Finding people as a small business
I am a people hunter.  Before you get the wrong idea, let me clarify by saying I’m a vegetarian, do yoga, and am non-violent (except for pummeling punching bags during kickboxing classes or obliterating the occasional black widow in my garage).  My style of hunting involves locating people, generally to interview them and prepare reports, never to harm them. 

Sometimes locates are for other reasons, such as process service, finding missing heirs, biological parents or children, and tracking down people who have skipped out on child support or other bills.


My official title is private investigator.  Not to be confused with the law breaking Gumshoes in the stylish Film-Noir movies of the forties and fifties (which I admittedly am addicted to), or the occasional questionable antics by Paul Drake, the dapper P.I. from the old Perry Mason series.  What I do is perfectly legal and far more resembles the work done by actress Julia Roberts in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich.


I too knock on doors, meet interesting people and tell their stories.  Some are heartbreaking, others are uplifting, but all are unique.  Several of the lawyers I work with jokingly refer to me as their Erin Brockovich (who I was honored to meet and share that fun fact with this year when she spoke at a local seminar).


There is nothing quite as satisfying as finding someone, even (sometimes more so) if that person does not want to be located.  Putting pieces of mysteries together began interesting me when I was a bookworm kid, reading Nancy Drew. I progressed to my grandmother’s discarded True Detective Magazines, but only when my parents weren’t around to monitor my reading. My mom liked to preview anything questionable before I even thought about reading it, and although she’s fairly liberal I’m quite certain those would not have been on her approved list for a child in elementary school.


The bulk of my work is on behalf of attorneys, and is thoroughly vetted if it is not for someone I work with professionally. I’ve literally been on the phone with potential clients who gave me plausible stories of why they wanted to find someone, i.e. she’s taking care of my dog and moved, only to run a quick court search and discover the person he was looking for has a legitimate reason for dodging him, such as a protective order he neglected to mention. They are not the people I do work for.


Related Information

Kelly Madsen Investigations - The people hunter - Small BusinessBy Kelly Madsen
Twitter: @KellyMadsenPI
Madsen Investigations specializes in the investigation of criminal cases of all kinds, as well as civil and domestic litigation. We provide a broad range of services, including witness interviews and locates, skip tracing, asset searches, public records and database searches, courts searches, pre-employment and rental backgrounds, and searches of businesses and licensing databases. 


If you don’t genuinely like children and dogs, going into random houses, or meeting and talking to new people, this career path probably wouldn’t work for you.  When you are entering someone’s domain you must have the ability to adapt to whatever their living circumstances are. I’ve done interviews in jails, mansions, camper shells, hospitals, prisons, McDonald’s, parks, etc.


One the oddest set of circumstances surrounding an interview was when a local drug dealer temporarily shut down his apparently lucrative business at a Salt Lake City park to give his complete attention to aiding me with info to locate a witness in a murder case.  We sat at a picnic table and he literally held up a hand to stop his customers from approaching us. He informed them they needed to wait because he was in an important meeting. Meanwhile, I quickly took notes; hoping officers patrolling the park would realize I wasn’t a participant in the action going on around me.


People’s willingness to invite me into their homes and personal space used to surprise me, but at this point I take it for granted.  If you tell someone the truth about who you are, who you’re working for and what information you’re attempting to gather they’re generally responsive.  On the flip side, I trust my gut instinct when it’s not a good idea to go into someone’s house.


One thing I always make sure to do when leaving an elderly or vulnerable person’s home is encourage them to keep their doors locked and not invite strangers into their houses.  Unfortunately, some people are just lonely and happy for the opportunity to have anyone to talk to.


Finding people does not always conveniently happen during regular working hours or on weekdays. I put in my share of work at night, on weekends and holidays, during snowstorms, and at the last minute during trials and other emergencies, when time is of essence.


Equipment and services necessary for my profession are the obvious, such as a reliable vehicle, computer, scanner, smart phone, business cards, and notebooks and pens that I purchase in bulk; never leave home without them, as well as an assortment of paid databases geared towards your areas of expertise.


Skills required for locating people include curiosity, being tenacious and not taking no for an answer (as one attorney bluntly told me early in my career; ‘no is not an answer I want to hear’), creativity, never taking yourself too serious or easily having your feelings hurt (you’re going to get a lot of rejection, let’s be clear here), a sense of humor and always being friendly. Except when someone high on drugs is chasing you, in that case my advice is to forget being nice and run fast.


Developing relationships with court clerks, office managers, etc. and networking with others in your business is critical.  It is almost impossible to solely manage every case that comes your way; having someone you can rely on to take on the excess work is vital.  Referrals to and from other investigators is very common. We know who is reliable in our profession and who cuts corners and lacks integrity.


I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to have had some amazing mentors along the way, including attorneys, investigators, paralegals, college professors, police officers, parole agents and writers, among others.  I attempt to pay that forward whenever possible.


This line of work is not for the faint of heart. I’ve heard some stories that frankly, I wish I hadn’t, met people from all walks of life, and woke up in the middle of the night more times than I can count with cases and possible solutions running through my head.


Because the public tends to glamorize the work of a private investigator I should also note that I run obscure errands, such as retrieving luggage from the jail or rental car agencies after someone has been arrested, calming clients and witnesses before and during trials, taking expert witnesses to the airport, etc.


One of the most interesting errands to date was picking up DNA samples in Salt Lake City and hand delivering them to a lab in California for testing. I chose not to dwell too much on what was in the custom made backpack I took on my flight.


If you have a difficult time sitting at a desk all day this is a great job because everyday is different. I get to go out, meet new people, go to places I may never have seen before (who knew how incredibly beautiful Boulder, Utah or Rogersville, Tennessee are) and mix it up by going to my office, writing, and having lunch or coffee breaks with my amazing co-workers.  I can’t beat that, it’s the perfect job for me.