Many investigators assume that the real way to make money in this business is to specialize in handling one particular type of case, become well known within the industry, and have everyone else refer that type of case exclusively to them. Well, with some caveats and backup plans, they’re absolutely right.
At the same time, many P.I.s also believe that this won’t and can’t happen to them because they have to take on every kind of case that ever comes their way just to pay the bills. There are many problems with that line of thought, the first being that becoming a specialist isn’t something that “happens” to you; you go out and make it happen. So if that is the way you think, get a mindset adjustment right now.
The second major problem: it is not a switch that you throw on one day and, viola, you’re a specialist. This takes some time to develop, but it neither happens overnight nor does it take forever. But why not be a generalist? Or maybe you are puzzled by this whole concept. After all, what is wrong with being a generalist. “Hey, $50 an hour for conducting an interview sounds like a great deal to me,” you might say. “Not a bad living. Why should I want to specialize.”
Well, for one thing, as a generalist you will charge less for your services than you can as a specialist. That translates to the only way you can make more money is through a quantity of cases rather than select quality. Furthermore, as a generalist you are much more likely to be ever busier doing the actual elements of various investigations. As a specialist, however, you will be honing your skills in one or a small number of areas, which makes it easier to continually streamline your work and control the process of an investigation. And remember, you can pick more than one area of specialization. In fact you should pick two or three, in case the economy rises or falls and intensely affects one of your chosen areas. You will thus not be so negatively affected if there is a downturn, or you can reap the benefits of a surge when it occurs. So, after recognizing the value of being a investigative specialist, how do you get there.
Three Steps to Picking a Specialty
There are three distinct steps in selecting the areas of investigation in which you will specialize. They are: Examine what you want to do; decide how to get there; and decide what is realistic.
Maybe you like pursuing corporate fraud, tracking down the one missing document, uncovering the smoking gun that puts come CFO creep behind bars. Maybe you prefer action, blood and guts, the thrill of the chase. Your personality and your own long-standing interests will play a major part in deciding which areas you will personally pursue. Remember, you are trying to select three fields within the realm of investigations that you actually want to spend most of your time doing.
Or try this approach: To figure out which area you want to specialize in, go to a mirror, stare yourself squarely in the eye, and say, “When it comes to (type of investigation) I know exactly what is going on. I can always figure out how to solve this type of case. I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. Therefore, since I’m good at (type of investigation), and I actually like doing this kind of work, I think I will intentionally work at trying to get more of these cases, and make this my area of specialization.” Step one complete.
Now, once you’ve decided what your area of specialization should be and will be, you need to address if you are thoroughly and completely prepared to truly be the expert in this field. That means being ready to handle any nuance of this type of work that comes your way. Or, if you know what you like to do but don’t feel you are absolutely prepared for all aspects of this work, you need to invest in the knowledge and equipment you will need. Acquire books on the topic. Seek out and talk to other experts in this field. Watch for and attend seminars, both locally and nationally, that include speakers on this topic. Study to be the best expert on your chosen topic.
Finally, as you go through this selection process, you need to carry with you a heavy dose of realism. Make sure that either the area you are in will be able to supply you with enough of the kind of work you want, or be prepared to relocate to a place that can do so. For example, if you only want to work on homicide investigations for the defense, and you live in a lightly populated area in which there are very few homicides, your interests do not match the reality of your situation.
When you arm yourself with the proper motivation, enthusiasm and knowledge, you can successfully pursue the wonderful world of investigative specialization, a serious step on the road to a more lucrative agency.