by Isaac Peck, Senior Broker at OREP.org
Many private investigators (PIs) go it alone.
Despite the numerous active states and national associations available to PIs, Working PI’s best estimate is that less than 15 percent of all licensed private investigators are members of a professional association.
That begs the question: Why is that?
Bob Nalett, owner of Lawman Investigations in Phoenix, Arizona and the President of the Arizona Association of Licensed Private Investigators (AALPI), shares his journey of reviving his state association and why he believes private investigators should give their state associations a second look. Professional associations can help private investigators develop their trade craft, stay informed, and build their businesses, Nalett argues.
Here’s his story.
When Nalett first became involved in AALPI’s turnaround, the organization seemed to be on its last leg. A meeting was held in late-2016 about what to do about AALPI’s dormant membership and declining participation—but only 12 people showed up to the lunch.
Part of Nalett’s passion for recruiting at AALPI stems from his own experience as a newly minted PI. After serving in the San Jose Police Department for 25 years, Nalett and his wife moved from California to Phoenix, AZ. But Nalett didn’t want to simply “retire.” He got his private investigator license in 2011. “When I started out, I was fairly new to the area and didn’t know anybody. One of the things I did back then was reach out to AALPI and started running things by a few of the PIs that I met. I took a few of the courses they were offering at the time and they helped me get up to speed on the laws in Arizona,” says Nalett.
As he built his PI business, he tried to avoid leadership positions at AALPI—but when the organization faced a turning point six years later, Nalett stepped up.
AALPI entered 2017 with just two elected officials: Daniel Bekins as AALPI’s President and Bob Nalett as the Vice President. Even as Nalett took on the challenge of reviving the organization, the consensus was that if things didn’t change, the association might not survive. “We sat down and finally got to look at the books. We had less than $15,000 in the bank and we had a lot of money going out with not very much coming in. We decided that if we couldn’t turn things around, we would pay off all our liabilities and just close the association down—returning any surplus back to our Members,” Nalett reports.
Thankfully, things got better. Nalett immediately got to work calling dozens of PIs on the Membership Rolls who had not paid their Membership dues—for years, in some cases. “We started with looking at who was listed on AALPI’s website that was not a dues-paying Member. The AAPLI association website ranks on the first page of Google so it was a good way for our ‘Members’ to get work when a potential client was searching for a PI. I got a list of all Members that haven’t paid and personally called each and every one of them,” says Nalett.
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He would start by introducing himself and explaining what AALPI was trying to do—to rebuild and become a true resource for PIs in Arizona. “I told them we were revamping everything and we’d like to have them continue to support us and be a part of our community. Some people were on board; others gave me a very colorful description of why they weren’t coming back. At the time, having your PI business listed on AALPI.com was one of my big selling points. “You’re just two clicks away from getting business”, is what I’d tell them. So we started by winning back past Members and then cleaning house and making sure only current Members were listed on our website and enjoying the benefits of AALPI membership,” Nalett reports.
After winning back nearly a dozen past Members, the next step was to reach out to licensed PIs across Arizona and invite them to get involved. “We developed a battle plan for recruiting. We went to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), which licenses and regulates PIs in Arizona, and got a list of all actively licensed PIs. We began emailing them, inviting them to events and promoting the benefits of membership and networking with other like-minded professionals,” Nalett says.
When Nalett first attended the 12-Member lunch back in 2016, AALPI only had 52 dues-paying Members and any annual conference they tried to organize had to be combined with process servers, security guards, and other professionals. “The first conference we had was a combination of PIs, process servers, and the security guard association. We had to have three associations combined to do three days of training because we didn’t have the numbers,” Nalett laments.
Today, AALPI is approaching 150 active Members and is expecting to draw 100 private investigators for its annual conference this year in September.
Why Join an Association?
Nalett’s journey of rebuilding AALPI deals directly with the question of why a private investigator would want to be a part of a professional association to begin with. What’s the big deal?
One of the things that many PIs don’t appreciate until they experience it, Nalett says, is how networking and sharing information leads to more work for everyone. “AALPI always had a listserv, a type of group email chain, but once we revived it and started really using it, the referral opportunities really exploded. As a PI, you don’t need to turn down work. If a client comes to you and needs a five day surveillance job, you can call one of your contacts from your state association and ask them their rate, then go back to your client and present a proposal. Whether you are too busy or it’s something outside your wheelhouse, you don’t have to turn away work,” Nalett argues.
Not only does it mean you don’t have to turn away business as a PI, but it is also a great source of work for the PIs who can step in and provide those needed services. The result is a robust variety of business opportunities for those investigators who choose to get involved and network. Some PIs have billed six or seven figures on jobs that came to fruition because of an association contact or from a connection they made at a professional investigation conference.
Outside of helping grow one’s business, Nalett says that state associations like AALPI also help keep PIs up-to-date on the latest laws and licensing issues. “We keep our Members updated on the changes that are happening in the laws and anything regarding the PI industry. We bring up any disciplinary actions and help PIs stay out of trouble,” Nalett explains.
The biggest advantage to being involved in your association is the network, Nalett argues. “Everybody is a resource. There is so much we can learn from each other and ways for us to work together—I’ve seen it pay off so many times for myself and others. Not only can we all grow our businesses more, and earn more, when we work together, but we can share knowledge and information. A big segment of our upcoming conference in September is going to be on how to run a profitable private investigator business, how to market yourself to clients, and how to avoid claims and protect yourself. It’s invaluable information from experienced PIs that help us grow and be better,” Nalett says.
About the Author
Isaac Peck is the Publisher of Working PI magazine and the President and Senior Broker of OREP.org, a leading provider of E&O insurance for the PI industry. Working PI is the most widely read print magazine for investigators nationwide, reaching over 25,000 PIs. PIs who become OREP Members enjoy an 8-hour CE course at no charge. Reach Isaac by email at email@example.com or call (888) 347-5273. CA License #4116465.