Expert Private Investigator

I am not an expert private investigator. I think anyone who calls himself an “expert” in anything is an idiot.

But that’s just my opinion.

But a funny thing has happened to me over the past five-plus years: I have shared my experiences and knowledge through this blog and social media and one-on-one, and through all of that sharing, in the eyes of some people, I am an expert.

Just the other day, I received an email from a entry-level investigator wondering about how to get on the right career path, an email from a 30-year police veteran asking about training opportunities and ways to grow his business, and an email from a former colleague asking about the best investigative databases to use and a good time-and-billing program.

And this day wasn’t unique.

It’s a strange phenomenon — sharing and the mere act of demonstrating my knowledge over the past five years has built up this authority.

The truth is that I know 50 other people who are much more deserving of being called an authority, but you may be hard-pressed to find them. And not because they are not awesome at what they do — it’s that the only people who know how awesome these people are at what they do are the people who immediately surround them. Their knowledge and experience are confined to a small group.

I don’t blame them for not sharing their knowledge and experience; sharing is not for everyone. It takes a lot of time and effort — two things that most people don’t have to spare.

So here is my simple formula to become an expert private investigator.

Do the Work

A number of years ago, I worked on a case that involved purchasing cartons of cigarettes to determine if companies were selling counterfeit cigarettes. My job was to go online, purchase cartons of cigarettes from hundreds of vendors, catalog the purchases, and ship them off to the law firm. Pretty simple.

My guess is that I was the most experienced investigator in the world when it came to purchasing counterfeit cigarettes, simply because I was the only person doing it.

In this case, my expertise was simply my experience. Your “experience” can make you an expert when it’s a unique skill set.

You will find that a lot in investigations. There are very few cases that are exactly alike, and just the simple fact that you have done the work makes you an expert.

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None

Being an expert and being all things to all people are two separate things. For an investigator, it’s important to be a jack-of-all-trades, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a mastery of certain topics. Whatever that is — be it interviewing, surveillance, background investigations, or capital murder investigations — know everything about it.

Being an expert is just as much about having a mastery of a specific topic as it is about knowing when you are not a master. Experts don’t fake it. Own what you know, but never fake what you don’t.

Write/Teach About It

I met with an investigator a few weeks ago who I have known for a few years, and he told me about his work on a number cases involving capital defense. He’s one of the only investigators I have ever met who does that kind of work, which I would have never known if I hadn’t had this one-on-one session with him.

Nobody would know about the knowledge and skills that I have if I hadn’t written about them or taught them to others. In many cases, I would not have met many other “experts” if I hadn’t shared my experiences either.

Writing and teaching about what I do does a number of things for me personally. Most important, it helps me remember all of those little things that I picked up working on those obscure cases. In fact, I refer back to my blog more often than I would like to admit.

When those obscure little things get shared on the “Internets,” an amazing thing happens. Thousands of other people find those obscure things interesting as well, and all of a sudden you are the one person in the world writing about it.

In Summary …

At the end of the day, I know that I am good at what I do and I know that I have a unique skill set. But you will never hear me call myself an expert in anything (except maybe an expert in drinking beer). That is not for me to decide.

But if you want other people to think you are the foremost expert in investigating missing Siamese twin cats that were separated at birth, do the work and write about it (or at least know someone who has experience with it).

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6 replies
  1. Shawn Schooley
    Shawn Schooley says:

    Pretty spot on post.

    I think PIs in general do not market themselves well. A key to this is writing (e.g., blogs, ebooks, newsletters, etc.); just do it! Another key to being successful is reading…a lot. I cannot tell you the number of PIs I have met at conferences that tell me that they are not big readers, astounding!

    Our commodity is information. We are in the information business. A large medium for collecting information is reading.

    While the term “expert” can be bandied about loosely, and there may be merit in not using the appellation, I would argue that those PIs who find one or two niches are usually more successful than the so-called Jack-of-all-trades private detective.

    In sum, write, read, and specialize.

  2. Scott Ross
    Scott Ross says:

    I disagree…I have an amazing expertise at getting stiffed, not charging enough or simply forgetting to bill in a timely manner. I’m a fair investigator, but an expert in “How not to manage a business.” I’d write about it, but then I’d forget to publish it.

    Keep the articles flowing Brian, and please note my email change.

  3. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    I agree. And yet sometime if we stick with things long enough we do gain some knowledge and expertise. I remember being a rookie cop in a small town and didn’t think I knew anything… and I didn’t. But a time came after a few years when a new county deputy rolled in one night and asked me some questions which I easily answered for him. That was literally the first time I realized I did know some things! As a P.I. now for over twenty years I still want to maintain my status as a “perpetual student”.

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