An investigator from Texas emailed last week me and asked me about what what she should charge an attorney client for a new line of work that she is getting in to.

Pretty bold if you ask me, especially considering I have never met or heard of the person. I can’t really think of any situation where I would reach out to someone up out of the blue and ask them what they charge.

Needless to say, I put together what I thought was a nice response with a link to some materials, including our fees posted on our website to help her out.

I never heard back from her.

Not even a peep.

I didn’t even really notice until I realized that she she spent half of the following day on my website (the power of technology), so she must have found something helpful!

Stop asking Picaso (sic) how to paint!

Last week, I was trying to track down an important witness. An investigator had spent some time tracking the person down, but was hitting dead end after dead end.

I asked another friend and investigator that I often use as a sub-contractor to have a crack at it. Within 30 minutes, he had found him. I was thrilled, but when I asked, “How did you find him?”, he told me “Stop asking Picaso (sic) how to paint!”

[Previously, when I asked him something similar he told me, “Does Fred Wilpon ask (R.A.) Dickey how to throw the knuckleball?” a poor reference to his beloved New York Mets.]

First, he should learn how to spell Picasso. And even an off-the-cuff reference comparing a private investigators access to some database to a what many consider one of the greatest artists of all-time is comical at best.

He’s a friend, so I take the ribbing with a grain of salt, but there is a pervasive nature in business to hoard “secrets.” I guess they would lose their “edge.”

The more you give, the more you get.

You know the types. Friends, co-workers or even family members. People who give and give and expect nothing back and those who take and take (and then take more) and expect something in return.

We all know the proverb “the more you give, the more you get.” I’m not getting philosophical on you here; there is some real data that backs it up. Givers earn more sales revenue, higher salaries and once they reach executive positions, stay there longer.

I don’t think it’s an accident.

I admit that some of these recent experiences have jaded me a bit.

When my “friend” can’t tell me how he found someone, or when I take time out of my day to help a fellow investigator without a simple “thanks” in return, it makes you question things.

I know that I have been fortunate throughout my career to receive help from many incredibly talented people. I truly enjoy giving back and passing on what I have learned where I can. This is how we grow, as investigators and human beings.

But I guess not everyone else feels the same way.

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11 replies
  1. Mike G
    Mike G says:

    A few weeks ago I had to let an employee (investigator) go because of some trust issues that developed between her and I. Shortly after she left, she commented to another of my employee (investigators) that I had “made a fatal mistake in teaching her too much.” I’m still scratching my head at that one. Aren’t I supposed to help, teach and guide those that work for my company with the intention and ultimate goal that they act and work in a manner that is similar to my beliefs. I am still learning everyday from various sources including through the content of this website and still find myself in business after almost two years, so what’s the fatal mistake. I wish her well and if what she has learned in the two shorts months she has been with me can help her in her own future endeavors then I consider that a success. I don’t see this industry as being ultra competitive to the point that secrets need to be kept. At the end of the day, it’s the quality of work and results that are provided to the client that will keep you in business and the calls coming. It’s all about how you treat people, your level of transparancy, your ethical and moral standards and the overall way you conduct a professional business that will sustain you as a reputable business; not how many secrets and tricks that you have up your sleeves. Being open and fair and loyal and transparent are admirable traits, not fatal mistakes.

  2. Anne Chemell
    Anne Chemell says:


    Dear Mr. Willingham,

    I am writing to encourage you, as unknowingly, you have encouraged me in these thankless, and many times, Godless days.

    I am not a Private Investigator, though once had dreams of being one while working as a police dispatcher for the San Antonio Police Department in the late 1970s. A dozen jobs and nearly 40 years later, I now sell whole bean coffees in Texas.

    Several months ago, when considering hiring a PI, I was drawn to your company by its obvious integrity and sincerity of heart for helping others – truly a rare find in these times!

    I was thrilled to know that even though I am not in your industry, I could sign-up for your newsletters. I remain amazed and thankful for the tips you share so freely and kindly. You have helped me, and I am grateful.

    And, thus, this comment for you:

    All of your writings, your teachings, and sharing of great information, show that you surely must be a man of great heart who is obviously doing what he should be doing – the right thing for the sake of justice!

    Be encouraged to know that the real you shines through the work you’re doing, and it is even evident to strangers like me who are miles and miles away.

    So, if that “thank you” never ever comes from your fellow PI from Texas, it’s OK! God knows your heart (and hers).

    Keep caring, keep sharing. Run a good race, and keep doing the right thing!

    Anne Chemell
    Helotes, Texas

  3. Curtis Moore
    Curtis Moore says:

    I help in any way I can. I will never know when I will need some help.

    As a private Investigator there is a lot of information which I have access to and there are a lot of people who want or need that information. All I can do is use my judgement in giving the information to the people for the right reason. I ask the person requesting the information for the reason for the request. I use my judgement to judge if the reason is a just reason or not.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      I agree with you Curtis. If I can’t feel comfortable for the reason for the request, I won’t do it. There is no way to be 100% certain, but if there is a even the slightest bit of hesitancy, I will pass.

  4. Doug
    Doug says:

    There is a theory I heard in a graduate school course on the history of psychology. This theory or concept referred to the “Zeitgeist”, or state of knowledge of a given field at a given point in history. And if I remember it correctly essentially when looking at major breakthroughs in fields of science, engineering, etc., someone somewhere was bound to make the next big discovery, because the “Zeitgeist” of the times logically pointed in that direction. It wasn’t that one and only one person had the smarts to figure it out. It was just inevitable.

    I know that is an abstract way to look at investigations. But I am often hired after someone else tried and failed. While I would like to think I am a genius sometimes when you know what hasn’t worked it is easier to quickly find what does work. And speaking only for myself sometimes I am just as surprised as anyone else that I was successful when others were not, so it is easier to shrug off questions than to say, I don’t really have a crystal ball.

    I agree with you about sharing all I can and try to put that into practice whenever possible. But I heard a line in a movie or on TV that said to the effect, “The problem with genius is people come to expect you to produce it on demand.”

  5. David Childe
    David Childe says:

    Helping people out is good karma and makes me feel good. Thanking others is basic civility. The more civil I act, the better I feel. So it follows that, if I want to feel good, then I should make an attempt to treat others well. I’d like to think I do nice things for altruistic reasons; however, I probably do it more for self-interest. Either way, it beats the alternative.

  6. Keith Owens
    Keith Owens says:

    I have found that people who have been in the business a long time tend to have that attitude of “I can’t share my secrets with you, or you will steal my business.” When I opened my own company, I spent a lot of time online reading and gathering information from the web to try to get an understanding of all kinds of things, from pricing to tips & insights, and everything in between. Fortunately, there are some with the attitude that we aren’t competition but rather colleagues. I have really benefitted from their insights. Our state association has tried to foster that attitude, and there is a lot of wisdom to be found when people are willing to share.

    Hopefully we will all be willing to give something back to our industry. It will be one of the things that takes us out of a seedy 1950’s smoke-filled office, and into the realm of true professionals.

    Let this Texan say “thank you” for all the knowledge you put out there for both the public and professionals to read. There is certainly much to be learned from your site alone!

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