Should Private Investigators Advertise Their Fees?

To list the fee, or not list the fee… that is the question. Regardless of what side of the argument you stand on, you’re not going to win. You’ll end up losing clients if you do, and you’ll end up losing clients if you don’t.

Website visitors always complain about private investigators being secretive with their pricing – especially when it comes to a consultation. Why do we need a consultation?  Why can’t private investigators advertise the price on their website or marketing brochures like other professions?

There are several reasons as to why you’ll hardly find a private investigator’s fee on their site. An Atlanta Private Investigator can be more expensive than a private investigator in rural Texas. Likewise, an Orlando Private Investigator can be more competitive than a Dallas Investigator. Pricing can be affected by Location, Experience, Technology, Team Size, Legal Requirements, Type of Case, Etc. I can’t focus on every one of them, but I can give you the top 3 reasons that keep private investigators from listing their fees on their website.

For starters, the industry hasn’t changed much. Most private investigators coming into the industry are trained by private investigators that came before them. They didn’t list prices in the 1980’s – mainly because they didn’t have an avenue to list out prices. If you needed a private investigator, you called them from Yellow Pages. Eventually, yellow pages became Google, Yahoo, and Bing… but pricing never became public.

Another reason, and perhaps the biggest reason that private investigators won’t list out pricing, is the fear of trapping themselves into a flat fee before knowing anything about the case. No two cases are the same. Take a cheating spouse investigation: On one side, you have a spouse that’s looking to get evidence of an affair to get a divorce and gain custody of their children. On the other side, you may have a spouse that’s trying to get closure. The first may require days of surveillance to get enough evidence for the courts, the other may be as simple as getting a picture of the affair in the first 30 minutes of the investigation.

My personal belief is the race to the bottom philosophy. If a private investigator lists their price on their website, another investigator will find it and list their price slightly lower… another one will go lower, and lower, and the cycle will repeat until you have investigators offering services at $30/hour. This may be great for the general public (At first) but it can quickly decimate an industry and hurt consumers long term when you get rid of highly experienced investigators.

People will argue that listing prices on the website will save everyone’s time. A person who suspects their spouse is having an affair may have a limited budget. Pricing on a website can quickly qualify a private investigator’s leads. But what happens when a person doesn’t understand the industry? What if you list out your services at $100/hour and the client FEELS like their need will take 5 days or more? Now they’re estimating $12,000 bill when, they just wanted a national background check for a babysitter.

Other people suggest that an experienced private investigator should have enough knowledge about the industry to estimate how much time and effort will go into an investigation, and therefore, they should list out a flat rate on their website.

Regardless of where you stand – to list or not to list – Buying private investigation services is not like buying a home. Every investigator is going to have a different level of experience. They’ll have their own individual methods, philosophies, processes, and will have different types of technology available to them.

When it comes down to it, listing your prices on the website is going to cost you time, money, and clients. You’re giving out a price without even knowing what you’re getting yourself into. At the end of the day, one of you (The client or yourself) will feel like they were misled and taken advantage of.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to money, the person buying is looking for the best available option. They want the biggest bang for their buck. The seller, on the other hand, is trying to sell the service for as much as possible with as little effort as possible. At the end of the day, if you’re going to hire a private investigator, you’re going to have to trust their experience and trust they’re not taking advantage of you. Likewise, if you’re not going to list out your services, be prepared to educate your clients through a thorough consultation.

If you’re a private investigator and don’t want to deal with the day to day calls of people trying to shop around for prices, I would suggest having a comprehensive service request form on your website. From there, you can reply with your hourly rates, fees, or process. At that point, the client can choose to work with you, or go somewhere else.  

Of course, every private investigator’s situation is unique and no two private investigators are the same. If you want to advertise your fees, nobody is stopping you. It may work to your advantage, or it may not. Personally, advertising your fees without getting additional information seems like a recipe for disaster.

Ruben Roel

Ruben Roel is executive manage of PI Feed and founder of Investigator Marketing, a PI marketing agency in Dallas, TX. In his spare time, he's also a writer, video producer, student pilot, and eSports aficionado.