Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Posts Tagged ‘articles’

Marketing Tips for Private Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on July 2, 2011

There’s numerous marketing tips out there, but tips are like cars—a Buick might be a great fit for one driver’s needs, but not another’s. To market your PI business, it’s important to first identify customers you want to attract, your budget constraints, your edge over your competitors. After using that information to identify and schedule your marketing tasks, give those tasks some “added juice” with follow-up actions.

Identify Your Customers

Identifying your customers helps you decide where to commit resources and what promotions to use.

There are dozens of specializations in the private investigations field. An infidelity investigator, for example, may want to attract two types of customers: people in the general population who suspect a partner or spouse of cheating, and lawyers who specialize in family law. Legal investigators want to attract lawyer clients, focusing on firms that handle their investigative specialization (such as criminal defense or personal injury)

Set Your Budget

Decide how much money you want to spend on marketing. There’s plenty of free options you can explore, some of which are covered in this article.

Define Your Edge Over Your Competition

Unless you have a very unique, narrow investigative niche, there are other investigators offering the same services as you. Think about how you excel in comparison—for example, do you provide a faster turnaround, specialized training, or state-of-the-art equipment? Emphasize your edge in your marketing.

A Few Online Marketing Ideas That Cost Nothing

A 2010 Pew Research Center survey states that 79 percent of American adults go online, with 66 percent of their searches to buy products or services. Take advantage of those searching online for services! Below are a few free online marketing suggestions:

Update Your Website. Web crawlers for top search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! love updated content. It doesn’t take much to update—add a new photo, personal recommendation, original article.  Don’t have a website? You can build one for free through such sites as, and

Start a Blog. Websites promote your investigations business, whereas a blog lets potential customers “see” you in action—your investigative advice, how you recently solved a case, and so on. You can easily build a free blog through WordPress, Blogger, and As with your website, update often.

Register Social Media Accounts.  According to the University of Maryland Smith School of Business, in 2009 sixty-one percent of businesses attracted new clients via social media. It’s easy to register an account on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, other social media sites. You can manually post to these sites, or set up your blog (such as WordPress) to automatically post your articles to social media sites.

Write a Press Release. Plug your services, the launch of a blog, a speaking engagement or other event to a regional audience through an online PR release. You can submit free press releases through such sites as, and PRcom.

Schedule Your Marketing Tasks

Scheduling tasks helps you stay focused and not get distracted, or lose sight of, your marketing plan goals. It can be as easy as jotting notes in a paper calendar or typing ideas in a free online calendar, such as Google calendar.

Schedule for any period of time—for example, when we started our agency we scheduled an intensive four-month marketing plan to gain visibility and attract potential clients. These days, we might do a one-month marketing blitz during slow times. Some investigations agencies schedule small, year-round marketing tasks.

Add Juice to Those Tasks

For each scheduled task, add some juice by following up on it.  For example, follow up a letter campaign with phone calls, follow up a website launch with an electronic PR notice, follow up blog post with a Twitter message.

Example: A Turbo-Marketing Plan for an Infidelity Investigator

Potential Clients: Local adult population, family law attorneys.

Budget: Limited (free, when possible).

Competitive Edge: State-of-the-art digital video equipment and undercover cameras, overnight delivery of video/photos.

January 20: Launch a WordPress blog that has region, service, business title and phone number in name (“Great Lakes Infidelity Investigations: Call Smith Investigations 555-555-5555 for Free Consultation”)—web crawlers will pick up/post the information in this blog name. Blog plugs state-of-the-art surveillance equipment. First article builds on this, titled “Why You Want a Technically Savvy Infidelity Investigator.”

Add Juice: Jan 20: Blog automatically posts to my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn accounts. Jan 21: Write a free, electronic press release using announcing the blog launch.

February 1: Mail letters (that describe business services, edge over the competition, contact information) to family law firms in the area. Hand-deliver some to selected firms (opportunities to meet prospective clients in person).

Add Juice: Call each law firm a few weeks later, explain I’m following up to my letter, do they have any questions about the rates or services? Opportunity to network with attorneys and paralegals. Keep conversations professional, courteous, and brief.

February 15: Contact local groups (via email, letter) potentially interested in infidelity investigation services (divorce/dating groups, others) and offer to be a guest speaker.

Speaking Events: Distribute business cards at the event, and bring a sign-up sheet for people to enter their names and email addresses.

Add Juice: Send a follow-up email to the attendees. Thank them for attending, include a link to blog/website, a reminder about types of investigative services I offer.

You get the idea. It’s about customizing your marketing to fit your needs, then adding juice to reinforce your message.  You can be the world’s best investigator, but unless you market your services, who’s gonna know?

(Article written by Writing PIs’ author Colleen Collins, originally published on

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How to Locate Recorded Family Trusts

Posted by Writing PIs on June 14, 2011

This article now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

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Infidelity Investigations: Tips for Writers Writing Sleuths

Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2011

Article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?


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10 Tips for Testifying in Court

Posted by Writing PIs on May 1, 2011

The ultimate presentation of an investigation is testifying in court, either before a judge or a judge and jury. The idea is to make an effective, articulate and organized impression on the fact-finder (the judge or jury).

If you were hired by an attorney, together the two of you will most likely prepare your testimony directly from the investigative reports you authored. Keep in mind that the reports themselves are not presented as evidence because they meet the definition of hearsay; however, well-written, clear, and informative reports support the testimony and help the lawyer immeasurably. If you were hired by a citizen, you need to make sure they read your reports. The burden is on you to make sure your client’s questions are organized, written down, and that they have rehearsed their direct examination of you.

To be most effective when testifying:

• Make eye contact with the jurors. If you look at the attorney when answering questions, it might look as though you’re unsure of what you’re saying or that you’re asking for help.

• Answer yes or no whenever possible.

• Never explain an answer, nor volunteer anything!

• Provide adequate detail, but scrupulously avoid being mired in too much detail

• Avoid equivocal or qualified answers.

• Dress professionally. Studies have shown that the colors blue (for men) and black (for women) make them appear more believable. Keep jewelry to a minimum.

• Use simple terms, common language.

• Be mindful of a jury’s sense of fairness.

• Know the facts, but don’t repeat the testimony word for word as though it were memorized.

• Don’t bring your investigative file to court. Anything you have in your hand (whether you’re on the stand or in court) can be admitted into evidence at the request of opposing counsel.

Perhaps the most important tip is to remain respectful of the court, the judge, the opposing counsel, and especially yourself.

Credit: by Colleen Collins, Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc.
Originally published in PI Magazine, December 2010

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: What’s the Difference Between FBI agents and PIs?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 20, 2011

Writer’s Question: How do FBI agents and PI’s differ? Do they fall under the same code of conduct and ethics, or are they two different ball games, so to speak?

Answer: FBI agents are government employees as well as law enforcement agents and they must abide by each rule protecting constitutional rights and they must follow government protocol.  FBI agents are publicly funded and have tremendous technical and forensic support.  Private investigators do not have to protect constitutional rights and they can choose to process evidence or fill out expense reports as they choose, unlike FBI agents.  Of course, PIs cannot carry weapons or conduct wire taps in the same way FBI agents do.  On the other hand, PIs are bound by financial concerns and technology comes at a great price.  In essence, while government agents have to follow certain rules, they have tremendous resources.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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How to Order Criminal Records

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2011

Three tips for how to order criminal records.

Tip #1. Check your local police department website. Many departments offer means for people to order offense reports–at minimum, a person’s name and offense date are typically required. If there is no online order form, call the police station and inquire how to order offense reports. There is typically a $6 to $10 dollar fee.

Tip #2. Order your FBI criminal records. Called an “FBI Identification Record”–the FBI only provides these arrest records to the subject of those records (you must provide an ID, a written request and an $18 payment by certified check or money order). They show arrest charges, dates, and dispositions. Go to FBI Identification Record Request.

Tip #3. Go to county courthouses. The most relevant, current criminal records are maintained in the county courts where the person resided, worked or attended school. Obviously, you know which counties you’ve lived in, but if you’re wanting the criminal records for someone else, you’ll need to know which counties are in their residential/work history. Ask the court clerk their procedures for obtaining criminal records, which typically include a search fee and copying costs.

Note: Don’t fall for those online ads that promise “nationwide criminal records” for $19.95 (or whatever they charge). Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a national repository of criminal records. See Tip #3, above.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writers’ Questions: How Long Does an Area Remain a Crime Scene?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2011

Writer’s Question: Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up.  What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?) I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence.  Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.

Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood).  Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it.  In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody.  There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.

Writing PIs

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Employment Background Checks: Will They Reveal Every Job in My Past?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 26, 2011

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

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Expectation of Privacy: Why Is It So Important for Private Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2011

This article now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

Posted in Expectation of Privacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Diving Into the Deep Web: Resources, Databases, and People Searches

Posted by Writing PIs on February 22, 2011

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?

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