When starting any business a future business owner wants to know what the potential cost of doing business each year will be. The initial cost to start doing business for me was small because I had some of the equipment needed before I pursued my own business license. Hopefully after reading this many of your questions will be answered regarding the initial cost of starting a private investigation business.
Before you become overwhelmed with what seems like a steep initial cost for equipment and licensing remember that these costs can be recovered after only a couple weeks of work (assuming there is work to be had). It is also important to remember the cost of starting a private investigation business for me included what I had to pay because I work in the state of Washington. Licensing or Insurance may be different for your state so be prepared for a cost that may be higher than the one I provide here.
Master Business License
For the Master Business license I believe I paid $25.00 however it was a long time ago so it may have been less than I remember.
Private Investigation License
To get my Agency License with unarmed principal (not licensed to carry a firearm while working as a private investigator) in the state of Washington I remember paying $550. Since then it has gone up to $600. This was only the initial fee for the license. I continue to pay $350 every year to renew my license.
Many investigation companies are required to either have a bond or a errors and omissions insurance. Errors and Omissions insurance will protect you in the event that you cause a financial loss to a client. I carry $1,000,000.00 in coverage for my business.
I pay $763.71 for a year of coverage. Instead of paying it all in one sum lump I make a down payment of 266.49 and then make payments of $58.44 over a 9 month period.
I go through Calahan Insurance Agency Inc (360) 576-2924. I don’t get anything for referring him. I just want to give you the name of the company that you might want to get insured through.
In 2010 or 2011 I purchased a Toshiba Satellite L645 laptop for my company computer. I think I paid about $650.00 for my computer at that time. Not only do I process surveillance video through it but I also edit my Private Investigator Advice videos and my podcasts. The computer came with the following things:
- 4GB DDR3 1066MHz memory
- 500GB HDD (5400rpm, Serial ATA)
- DVD-SuperMulti with Labelflash drive
- 14.0” widescreen
- Built in webcam and microphone
- 10/100 Ethernet LAN
- Wi-Fi Wireless networking
- Battery Life up to 5 hours (this is debatable)
- Memory card reader
- 1-eSATA/USB combo port, 2-USB (2.0) ports
I have been very happy with this computer and it was worth every dime when I purchased it. Toshiba made a good computer.
Dazzle: Avid Technology Dazzle DVD Recorder HD V14.0 (for capturing video with the time and date stamp)
This is what I have used to take the video from my video camera with the time and date intact as well as removing the audio from the final recording. Amazon sells these for about $50.00.
Hightail or Drop Box
I use Yousendit to send my video files to my clients. I can send up to 2GB at a time. I pay $49.99 a year for this service. One of the best services I pay for.
UPS BOX (Personal Mail Box)
I have a personal mail box where all my business related mail is sent to. I believe I pay approximately $125.00 a year. This is also my business address. Again this is something well worth having.
I purchased my Sony DCR-SX44 Flash memory Handycam Camcorder over two years ago and the camera is still doing its job without a hitch. I think I purchased the camera at that time for about $250.00. I don’t think they are making this camera anymore but there are plenty of better models from Sony on the market now. I would expect to pay no less than $200.00 for a decent camera.
I am currently using the Canon VIXIA HFR600 and I am really enjoying it. This might be a camera you want to consider. The Canon VIXIA HF R700 is the newer model which you also might like.
My first real digital Camera was a Kodak which I paid around $350.00. It had 7.1 mega pixels and decent zoom. It was slightly larger than normal size camera. This would do for most private investigators. The high end camera I later purchased ran about $900.00 which was the Canon T3i. You can get the Canon T6i now for less then I purchased my camera. You will need a decent camera and it will likely run you around $200.00 to $300.00 unless you decide to go fancy.
When I went from micro cassettes to digital I got the Sony ICD-PX820 Digital Voice Recorder but there are less expensive recorders that do a good job. My wife purchased it for me and if I recall correctly she got it from Wal-Mart for around $60.00. I looked it up on Amazon and it says it sells for $89.99. I am sure you can find a decent one for around the price my wife paid.
Covert Video Equipment
I purchase my covert video equipment from Ebay and Amazon. I avoid the spy stores online as I know they are over charging for the products. My 808 Key Chain Cameras cost around $10.00 and I usually purchase more than one in case something malfunctions (which you should expect to happen). Understand that this stuff isn’t made by Sony or Canon. It is made overseas and there is no guarantee to the quality. So purchase a few covert cameras.
You will need memory cards for you video camera and you covert cameras. Depending on the memory size of your SD cards, the prices can range from $15.00 to $45.00. I would get minimum 16GB for your video cameras and 4GB to 8GB for your covert video cameras.
External Hard Drive
You will want to back up photos and video from time to time on an external hard drive. It’s like a huge memory card. I always worry that my computer will crash and I will lose everything on the hard drive. So I back up videos and pictures on the external hard drive. I believe I purchased my 500GB Toshiba hard drive for around $80.00. There are larger hard drives now for less. The link in this paragraph is an affiliate link to Amazon.
Surveillance Vehicle Tint (assuming you need a surveillance vehicle)
I have had 4 vehicles tinted over my investigative career. During that time I have paid anywhere between $150.00 (for 3 windows on a Honda Civic) and $250.00 for an entire vehicle. Expect to pay around $250.00 for window tint. Anything less than that amount is a bonus.
Unless you get something super fancy I can’t imagine that you will pay over $20.00 for business cards. I think I paid $15.00 for mine.
Going off of my memory I think I paid like $15.00 to design my Brochure and another $60.00 or so to print them out on nice paper at Kinkos. Total of $75.00 for about 75 brochures.
Private Investigation Website
I purchased my domain name for $12.00 (I actually purchased 3 because I was trying to figure out what the name of my company was going to be).
I hosted my website on BlueHost (link to this on the sidebar). I think I pay about $75.00 a year to host my website on BlueHost.
I purchased the theme for my website from Woo Themes for $30.00 if my memory serves me correctly.
The reoccurring yearly cost for my website is roughly $90.00
Please note that there are free website options available however if you go this route I would use this as a temporary solution.
Any tripod from Wal-Mart or Amazon will do. You could easily find one for less than $20.00. I like the Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod and use it daily.
I use a Targus Digital TG-MP6710 67-Inch Camera/Camcorder Monopod which can be found on Amazon for about $10.00.
DC to AC Power Converter
Highly recommended for investigators in order to change equipment with their vehicle. Should be able to find one for $30.00 at Wal-Mart or Amazon. The last one I purchased was from Wal-Mart and it has been pretty reliable over the past 6 months.
I purchased a Canon all in one combo for around $250.00. It allows me to fax (which I don’t use), scan, copy and print. You can find something less expensive but this is what I paid.
I use my cell phone as my business phone. I don’t consider this a business cost because I would have one regardless of having a business.
I use Ring Central for my faxing needs. This might be the last year I use Ring Central as I don’t have much need for faxing. But if you do I would suggest this services as it is virtual meaning you can receive faxes directly to your computer. I currently pay about $8.00 a month for this services which comes out to about $96.00 a year.
Misc Office Equipment
You will find yourself needing various types of office equipment which can include printer ink, printer paper, pens, batteries, and whatever else you can think of. You will likely spend well over $100.00 to get everything you need to get going with your business.
If a physical office space is something you are looking for I have would rethink this initially until you develop your business. For me I base my office from my home which gives me no extra expenses.
COSTS What you will Need
$25.00 Master Business License
$550.00 Agency License
$763.71 Errors and Omissions Insurance
$650.00 Laptop Computer (Toshiba Satellite L645)
$49.99 Yousendit.com (Sending large files)
$250.00 Sony video camera
$30.00 Covert video cameras (because you will purchase more than one)
$30.00 Purchase 2 memory cards; One for the video camera and one for covert camera.
$80.00 External Hard Drive 500GB
$250.00 Vehicle Tint (should pay any more than this amount)
$117.00 Website (that I built myself)
$30.00 DC to AC Converter (vehicle)
$10.00 Mono Pod
$96.00 Faxing Service
$100.00 Office supplies (at the very least)
——- Cell phone as business phone
_____ Office Space
Final Thoughts on the Cost of Starting a Private Investigation Business
Expenses and licensing will vary for everyone but this is a rough estimate of what you may pay to start your investigative business and a very accurate detailing of what I have paid. I have detailed what a business might need in the past but I wanted to put a price tag on the potential cost you might incur.
This doesn’t account for anything extra like marketing or promotion. I hit the pavement, emailed and made phone calls when I marketed my business. I just want to give future investigation agency owners an actual number that starting a private investigation business would cost them.
Thanks for reading,