Starting a Private Investigation Service

June 29, 2018 258 views

Image of a man taking a spy photo

How To Start A Private Investigation Service Here’s A Quick Overview

Private investigators work for attorneys, insurance companies, businesses, and the general public; they may be on staff with a large corporation or they may be self-employed.

Their duties include gathering information for clients, locating missing persons, conducting surveillance, and doing background investigations for court cases.

You see a lot of TV drama time dedicated to private investigators. In the real world, PI services are a small but active part of most cities and towns. If you have talent with finding information and dealing with confrontation then a PI service might be for you.

Many people who begin a private investigation service have spent time in the military. Most Private Investigators are, at least, very familiar with the legal system and how to handle conflict. You do need to have a very good idea of just what laws and rules you’re bound to follow.

You’ll also need to look the part so you can blend in with the background. Much of the work involved is in research, but just as much time is spent simply observing a subject and monitoring a subject’s movements.

People hire a private investigator for many different reasons. Anytime someone needs information, a private investigator can provide a valuable service. In economic downtimes, the business of repossessing cars and other items can become a significant part of some PI businesses. Some other specialties include:

  • Finding missing people
  • Landlord and renter relations
  • Cheating spouses
  • Runaway children
  • Employee theft
  • Surveillance
  • Vital data collection
Skill Set:
  • Be assertive, persistent, aggressive, and logical
  • Be able to protect information and confidentiality
  • Have a lot of common sense
  • Can easily identify clues
  • Can piece to together pieces of a case and provide proof
  • Keep excellent records
  • List of Common Business Skills
Employee and Job Consideration During The Start-Up Phase or In The Future:
Approximate Daily Hours Needed:

This business can be open 24/7. You determine your availability.

Equipment, Supplies, & Services During Start-up OR In The Future:
  • Reliable transportation
  • High-quality digital camera
  • Special telephoto lenses
  • GPS
  • Infrared equipment
  • Smart Phone
  • Digital Tape recorder
  • Essential Office Equipment
Monthly Expenses and Operating Costs To Consider:

See our list of common business expenses


It’s almost always best to start small. Most PI services begin as a sole proprietorship or a limited partnership.

License requirements vary from state to state. If you wish to start a career in PI, then you should check with your state’s agency in charge of registering private investigators. Once you have been met the requirements, you are to move on to the next step.

See Our Page on Licenses and Permits

Approximate Minimum Startup Cost:

Bare essential: – The average startup cost is between $1,000 and 10,000

Tips and Considerations:
  • Obviously, it makes sense to start small and make the most of your advertising dollars. You should certainly give your card out to everyone you meet. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself and the specific investigation services you offer. You never know who will need some help with a problem.
  • Joining an association or a chamber of commerce can help. It might expose your agency to advertising and/or publicity sponsored by that group, such as trade magazines.
  • You’ll need to decide what sort of jobs to focus on. They can be large or small jobs, but you should get a good idea for what sort of surveillance you’ll be able to provide given your labor force. If it’s just you, for example, you’ll have a hard time pulling off 24-hour coverage.
  • Tailor your services to your most likely clients. Choose rates that are competitive and that reflect your actual expenses.
  • A Private investigation service can be profitable if you really keep up with the constant marketing. Having a constant number of clients by focusing on a niche is the most important part of standing out in a crowd.
  • Realize that many people in this field have a military or law enforcement background. Others have college degrees in business, criminal justice or political science. They are your competition for jobs.
  • Enroll in a detective school if you don’t have any of the experience. You’ll be taught the skills that a private investigator needs to have, including how to fingerprint, take samples of evidence, write reports, and use firearms.
  • Being on good terms with the local police is not just friendly, it’s also essential in making good working relationships. Such relationships can also prevent misunderstandings.
  • Establish yourself in the field. If you’re an absolute beginner, it may make sense to partner up with somebody more experienced or to work as an apprentice for another firm before opening your own. This will give you a better outlook on the opportunities available and will teach you insider secrets regarding searches, investigations, and increasing your profits.
Pros and Cons:

The Pros:

  • The work is challenging and exciting
  • A specialized private investigator can make a lot of money
  • You can hire investigators to do the actual work for you
  • There are many areas of investigation you can specialize in
  • You can be your own boss

The Cons:

  • You’ll need to write reports frequently and they must be of professional quality
  • You may often have to work long, irregular, and solitary hours while you are doing surveillance work
  • Some areas of private investigation can be potentially dangerous
  • Keen competition is expected for most jobs
  • It can be hard to be taken seriously when you are just starting
Type of Customers:

Your customers will depend on which area of private investigation you choose to specialize in. Generally speaking, however, your customers will be people or organizations who want information on either specific people or things, or who want information gathered for a specific purpose.


Job prospects for private investigators are expected to grow 18% in the years from 2006 to 2016.

See The Bureau of Labor Statistics for current private investigation stats.


Median annual wages of salaried private detectives and investigators were $41,760 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,870 and $59,060. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,640. Wages of private detectives and investigators vary greatly by employer, specialty, and geographic area.


Equipment and Supplies:

PI Gear


Private Investigator Forums