When it comes to hiring a private investigator, we have all heard or thought this before: “I want it Fast, Good and Cheap!” While this concept originally was created in a project management scenario, there is a direct and critical correlation to the work done by professional private investigators. Ultimately, the real question is this; “Is it possible to hire a private investigator that is fast, good and cheap?” This article explores that seeming quandary and provides some tips on how to get the most out of the private investigator you work with.
I want it Fast, Good and Cheap!
Everyone wants what they want Fast, Good, and Cheap. However, the prevailing reality is that you can only pick two of the three. I will take some of the Wikipedia definition and translate it into the investigative world. Although the Wikipedia definition is rooted in project management, it applies to professional private investigators equally.
In the investigative world the FAST is the time to begin the project and complete it without delay. GOOD is the quality of the finished investigation project including the final written report. CHEAP is the cost for the entire investigation project.
Wikipedia states “This triangle reflects the fact that the three properties of a project are interrelated, and it is not possible to optimize all three – one will always suffer.”
We will address each of the three items individually and then tie it together to help you make an educated decision when it comes to hiring a private investigations agency.
We want what we want, when we want it. It is difficult to remember a time when a customer said “take your time,” or “there’s no rush.” Are you giving yourself the best opportunity for a satisfactory outcome if you make an investigator rush through your job, especially when this is not necessary?
There are times when the speed of the project is critical. But when immediate timing is not critical you can increase the quality (the good) of the investigation service by setting parameters and realistic timelines with the investigator.
The FAST Summation:
Be honest with the private investigator; develop a realistic timeline which does not include “need it done yesterday” or “whenever.” The time it takes an investigator to complete a task is based on multiple factors, so the investigator needs to properly plan, prepare and execute your case as they do with all others.
When it comes to private investigation work, every client wants their investigation project done “good.” There are plenty of private investigators who can do a good job for you. You might find that an investigator who handles your type of case works full time in the profession, or you might find someone who has retired from a niche investigative area and only works part-time. There is no single factor that will guarantee you success. Instead, success will be achieved via a culmination of good research applied rightly.
How can you insure that you hire a private investigator capable of doing that “good” job you want? Conduct thorough research and make sure the agent you are selecting fits the criteria you are looking for in an investigator. The first thing you will want to know is if the private investigator has experience that is relevant to your particular investigative needs. Ask for references specific to your case. Direct, proven experience along with comprehensive reference checks will not guarantee success alone but will set you on the right track.
What else is needed?
Consider a private investigator who not only has a license in the field but has some way to prove to you that they take their profession seriously and are not just a fly-by-night entity.
You will also expect the investigator you choose to be current on methodology of investigations and the law. Here is a hint; if an investigator learned their trade 20 years ago and has not attempted to update how they work or what tools they use, then they probably won’t be able to effectively deliver on your case.
For instance, if a private investigator today is conducting an asset investigation while applying rules, regulations and laws from the 1990’s, they most assuredly will be violating current law.
What an investigator could legally do 20 years ago has changed. Methodology has changed as well. What used to take 5 days can sometimes be done in one day. If the private investigator you choose tells you they stay so busy that they do not have time for continuing education or that “it has always been done this way,” you might want to further your candidate selection efforts.
In summary, here are a few things you can do to insure your private investigator is capable of doing a good job for you:
Can the private investigator provide references in the area you need? Check references. While it is true no one will give you the name of a bad reference, verifying good and relevant work is still the wise choice. For instance, not every agent is skilled at insurance investigations, while some have no experience with child abductions.
Check with the State licensure authority. See if the private investigator is in good standing, has unresolved complaints or discipline problems. Do not discount an investigator simply because they have a complaint against them. In the investigative fields the perfect investigator doing the best job possible may still be unable to please an unpleasable client. This could result in the filing of a frivolous complaint, even if the case was executed precisely according to terms. Therefore, ruling out the possibility of working with a particular private investigator because of a complaint may be short-sighted.
Is the investigator part of a state or national association? While membership in a professional, state or national association does not make one a good investigator any more than not being a member makes you a bad investigator, membership does have its benefits.
Private investigators that are members of professional associations are more likely to maintain a high degree of participation in continuing education opportunities and are generally up to date with information on methodology and the law. Membership can show that the investigator is serious about the profession and there is a better chance they remain current in all aspects of the profession which ultimately benefits the client.
Does the private investigator carry liability insurance? Carrying insurance – or not – does not automatically make one a better or worse investigator. Nevertheless, consider this; without insurance, if the investigator is negligent in their duties or does something outrageous and you have a need to pursue legal remedies, you may win an award in court but have no chance of actually collecting.
Consider the rule of deep pockets. Would you let a roofing contractor on your roof without insurance? What would happen if the roofer fell off your roof and got seriously injured? He may not have insurance but you do and he will sue you. Why would you allow an investigator to do work for you without this same protection? In some states liability insurance is mandated by law. For example, private investigators in Maine are required to carry liability insurance in addition to a bond.
The GOOD Summation:
I have given you a few ways to assist in getting the “GOOD” part of the equation taken care of, but the truth is the “good” is the most important part of the triangle and the one many clients will sacrifice for FAST and CHEAP. Some clients rarely know they are sacrificing quality even when they are.
What can be said about cheap that the word itself does not imply?
Of course we do not want to pay too much, but there is a middle ground between cheap and paying too much. What is cheap in the investigation industry versus what is fair? That depends on many factors as it does in any other profession. If I buy a book online for .99 cents that is a great price and would qualify as cheap. If I buy that same book online for .99 cents and the cover is torn and the spine broken beyond repair and there are missing pages how is that .99 cents looking now? Now the .99 cents really defines the word cheap because it refers to not just cost but quality of the end product.
I will stop short of saying you get what you pay for because there are wide variances in what a service will cost you. Consider these other scenarios:
Did it really cost $300.00 to have your septic system vacuumed out? No, but you pay a premium because there are highly specific skills and training needed, overhead, equipment, and fees for disposal.
Did it really cost $7,000.00 for that new roof? No, but do you want to pay $2,500.00 for a cheap repair instead and have to do the roof again in three years after the inevitable leaks destroy your furnishings? The difference in cost can be attributed to removing the old shingles instead of simply shingling over the old, replacing all fascia boards, drip edges and plywood that is leaking or warped and finally using a shingle that is warrantied versus left over shingles from previous jobs that were not stored properly.
The cost of private investigators is similar in practice to the two examples provided, so when you call around asking an investigator what their hourly rate is you are doing yourself a disservice because this information isn’t always useful or presented in the correct context. For example;
- Investigator A charges $125.00 per hour and you hang-up saying the price is excessive.
- Investigator B charges $75.00 an hour and you say you will think about it.
- Investigator C charges $30.00 per hour and you say “where do I sign?”
All three investigators were quoting the exact same job and provided similar services. But here are the troubling results:
- Investigator A takes 3 hours to do the job so your cost is $375.00
- Investigator B takes 5 hours to do the job and your cost is $375.00
- Investigator C takes 18 hours to do the job and your cost is $540.00
Investigator C is not only more expensive, but what does it say about a private investigator when the time it takes them to do the same job as other investigators is more than three times that of their competitors?
The CHEAP Summation:
You can prevent this scenario by thinking beyond the hourly rate and following the recommendations made previously to help you get a “good” result in your investigation project. It does not mean you always discount the lowest hourly rate or use the highest. Instead, conduct research to make a holistic analysis and logical decision.
WE WANT WHAT WE CAN’T HAVE
Google “good fast cheap” and you will see hundreds of examples and everyone agrees you cannot have all three yet we still want it. Wise consumers know which two to pick and it takes a great deal of luck to get all three. Meme’s are written about it and companies use the “Good-Fast-Cheap” theme in their marketing plans.
If you need an investigation done review your budget. If you conduct thorough research and select the correct investigator based upon relevant factors such as experience, references and budget compatibility, then you are on the right track.
Think about what you need from the private investigator as it relates to time. If you need an investigator for a court appearance and cannot find a suitable one, do not wait until the week before trial. In this scenario you want it fast because you only have a week to find an investigator, and you want it good which in this case means finding the right one. You cannot expect this to be cheap. You are asking the investigator to drop everything and work on your case. He/she may have to tell another client their timeline will be delayed or make some other allowance to take on your case. In some instances the investigator will have to decline a job.
Staying with the time theme, if you are trying to locate a family member whom you have lost contact with and you tell instruct the investigator that you need the job completed within a week. Be honest and follow the process so you can get a good job at a reasonable (cheap) price, but expect that it may take a few weeks or more to execute successfully and deliver satisfactory results. Even in this more desperate of scenarios, do not choose cheap and fast because if the investigator does not locate your family member, you lose.
When you begin your project the “good” should always be the top priority. Otherwise, why do the work and spend the money if you do not get good results? It is somewhat irrelevant whether time or cost are your most important determining factors because you have already done your best to get a “good” result.
If you want your case fast and cheap do not expect a good job. If an investigator can drop everything to work your case and still charges bottom dollar you have to ask how this private investigator can stay in business.
If you want your case good and fast do not expect it to be cheap because the investigator needs to do some shuffling of priorities to get your case in and done properly.
If you want your case handled good and cheap it may take a while because while the investigator is doing a good job he or she will be working your case in amongst others. Remember the term cheap is relative in this case and should not be indicative of the quality.
If you’re considering hiring a private investigator, this article can help guide you in the selection process. If you’re looking specifically for a private investigator in Maine, then please contact me now to see if we are a good match to complete a successful case together.