There’s a particularly powerful tool in a PI’s arsenal for winning new cases – the free consultation. If there’s one thing that potential clients have, it’s questions. New clients in particular will want to know a lot about you, your services, and what sort of results they can expect. More experienced clients may want to know about your experience as an expert witness, or track record with corporate investigations.
Websites can only answer so much about private investigators, so the next step is scheduling a free consultation with the interested client. Here’s what to think about when offering your own free consultations.
Display Your Credentials
A free consultation can sometimes raise suspicion of a scam or similar problem, especially if potential clients don’t know your experience and want to talk about sensitive information. That’s why it’s important to have your state license and other credentials clearly displayed, both in the office and online. Make it clear that you are licensed, insured, and know what you’re doing. Include some testimonials from past clients, if possible, to show that everything is above board.
Clearly State Fees
A free consultation allows clients to make decisions about hiring you. They need accurate information about your fees to make that choice, so always be prepared to discuss your fee structure. Expect clients to ask about the general bottom line costs for common jobs like a missing person case.
Ask for Evidence
Sometimes, people will schedule a free consultation because they want broad advice about a topic, or what to know what to do next. But many times, they will already have something specific they want to investigate. That’s why it’s important to ask people to bring any potential evidence to free consultations to review. Even small pieces of evidence like an email, photo, or social media screenshot can go a long way to show if a case is viable or not. Remember, this is also a chance for you to vet the client yourself: If a client can’t produce any evidence and doesn’t have any witness testimony, it may not be a case that you should pursue.
Create Easy Web Form Applications on Your Website
How do you arrange your free consultations? Just mentioning them isn’t usually enough. The best way to offer a free meeting is to create a web form on your site that visitors can quickly fill out and send it to notify you that they’re interested in arranging a consultation. Only basic information like a name, email address, and phone number are needed for this contact, so it’s a low-risk option for clients who may be nervous about taking the first step. If you don’t mind doing more complicated web work, you could set up a form and online calendar with available spots so visitors can schedule a meeting that will automatically sync with your schedule. The goal is to make the first steps as easy as possible for clients.
Once you have web forms set up, you can easily link them in your social media and marketing emails, too.
Consider Setting a Clear Time Limit
How long should a free consultation last? Well, that can depend on the discussion, but your time is valuable. Consider setting a firm time limit for free consultations, like an hour, to keep your schedule clean and avoid going over. It’s also useful for clients to have a clear idea how long they have to ask questions or find out what they want to know about hiring you.
Ask for Confidential Contact Information
Contact info may seem like a minor point, but it’s very important for many clients. They may share a phone number or email account with someone else who cannot know that they are hiring a PI. So, talk about the best way to privately contact the client if the free consultation goes well. Clients may be interested in setting up a temporary email or even getting a burner phone for more frequent communication.
Don’t Do Work for Free
That may sound like an odd reminder when creating your free consultations, but it’s important to draw a line between the advice you offer during the consultation and actually doing work for which you’d usually get paid. It may take only seconds to turn to your computer and do a few key searches of a database, but that’s something you would normally charge a fee for. Hold off on taking any direct action until the client has signed your contract and you’re officially on the case. That’s also why it’s a good reason to have contract templates ready and waiting at the consultation!
A free consultation is an excellent way for potential clients to discuss their case, get some advice, and see if your PI services are a good fit. Even if the consultation doesn’t lead to a job, it can still help build goodwill in the community and lead to referrals later. That’s also why it’s important to always be honest and upfront during your free consultations – think about what you would want out of preliminary consultation, and act with that in mind.