Six years ago today, on August 17, 2009, Diligentia Group officially opened its doors.
I remember the day quite well. I had just taken what I thought was going to be my last vacation in many years, and was preparing to build out my new home office.
So far, we have had a pretty good run. We’ve grown six consecutive years. Most important, I have had a blast and this adventure has given me opportunities that I could never have had otherwise.
On with the lessons…
1) Be what you want to be.
When I first started, I knew what I did not want to be.
I didn’t want to be the head of an investigative firm that was churning out low-margin work.
I didn’t want to be someone who had a big office with a big staff.
And I didn’t want to be someone who had to answer to anyone.
I wanted to be nimble, preferably solo, with low overhead, and I wanted to work on interesting cases—not just ones that paid the bills.
What you want to be might be totally different.
But I wanted to dictate my lifestyle; I didn’t want my work to dictate me.
2) Listen to what others have to say, but do what you want to do.
The ability to really listen to and understand what someone has to say is a critical life skill. And pretty much everyone has an opinion that they want to share.
Especially when you start your own business.
But at the end of the day, you are the one who has to live with those decisions.
Make your own decisions; you are the one who has to live with them.
3) Don’t maximize income; maximize helpfulness.
A few months ago, I sent a proposal to a European company that was interested in determining whether an individual had been accepting monetary payments from a third party. It was a difficult case, one that would require a lot of time and resources if we were going to be successful.
Our proposal was about twice as much as what they wanted to spend. Although I certainly could have just agreed to their reduced budget, the truth is that I didn’t feel like we could help them within that budget. We didn’t end up getting the case.
And just last week, I sent a proposal to a national law firm that specializes in asbestos litigation. They were interested in hiring a new expert investigator who could help them locate coworkers from very small, obscure sites from 40 and 50 years ago.
If that sounds like really challenging work, it is.
At the end of the day, they decided to stick with their current investigator (the one they were unhappy with), whom they were paying less than half of our rate.
Did I leave money on the table?
But that’s not why I do what I do.
I am in the business of helping people find information that they would not otherwise have. And if I don’t feel like I can be helpful with only whatever resources they have, I am fine with just walking away.
4) Be different.
I appreciate businesses that break a mold.
Like a car dealership that doesn’t haggle with you about the price.
Or a law firm that charges a flat fee, and doesn’t gouge you with their fees.
And I love entrepreneurs who are trying to solve problems in entrenched industries, like the financial services industry’s inability to provide personalized advice and appropriate investments at a reasonable price to customers who are not rich.
Private investigators are perceived to be shady individuals who break the law.
I could have opened another investigative firm that perpetuated the mysterious, secretive, shady, working-on-the-edge-of-the-law mystique.
But I didn’t. I wanted to create a company around being transparent, legal, and ethical.
I created a blog that discussed some of the techniques I use.
Some of my closest colleagues cringed.
I wrote about how I won’t even consider crossing over legal or ethical boundaries like obtaining bank records or telephone records, or how I wouldn’t even consider putting a GPS device on a car.
I even called out others in the investigative community.
Being different doesn’t just separate you from everyone else—it also attracts people whom you actually want to work with.
5) Connect with people by telling your story.
Last month, I got an email that started like this:
“Okay, I like your website and your blog and your picture. You seem like someone I could meet for coffee, so I thought I’d start with you.”
I get emails like that all the time.
It’s not necessarily easy or natural to open up to a bunch of strangers.
People connect with stories; it’s important to tell yours.
6) Be flexible.
When I started, I had a pretty good compass to point me in the direction I wanted to go, but I truly had no idea where that compass would lead me.
Six years ago, I would have never imagined being where I am today.
I wasn’t stuck in my ways. I am still not. Frankly, I may be doing something completely different a year from now.
But that’s okay.
7) Do great work.
The most important lesson I have learned in my first six years is that doing great work is the single most important thing I do.
Work that I am proud of.
Work that I am excited to get up in the morning to do.
And what would be work if it didn’t pay the bills…it has to do that too.