Top post: Questions to ask before starting an investigation

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I’m busy with holidays, client work, and completing a big new project (watch for announcements), so I’ll be running some oldies-but-goodies for the next month or so. Enjoy this one, originally published in March 2019.

No matter the type of research or investigations that you do, it’s important to prepare. Before you start your interviews, online searches, surveillance, or whatever it is you do for your clients, you need to take this extra step to ensure success (like a happy client).

It’s tempting to jump right in and get started right away, but your investigation will be more focused, and you’ll gather better intelligence, create better reports, and avoid client conflicts if you take the time to ask (and answer) these five questions:

  • What information do I already have? – With any investigation, we receive some information from the client. Sometimes we get very little, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it’s useful, and sometimes it isn’t. Whatever you receive, though – make sure you take the time to look through it all, learn what’s missing, and decide what questions you should ask. Find out sooner, rather than later, that you already have some key piece of information and how it can be leveraged in the investigation.
  • Does the client understand what I can and can’t do? – Managing expectations is key in any profession. But with so many myths and stereotypes and so much news about rogue investigators, it’s especially important for those of us in this field. Clarify what’s legal and ethical, and what information is and isn’t available. “No, we can’t find everything online.”
  • Do I understand the client’s big “why”? – This is your guide, or your beacon, for your investigation. Clients may ask a lot of questions, but they generally have one over-arching question that will help you decide what’s important and what’s not. It’s what will help you stay on track, while keeping an eye out for any answers to questions the client didn’t think to ask.
  • Do I know how the report will be used? – Do they like details or are they looking for something that’s more at-a-glance? Will they be sharing with others? Using it in court? Making comparisons or creating a strategy? These details will help you decide on the best format for your report and how to make it easy to use.
  • What’s the budget and time frame? – Knowing your boundaries will help curb the urge to “find everything.” Go back to the client’s big question and how the report will be used to make sure that you’re spending an appropriate amount of time and covering only what’s necessary. Learn how to scale the case to meet client requirements.

A lot depends on your specialty, which may require different questions and answers, but preparation is key. What questions do you always ask before starting an investigation?


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