a low ROI, look for ways to improve the opportunity. If it’s a directory or network listing, find out what you can do to better optimize it and attract more clients. If you want a higher ROI from your website, consider a redesign or making the interface mobile-friendly. In addition to improving low ROI marketing opportunities, consider investing further into opportunities that are getting a higher return on investment.
Tip for 2013: Try something new! Write a guest post for an industry blog to get more exposure, or if you’ve already been published, add publication links to your website. If you're looking to expand your professional network locally, host an appetizer and cocktail party for local attorneys to educate them about the services you offer. Whatever you choose to do, try to find a new way to get exposure to both your peers and potential clients.
5. Do I have a solid web presence?
A solid Internet presence generally consists of three things: a great website, a good local search ranking, and listings on numerous respected networks and directories. To determine whether or not your Internet presence is up to par, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is my website professional? When was the last time I updated it?
A professional, easy to navigate site that is strictly devoted to your investigations firm is a key element of your web presence. An ideal site will have minimal movement, the business phone number at the top of every page, and a concise URL. If your website is missing these elements or it’s been a few years since your website was updated, add that to your goals for 2013.
2. Am I ranking in local search results? Have I claimed and optimized my listing?
According to recent estimates, over 70% of consumers search for products and services through a location-based search. What does this mean for you? Nearly two-thirds of your potential clients are searching for investigators through an Internet search of: “(your city or state) private investigator”. Essentially, if you’re not ranking in local search results for investigators in your area, your advertising isn’t reaching nearly half of your potential clients. Make sure you claim or set up your listing and optimize it for best results.
3. Am I listed on industry-related networks and directories?
It’s important to maintain business listings on various networks and directories, but your focus should be on those that are relevant to private investigation. The more specific the listing is to private investigators, the more likely you are to get business and results from being listed there. Networks and directories can also have an effect on your search rankings; although the return may not be direct, these listings can have a positive impact on your overall web presence.
Another way to evaluate your web performance is to calculate your agency’s ROI for all web-based advertising and search engine optimization services. If your ROI is low and you’re not sure how to improve your presence, consider having an internet marketing professional evaluate this aspect of your marketing strategy.
Tip for 2013: Make sure your website is mobile compatible or has a mobile interface. As location based searches dominated 2012, searching for products and services on mobile devices is on the rise and will continue to climb through 2013. To keep up with this development, make sure that your website can be viewed on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. If your website is not mobile compatible, your main options are to: 1. Pay a service to convert it for you, or 2. Commit to a site redesign and ensure that mobile compatibility is incorporated. If you’re considering a redesign within the next year or two, the second option is probably your best bet.
6. Am I an active association member? Did I attend conferences and take advantage of education opportunities?
With constant technological advancements, surveillance laws under scrutiny, and many other issues affecting the private investigation profession, it’s important to stay educated on the latest trends and news. If you attended conferences, seminars, and association meetings this year, take a few minutes to write down what you’ve learned. Highlight any concerns and issues that will potentially affect your business in the coming year, and note any techniques, products, or service you’d like to incorporate into your business.
Tip for 2013: Commit to attending at least one conference or seminar. With active state and national associations, there’s plenty of opportunity to attend events. By attending a conference or educational seminar, you will likely see benefit in expanding your professional network, learning about the strategies and techniques other investigators and specialists utilize, and from vendors showcasing their products and services.
7. Do I utilize free resources?
A free resource can be anything from a social network like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to an application like Google Apps (email, documents, spreadsheets) or eHour employee timesheet tracking. Social networks can be used to advertise to potential clients, stay connected with past clients, and interact with other industry professionals for tips, advice, and business referrals. Applications like Google Apps and eHour provide cost-free solutions for tracking hours, scanning and storing receipts, generating documents and spreadsheets, filing, and more. If you’re not utilizing free resources you may have unnecessary expenses, so it’s important to look into cost-free solutions.
Tip for 2013: Replace costly applications or products with free resources. If the time has come to update your computer’s office software suite, test free downloadable and web-hosted solutions to see if they’re an adequate option before purchasing an upgrade. If you utilize an application that has a monthly subscription fee, search the web for a comparable application that is cost-free. There is also a great opportunity to invest those savings into a marketing budget or new equipment.
8. Are my employees happy? Am I happy with my employees?
Have there been any issues with customer services, intra-office conflict, or any employees not following protocol? Are you impressed with someone’s ability to take on new tasks with ease? The end of the year is a time to address any issues, offer praise and thanks, and evaluate opportunities to reward employees. Identify any changes you would like to see implemented by your employees and don’t forget to ask for their feedback. The end of the year is also a great time to meet with contract employees and referring companies to discuss ways to increase the benefit of that partnership.
Tip for 2013: Set up a review with every employee. Take the opportunity to address any issues or concerns you have with the individual and offer praise and thanks where it is warranted. During the reviews, ask your employees for feedback. This can help you determine what processes within your firm can streamline and if there are any requests or changes that can be made to help keep your employees happy.
9. Have I met my overall business goals?
Now that you’ve looked at several aspects of your business’s performance, take a look at the goals you set for your company in January. Celebrate the goals that you have met and take note of ways meeting those goals have changed your business. If there is any overflow of goals you weren’t able to meet, take some time to look into why those goals were not achieved and find ways to refine them for 2013.
Tip for 2013: Set reasonable and achievable goals for your business. Take, for example, the goal to make more money. What constitutes more money? Is a $1 increase in revenue enough to satisfy that goal? Is a 200% revenue increase achievable? As you set your goals for the coming year, make sure that they are attainable and that you have a system for how they will be measured.
10. What do I want to focus on in 2013?
There are an infinite number of ways to improve your business in the coming year, and maybe some of the things you’d like your business to focus on don’t fit into your yearly goals. If there are other ways you’d like to improve your business, select two or three things you’d like your company to focus on. If you want to spend some time giving back to the community, keep up with opportunities to volunteer. If you want to focus on team building, talk to your employees and find out what company events and activities will help bring everyone closer. You may find that some of your major focus points will be more applicable to you individually rather than the company as a whole. Whatever the focus is, commit to making a positive change for yourself and your firm.
Tip for 2013: Focus on delegating tasks. Whether it’s filing paperwork, looking into advertising opportunities, or managing social media, identify tasks and responsibilities that can be handed off to other members of your team. If it’s an ongoing task, be sure to discuss the opportunity and expectations before asking the person to take it on. When delegating tasks, always make sure you are available for questions as the person adjusts to new responsibilities.
With new technology and products to evaluate, marketing plans to manage, and working with employees and colleagues, investigators have plenty to keep up with. Taking the time to plan and form strategies for 2013 will allow you to focus on other issues that pop up unexpectedly while remaining confident that you are working toward achieving your goals. Hopefully, these questions have provided some guidance and helped you get a better idea of where you’d like to see your investigations firm this time next year.
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