The Solo Private Investigator: 20% Investigator, 80% Everything Else
Editor's note: This article was written by Rachele’ Davis of New Hope Investigations.The opinions expressed here belong to Rachele’ Davis.
I am a solo private investigator. I have a home office with zero employees and very little overhead. It’s simple. But it’s far from easy.
When I officially opened New Hope Investigations for business in 2016, I was eager, prepared, and hopeful. I had recently stepped away from a crime analyst position with my local police department and was excited about my new venture.
I knew my freshly obtained private investigator license would be useful but I was also realistic that it would be shared with additional duties that accompany business ownership. However, I could not have predicted the span or depth of those “other” duties nor was I fully prepared for everything else it takes to operate as a private investigator and solopreneur.
As a private investigator, I investigate a variety of cases but I developed a niche in the world of adoption and missing heir searches. There isn’t much that’s more fulfilling than reconnecting family members separated by adoption or some other factor. It gives me a high that lasts well into the next case that comes along. The actual investigation work only takes up 20% of my time. Luckily, there are other facets of my work that also surprisingly bring me satisfaction and fulfillment.
The Other 80%
I love investigating. I’m driven, persistent, and curious. I live to put the pieces together, to find answers. But I’ve also developed a few other necessary traits as I started working in a solo capacity as a private investigator.
When you own a business, no matter how small, you must market yourself to garner clients. You can’t afford not to.
In the beginning, I read books and blogs about marketing. I watched videos and asked for advice from my marketing friends. I tried and failed. I tried some more. This is an ever-evolving area of business that I continue to develop, evaluate, and change. I could be the best private investigator in the world but if I don’t market myself, I will fail.
I am my accountant. This probably sounds absolutely abhorrent to many of you, but I actually find it empowering and insightful.
I crunch my own numbers. I keep track of my invoicing, income, client, and investigation breakdowns. I know everything about my investigation business from the top down. I do my own taxes at the close of every year. It’s strangely comforting to learn this part of my business myself.
Early on, even before I obtained my private investigator license, I started working on my business website. I chose to create my website mainly to save cost.
I certainly learned a lot through much frustration, trial, and error. I wasn’t completely new to website design, as I created my first website back in my teaching days, then revamped and maintained my local police department’s website in my crime analyst days.
But starting completely from nothing, writing all the content, and deciding on structure all took quite a bit of time and effort. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining and updating.
It might sound a bit strange, but for many of my clients, I am an investigator and a counselor.
I do think several of my colleagues would disagree with me on this, but given the nature of many of my investigations centering around reuniting biological families, I feel it is every bit my duty to counsel my client when the situation calls for it.
I am not a licensed counselor. I am a licensed investigator. However, given the sensitive nature of my work and the emotional toll it takes on both my client and the person or people I locate, I feel it’s common decency to offer support on a more personal level when needed. If this just happens to be a bit different than what is expected of many of my colleagues for typical investigative services, then so be it.
I’ve found this counseling role surprisingly fulfilling. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job.
When I became a private investigator, choosing to blog was a natural fit for me. This was a terrific marketing tool for my business (and a free one at that), but also a great tool to learn about my new profession, networking, and becoming a familiar name in my industry early on.
As a private investigator, I use writing in so many different areas. There’s just no way around it. I blog. I write content for my website. I write marketing materials for my business. I write articles like this one for PInow and Pursuit Magazine. I write reports for my clients. I write emails and letters. Writing is a huge part of who I am as a private investigator and will probably become even more so in the future.
Making Every Decision
Arguably, being my own boss and business owner is the most exciting facet of my work as a private investigator. I went from working under a supervisor who had a supervisor who had a supervisor, to working for myself. I no longer have to ask permission to do my job. Gone are the days of filling out forms to request permission to purchase an item or attend a conference. No more frivolous meetings. I don’t have to spend extra time writing up proposals to sell my ideas to my bosses.
I feel my newfound freedom in a few different ways. Working for myself is an enormous time-saver. I never realized just how much time I wasted on meetings that really didn’t pertain to me in the first place or department-wide emails that pulled me away from being productive. I don’t have to politely set my work aside as another coworker comes through my office door to chat. No more office politics. Poof. Gone.
I have suddenly become the decision-maker for everything. If I feel the need to purchase something for my business, I buy it. If I decide that an upcoming conference will be fruitful, I attend. I never have to ask permission or meet with others when it comes time to make a decision about my business. I just make it.
Navigating the business world in a solo capacity as a private investigator is not for the faint of heart. It demands major multi-tasking, a willingness to learn and master new things, regularly operating out of your comfort zone, and a whole lot of hard work.
But it is so much fun and so worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing.
About the Author
Rachele’ Davis is the owner and operator of New Hope Investigations in Joplin, Missouri. She is a licensed private investigator in Missouri (2016012045) and Kansas (D-5825). Rachele’ began a career in teaching before obtaining her Masters in Criminal Justice and creating a position for herself as Joplin Police Department’s first crime analyst. Her work contributed to a 17% city-wide reduction in overall crime during her seven years as the department’s sole analyst. After she and her husband adopted an infant son in 2015 and hired a private investigator to aid in a custody battle with the birth father, Rachele’ transitioned from crime analyst to private investigator herself. She obtained her private investigator’s licenses and launched New Hope, specializing in adoption searches.
Rachele’ is currently a contributing writer for Pursuit Magazine and publishes a bi-weekly blog. She is a member of the United States Association of Professional Investigators, Missouri State Investigators Association, Kansas Association of Licensed Investigators, Association of Professional Genealogists, National Genealogical Society, International Society of Genetic Genealogy, and American Adoption Congress. Rachele’ can be reached at [email protected].