#90: Private Investigator Vendors or Sub-Contractors- 5 things to Expect When Working as One

There are many investigators whose sole income comes as a result of working as a sub contractor for private investigation companies.  Other investigators work as a vendor or sub contractor as fill in work for their existing investigation business.  What I have found by talking with others in the investigation industry is they didn’t know what to expect as a vendor/subcontractor.  Due to miss-communication between the investigators and the companies they are working with many investigators have bad experiences as vendors. 

It is my hope that after reading this you have an idea of why vendors or subcontractors are used and what to expect when working as one.  In this article when I will use the word vendor to represent subcontractor as they are one in the same.

Private Investigator Sub Contractor


Why do private investigation companies need vendors/subcontractors?

There are a couple of reasons why private investigation companies use vendors. 

Too much work and not enough investigators

One reason investigation companies use vendors is the company might receive an assignment in an area where they are over booked (don’t have enough investigators and too much work).  To make sure they don’t disappoint their clients they hire a vendor to cover the assignment.  They require the vendor to follow their company expectations, protocols or any client rules.  Vendors are paid more than they would pay their regular employees. 

Private investigation companies want to claim they are nation wide

It order for investigative companies to secure clients or large insurance companies as clients they need to have coverage across the United States and in many cases around the world.  To have immediate investigative coverage companies will secure vendors in areas where they don’t have their own investigators.

It can be cheaper to hire a vendor then to have a private investigator on their payroll

When you consider the various benefits that are paid for: mileage or fuel paid for the investigator, vacation time paid for and of course the regular salary paid it can be quite expense to have investigators on the payroll.  

When a company pays a vendor, contracts are typically set up for a company to pay an investigator a flat rate and sometimes a flat rate with mileage.  It makes the profit margin very clear for a company on each assignment. 


Private Investigator Surveillance Picture

What to Expect being a Vendor for an Investigation Company

Companies like to pay flat hourly rates to vendors

Hourly rates will vary but you need to understand that you will only get paid for the time you are on site during a surveillance.  If it takes you 2 hours to drive to a surveillance case and 2 hours to drive home, you will not be paid for that travel time.  You will only be paid for case time (the time they can bill to their client).  Unless you have an agreement that states differently this is what your expectation should be.

Non surveillance assignments in some cases will pay for your travel and report time as this can be billable to a client.   Be sure to find out for sure if this is the case when working for an investigation company.

Your surveillance video must have a time stamp on it

I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by a company that an investigator claims up and down that he will provide surveillance video with a time stamp on it.  And when the times comes to produce the video to the investigation company they don’t know how to do it.  This is bad business and your reputation will be tarnished in the industry.  

So before you begin taking vendor assignments be sure to know how to get a time stamp on your video.

The rates companies will pay to vendors will vary

You will find that companies will pay vendors anywhere from around $35 an hour all the way up to $65 an hour.  There are plenty of reasons for the different rates that companies will pay vendors but the majority of the time it comes down to how much they are charging their own clients.

If a company is charging a client $65 an hour they are not going to pay a vendor $65 an hour because they won’t make a profit.   So they might be willing to pay an investigator $35 an hour so they could secure a profit of $30 an hour.  If a company pays a vendor $65 an hour you can be sure that they are charging their client much more than that per hour.

A vendor will not be paid immediately

Once a vendor completes the assignment (like surveillance), submits the video (with time stamps), submits the report and submits the invoice it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to be paid.  Sometimes companies don’t pay vendors until they are paid from the client.

You need to ask a company ahead of time how long it takes to pay an investigator’s invoice so you are not surprised when a check doesn’t come for a couple of months.

A vendor will need insurance to subcontract work

A reputable company will request you have at least 1 million in Errors and Omissions insurance coverage.  They will not hire an investigator that doesn’t have their own business license or insurance.

Where can an investigation company/investigator find vendor work?

The two most common ways to find work as a vendor is either by call an investigation company or through Yahoo Groups.  

Final Thoughts

If you want to keep working as a vendor then you need to bring your best each time you work as a vendor and do what you can to make an investigation company happy with your work.  If they like your work then they will likely call you again. 

If you stink or don’t know what you are doing the company will eventually figure it out and not hire or call you again.  Like anything in the investigation industry you want to build trust and a good reputation. 



  1. Another great and to the point article. Thank you.

  2. Excellent information. As a newly licensed PI, I am looking to learn and benefit from those who have been there, done that. Your insights are a valued resource. Thank you

    • I am glad you enjoyed it Jim. There is plenty of good information on the site. If you have a question be sure to send me a message through the contact page.


  3. Thanks for the tips. I own an investigations agency and have never subcontracted, but I have recently been approached to do so. This article is cut and dry, to-the-point on what to expect. Much appreciated.