Everyone starting out in this line of work wants to know how much they should charge for private investigation services like skip tracing, surveillance, process serving and background checks.
Look, a lot of people can teach you little tricks and hints for skip tracing or surveillance or process serving. However…
One of the advantages you have here is I owned and ran my own detective agency for nine years!
That’s how I paid the mortgage. That’s how I bought groceries. It was my full time job! That means if you want to actually make a living as a private investigator, then you need to know the business aspects as well and the private investigator tools.
After all, this is the private investigation business.
You may be a really good private investigator, but if you don’t understand the business side of it, and I mean really understand it, you’re doomed.
So you’re a really good investigator. Maybe you’ve even got your private investigator license and you’re ready to open up a detective agency. So the next question is, how much should you charge?
What Not To Do
Do not price your services compared to the other detective agencies.
Yes, it’s nice to know what they’re charging and maybe (just maybe!) you do want to be in that same price range, but do not base your prices on what the other guy is charging. That’s a race to the bottom.
Do not be the low-price-guy!
Because here’s what happens… everyone thinks if they price their services a little bit lower than the competition, then they will get the clients. But here’s the problem: Your competition can price their services a little below you and steal back their clients!
Plus, the clients you get as the low-price-guy, these bottom price clients, are the worst clients to have!
They’re more difficult to please and they will leave you to save a nickel somewhere else.
So don’t price your services “just a bit bellow” other detective agencies.
A Thought Experiment
Think about this for a moment…
Imagine the actual value a client gets from your service or product. Try to formulate that in your mind for a moment.
Sometimes this dollar amount isn’t always obvious to you, but sometimes it is.
Example 1: If you’re working a skip trace, so a construction company can repossess a $100,000 piece of construction equipment that they rented out and was never returned, arguably even stolen from them, they need to get that hundred thousand dollar piece of equipment back! If you’re the one that can find it, what’s that worth?
Example 2: If you’re working a case for someone who’s had a divorce and in their spousal support agreement, it says if the former wife remarries or cohabitates, that the husband (your client) can stop paying alimony or spousal support to that person. How much is that worth? What if that person is paying $1,000 a month? $2,000 a month? I worked one case where the guy was paying $4,000 a month to his ex-wife. If you can come in with your services and prove cohabitation, how much is that worth to him not to have to pay four grand a month, every month for the rest of his life?!?
As A Seller
Now let’s look at it from your perspective. In the example of construction gear you need to repossess (or find for the repo guy) you say to yourself, “Well, I could probably find this construction equipment. I know the name of the guy that took off with it and I’ve got these databases. I probably could run $30 in database searches, maybe spend two, three hours checking different spots in town or maybe just a couple hours if it might be out of the county”.
So you know, with maybe with less than 40 hours of actual work and less than $100 in actual cost, you could find this gear.
But, don’t say to yourself, “Well, you know, gosh, I probably can’t charge more than $20 an hour for my time” or “I’m just gonna’ use $20 in gas money. How am I going to justify charging more than that to this client?” No! Your client wants back $100,000 piece of gear. If you charge five grand to find it, your client is still getting a heck of a deal! He’s getting twenty times (20X!) the value of what he’s paying you!
He pays you $5,000 and gets $100,000! That’s a GREAT deal!
I’m not saying…
Of course, I’m not saying gouge your client when they’re in a weak position. And don’t take advantage of them because they’re in financial trouble.
But, let’s face it, the client has probably already tried on their own to find that piece of construction gear and they failed. They may have even hired some cheaper detective agency or tried a repo guy. Sometimes they’ll tell you this. They’ll say they hired a repossession company or hired another P.I. and ended up paying him 700 bucks (or whatever) and got nothing for it!
Look, you’re about to find a $100,000 piece of gear this guy needs – charge what you’re worth!
Here’s The (Simple) Math You Need To Know
Let me take you outside of our industry for a moment.
I’m going to give you a number, something that you can punch into the calculator and think about.
If you’re providing 10 times the value of what you’re charging the client, that might be about what you should be charging. (This is just a thought exercise. Bear with me a moment.)
So imagine this hundred thousand dollar piece of construction equipment. If you can recover it for $10,000, the client is still way ahead. Maybe their insurance company will cover your fee for your client. Rather than cutting a check for $100,000 they would be ecstatic to pay you (only!) $10,000.
For the ex-husband who’s paying $4,000 a month (every month!) in spousal support, what if you charge $4,000 just one-time to go out and spend three days doing the surveillance necessary to get him out of that? Would it be worth it to him? And that’s a fraction of that 10X I’m talking about.
You may bristle at charging $4,000 for three days of surveillance and I have to admit, that seems a bit egregious to me. Or you may say, “I can’t charge $10,000 to track down a piece of gear. I do this type of thing all the time. Maybe it’s a $4,000 or $5,000 case or a $3,000 case.”
The Whole Point Of It
My point is, charge what you’re comfortable charging, but don’t undercharge your client.
And if you’re in a position where you charge just 10% of the value that client gets, you should not feel bad about that! Maybe you want to charge a little less than that, maybe you want to charge a little bit more. But really think – the client is getting 10 times what they paid you! That’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, that’s bragging rights in my book!
If you know your clients are getting $1,000 worth of value for every $100 they pay you – that’s pretty remarkable!
I didn’t always follow this rule myself. And even right now, I’m not.
My courses, my instructional videos that I have for surveillance and process serving, they’re undervalued based on this 10X rule. Far undervalued!
My process serving course is an easy example to look at because The Investigators Ultimate Guide to Process Serving normally retails for $400 at Amazon (Note: I have no control over the price they sell it for.) I frequently have it on sale for $250.
And I can easily do the math because I know process servers make $50 per service pack. Let’s face it, nowadays, the prices are going up, but if you’re only making $50 per service pack, that means you only have to serve five packs, in order to break even after buying the course!
Look, you may not serve five packets, the first 30 days you’re trying to do this, you’ve got to get the clients. But once you get clients, you’re going to serve packets all the time and if you have a month where you’re only serving five, I consider that a slow month.
So in other words, I saying, “If you give me one small, slow month’s worth of what you make, I will give you the information you need to make that money every month over and over again for as long as you like!”
That’s quite the deal!
If somebody came to me with a credible offer and said, “Larry, you give me 250 bucks today, and I will make it so that you can earn an extra 250 a month every month for as long as you want.” I would take that deal myself!
What Are You Comfortable Charging?
So, yes, I have undervalued the products that I’m selling, but I I’m comfortable at that price point.
At $400 (and certainly at $250!) it’s quite worth it to learn a skill that’s going to pay you over and over again!
My Slow, Awkward Start
When I tried to get into process serving, when I wanted to add that to my bottom line to help make ends meet, I could not find anybody who would teach me! I even went to my personal attorney and offered to pay her to tell me what she knows about process serving. But she wouldn’t do it!
I later learned, most attorneys don’t know a ton about process serving and they certainly don’t know the finer points of skip tracing that I teach in my course. Also they don’t know the business side, how to get clients, how to invoice clients, what to say and what not to say! But all of that aside, I couldn’t find anybody who would teach me!
No One Would Teach Me!
I couldn’t pay enough money to get taught process serving!
So I’m very comfortable helping people out and offering this course at $400 (or sometimes only $250).
But when you’re pricing your services, remember don’t base it solely on your side of the equation because…
1. You’re under estimating what it’s actually costing you to go out and do the work and
2. You need to consider the value you give the clients.
If you’ve struggled with pricing your services and finally found a point where you can say, “Yes Larry, I went through that and I figured out here’s where I like to price my services.” then drop it in a comments, we can all learn from each other!
If you like these helpful tips, then don’t miss out on my free special report If You Want To Be a Private Investigator Give Up… Unless You Do These Three Things. You can get it right here…
Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.