This month marks the 15th year that I have been a private investigator. Fifteen years ago, I was riding in a blimp taking photographs of the World Series. Shortly after, in a strange twist of fate, I was sitting in cars for hours-on-end doing surveillance, at one point tracking the steps of what we thought was a homegrown terrorist.
Since that time, I have picked up a thing or two.
1 ABL (Always Be Learning) – Over the past 15 years, a new breed of private investigators has emerged: investigators with research skills to find information that other people cannot, who search through the depths of the Web, investigative databases, government repositories, public records and court filings. I like to say that I’ve been undergoing on-the-job-training for the past 15 years. There are no textbooks for what I do. I make it up as I go along and have learned mostly by doing and observing others.
2 Know Thyself – It’s taken me 15 years in this business and more than 40 years in my personal life, but I now have a pretty good understanding of what I am good at and what I am not. I know where my strengths lie and where I can use some help. And I am not shy about making these things known.
3 Differentiate Yourself – Sometimes being different is a good thing, especially when everyone else is practically the same. I could just be ordinary, but what’s the fun in that?
4 Authenticity – Just last week, I got two new clients because of my “genuine” biography and my “authentic” video that put a face to the business. Authenticity is not something you can fake. You are who you are, and you should show it.
5 Stick to Your Principles – Even a whiff of any unscrupulous behavior might undermine a client’s best interest, my reputation and my license.
6 Be Helpful – Something as simple as “being helpful” has found me thousands of blog followers, countless new friends and made me the top investigator on Twitter. Good things happen when you share and lend a helping hand.
7 Don’t Be Everything to Everyone – Being great at a few things is much more important to me that being mediocre at a bunch of things. Do great stuff.
8 Do Work You Are Proud Of – Seth Godin says it best: “You can’t give the client what he wants. You have to give the client work that you want your name on.” I refuse to do work that I am not proud of, even if that means passing on a case.
9 You Are Never the Smartest (or Dumbest) Person in the Room – Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions in front of a bunch of smart people. Chances are you are not the only one with the same stupid question (and chances are that those other people are not as smart as you think).
10 Don’t Stop Thinking of New Ideas – What will the investigative business look like 15 years from now? I don’t have a clue. But I know that it’s going to be nothing like what it is in 2016. I can’t predict the future, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of new ideas about where we will be heading.
11 Adapt – Fifteen years ago, the firm that I worked with was doing mostly surveillance and insurance disability and life insurance claims. That work has all but disappeared. The investigative business is constantly changing; investigators need to adapt too.
12 Embrace Technology – Look around you. Technology is changing the world. With a few clicks, you can do just about anything from a computer or mobile device. You can now hire a private investigator through an app. While most investigators are up in arms about the idea, I say, “Welcome to the 21st century.”
13 Follow the Facts – It’s a simple mantra that most investigators follow, but it can get lost in the shuffle. Making decisions or opinions based on rumors, gossip, innuendo and half-truths is a dangerous game.
15 Do Great Work – The most important lesson I have learned 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.
16 Be Skeptical – Investigators are a skeptical bunch. Sometimes too skeptical. Being skeptical doesn’t mean you have to express doubt about everything or refuse to accept any fact, but you should look at things with a critical eye. Prioritize good facts and evidence over preconceptions and biases.
17 Persistence, Patience and Luck (I know, that’s three “lessons”) – I got an email from a client just the other day about how “amazing” we were when we were able to find the client’s long lost relative, halfway across the world that they didn’t even know existed. The truth of the matter is, more often than not, investigative “home runs” are really a disguise for a little know-how, persistence, patience and luck.