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Chris Brogan (a prolific blogger and business owner, in case you haven’t heard of him) wrote a piece a few weeks back about waiting seven minutes at a local restaurant without anyone bothering to acknowledge him.

What did he do? He walked out. And went to McDonald’s, which served him in less than the seven minutes he waited in the other place.

The point of his story was that being local doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. It just means it’s local.

Private investigators for years worked local. The work revolved around following disenchanted spouses, surveilling people collecting disability, conducting in-person interviews or visiting the scene of an accident.

Being local counted.

Much of that work still exists, but the game has changed.

Ultimately, what private investigators sell is information. While information is still obtained by following people, conducting interviews and visiting the scene, so much more information is available at our fingertips.

Investigators have access to hoards of information through investigative databases, public records, social networks and a network of other sources.

Interviews can be conducted by telephone or even via Skype.

You can find just about anyone from the comfort of your computer.

I personally conducted hundreds of interviews last year, none of which required me to leave my computer. In fact, many calls were made from thousands of miles away from my office.

I’ve identified hundreds of witnesses and long-lost family members with nothing more than a laptop, a telephone and a couple of investigative databases.

In fact, over the last several years, I have rarely had to leave my office to do my work, meet a client or interview someone.

Of course, being local still counts, but it counts less and less.

Most of our clients have never met us. Nor do they want or need to.

They have come from as far away as Australia and Pakistan and San Francisco seeking information from all over the United States and all over the world.

It didn’t matter that we weren’t local.

It mattered that we were good.

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6 replies
  1. Top Echelon Investigation
    Top Echelon Investigation says:

    First, I agree with Jarris in that there is no remote alternative to good old-fashioned surveillance. However, I agree with this article because the Web and technology in general has made investigating cases remotely not only possible, but just as effective as being local (and yes, mostly more effective if a skilled vs. unskilled investigator is involved).

    In the past you could only follow people’s real-life footprint, but today people leave behind quite an elaborate digital footprint that can be traced regardless of where the investigator is located.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Absolutely. There is no alternative for boots on the ground, but so much can be done from a computer and it’s much more cost effective.

  2. NITA
    NITA says:

    This is a great point – this could apply to so many different businesses besides food and private investigation as well. We tend to frequent local businesses with great products & services!

  3. Jarris Fuller
    Jarris Fuller says:

    Nice post Brian. All very true. And, greetings from one of those OS client locations as well (Australia).

    There is one situation though where someone local has a HUGE potential advantage and that is on surveillance. Often there might be the temptation to have a surveillance op drive 100+ klms (60 miles) to work on a job because they’re cheaper, more readily available, or whatever, but if I can possibly get someone who lives/works in the area to do the job, I definitely always go with them. They can often pre-empt where the surveillance subject might be going or find them a whole lot quicker if they lose them in traffic by checking known local sporting / recreational / social (whatever) locations. They’re also on top of the events happening locally and can often better target the days on which surveillance should be conducted.

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Thanks for the comment Jarris.

      You are absolutely right, for something like surveillance work, it makes perfect sense to hire someone local. Paying for extensive travel fees usually doesn’t make sense. As with everything, however, being the only guy in town, doesn’t really help the situation if they aren’t particularly good.

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