What are the four steps to becoming a successful private investigator in Texas?
I have been a Texas PI for four years but it took me two years just to get started. So let me share what I know.
First, let’s take a quick look at the PI community in Texas.
It is believed there are over 5,000 private investigators in Texas. TALI, the official organization of Texas PI’s, has about 450 members. When I called TOPS (our regulatory agency) and asked how many licensed private investigators there are in Texas, they said they did not know.
But whatever the number is, there is one thing I believe most investigators would agree on, and that is there is an unlimited amount of business out there. Most people do not know a PI. Most people do not understand what a PI does other than what they have seen on TV. My experience has been that even lawyers do not fully understand the value a licensed PI can bring to their case or practice. So if you can find those people, you will have all the business you could want.
So it is possible to find success as a licensed private investigator in Texas.
Before we look at the steps, keep in mind a few basics:
- You must be eighteen years or older
- You cannot have any felony convictions or certain misdemeanors (usually relating to character such as theft)
- You must be an American citizen
However, you do not have to live in Texas. Many PI’s are licensed in several states. You do not have to have an incredible amount of training or experience unless you want to start your own firm. You do not need to have a concealed carry permit because most PI’s do not carry guns and are not required to do so. So becoming a Pi is doable for most people.
STEP ONE: Training
Even with years of experience in a related field, it’s important to learn how things are done in the PI world. There are three options:
- Online Training
This is the easiest to find – just search the net! Having taken many online classes, I can say that the quality ranges from poor to good with just a few that are excellent. But online training, except for learning specific tools such as the PI databases or how to fill out a FOIA request, has some major limitations. It’s terrible for the hands-on PI skills such as surveillance and even OSINT, which is best learned with a live instructor and students nearby so there are lots of questions and camaraderie.
2. In-Person Training
The biggest advantage of in-person training is live-action exercises. Imagine reading a case file, planning a surveillance, driving to the surveillance, setting up on the subject and coordinating with the rest of the team, then taking pics, talking on the radio, and more. Learning in person and actually doing the work is the best way to learn.
3. Learning on the Job
If you have a relationship with a PI firm that will hire you and train you – take advantage. That may be the best way to get started, but it’s not easy to find.
STEP TWO: Get your PI License!
The Department of Public Safety provides audits and enforcement of the state’s laws relating to licensed investigators. It is a requirement in Texas and in most states In other words, the second most important part of becoming a successful licensed private investigator is…to get licensed.
Much has been written about the process of becoming a Texas PI. The short version is that you can either set up your own firm or join an established one.
CHOICE A: Setting up your own firm requires founding a company, taking the owner’s test, getting approval from TOPS, buying insurance and more.
CHOICE B: Becoming licensed through another firm requires fingerprints, background checks, filling out forms, and paying some minor fees.
STEP THREE: Get a job
At StriderPI, we have a motto, “Work for free if necessary, just get that first job!” An old mentor of mine used to say that three things mattered when choosing a career and you’d be lucky to get two out of three. The three things were: industry, position, and location. I find that a lot of new PI’s want to not only have the best job on the planet, they also want free training and a high starting salary. During our training courses, we propose several strategies for getting that first job. They include:
- Develop your first niche such as surveillance or background checks. Then develop the skills and acquire the equipment needed and let PI firms in your city know that you are available.
- If you’re participating in a StriderPI class, you will have the opportunity to do field hours with any local firm. This is a great way to get started.
- There are some national firms and some Texas-wide firms that hire for full-time surveillance agents. Consider spending the first year or two of your career doing only surveillance – so you can become competent at it. You’ll always have a skill that is marketable.
- Work in a related field while you continue to develop your private investigator skills. Related fields include insurance investigations, court reporting, security officers, law enforcement, non-profit missing persons organizations, financial analysis, facial recognition, and many more.
STEP FOUR: Continue to develop your skills
All private investigators are non-stop learners. For some, this is the joy of our profession. There is always something new to learn, always a new challenge, always new developments in our profession to stay abreast of.
Constant and limited learning can be done via online training, but this is best for working PI’s who merely want to add to their skills.
At StriderPI we only provide in-person training. We think it is essential for new private investigators to learn the foundational PI skills in-person. You can learn more about us at StriderPI.com Good luck on your journey in becoming a new private investigator. Stay on the path. It’s worth it!
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