You have finally earned your Process Server or Private Investigator’s license. You can now take your skip tracing skills to an all new level. Good for you! Now, it’s time to set up that home office properly so you can focus on on the real reason for your hard work – being in business for yourself and making great money!
So, how do I set up my home office for skip tracing business? Stake out a designated space in your home or apartment to be used strictly for your business. Purchase or acquire all needed computer hardware and software, skip tracing databases, productivity applications, and a fast internet connection.
The post you’re reading here is all about how to set up your home office that works for a Skip Tracer, Private Process Server, or Private Investigator. In fact, this office set-up will work for almost any type of industry. For those of you currently working out of an office in a commercial building – consider making the move to a home office.
I have written another post explaining How Do I Start a Skip Tracing Business that points out how to get licensed, find business/and or customers, build a website, and more. As we move along here, I’ll point out, specifically, why those of us in these professions might consider setting everything up according to my recommendations.
Your Home Office Basics
I won’t waste your time and go into any detail about the obvious. Of course you need a dedicated space, decent lighting, a desk and a computer. The most important thing to keep in mind is being able to work in a space that is ‘yours’ and that you feel comfortable working in that environment.
It’s rare for one of your clients to visit your office. Most all of the business involving skip tracing is done over the phone and internet. In fact, I would recommend that you NOT conduct business at your office. If someone wishes to deliver papers to you in person – or meet in person – set up a meeting at a neutral site. An outdoor patio of a restaurant is as good a place as any.
There are a couple of very important items to note here. The room in your home where your office is located will come into play when it comes to acquiring skip tracing databases. Most of the top-notch data providers will require a physical inspection. And, they have strict requirements. I wrote an in-depth article on 10 Trouble-Free Steps to Qualify for Skip Tracing Databases that will provide you with all the details necessary to get your office set up properly for the inspection.
Side note: I would highly recommend you read the article that I linked to in the previous paragraph. If you have an office set up in a commercial building – you’re pretty much good to go. It’s those of us working from home who need to take special care in setting up our office’s the correct way.
You probably will have an on-site inspection conducted by a real person representing, or contracted by, the database provider. Again, see the link above. For some basics, below is just a general idea of what you need to qualify for the really good databases:
- A dedicated room in your house or apartment
- A dead-bolt locking door
- Locking filing cabinet(s)
- A functioning paper/document shredder. Yes, the inspector may have you turn it on!
- A password protected computer
- A copy of your business license
- A copy of your industry license
- Photo ID and/or passport – maybe both
- Industry badge (In most states, Process Servers and Private Investigator’s are required to have these)
- Stationery with your letterhead
- Business Cards
- Your office MUST look like an office! No beds, bedroom furniture, etc. Stock office supplies – shelving and books help!
- Possibly a sign, with your business name, near your front door – Or on/in your mailbox
Stick to the above essentials and you should be OK. Each Data Provider has their own set of rules and policies – and their requirements for home offices changes all the time. And, some data providers may not allow you to have a home office at all. However, this is happening less frequently these days, and they have loosened their restrictions as more people work from home.
I’m very fortunate in that I have a dedicated office in my home. It’s my den which is 12×12 and has plenty of room for everything I need to run a business out of my home. Lots of electrical outlets, too. I’m not a fan of bright lights, so you’ll notice in some of the photos in this post it’s a bit “dark.”
Pretty much every home office, regardless of what industry you are in, needs the below items. Please – don’t spend a fortune here. General all-purpose equipment will do just fine unless you’re really into decorating and matching everything up with nothing but the best. Not me. Look at some of the pictures in this post – a bit messy, wouldn’t you say?
- Comfortable chair and desk – whatever works for you
- Phone/Fax – I’ll discuss this more later on
- Proper lighting – get a nice desk lamp
- A filing cabinet with a keylock built in
- Hanging folders and file folders
- I live in Arizona – a nice fan is always nice!
Work with what you currently have. Anyone starting up a brand-new business should know that they can always upgrade EVERYTHING at a later date. What’s important here is to have a functional office. Focus on gaining new skip tracing clients through advertising, your website, etc. An office that ‘looks great’ isn’t really a priority at this point.
Your Home Desktop Computer
Please – buy a desktop computer! Yes, I know everyone these days is going mobile, and you’ll certainly need a mobile phone to be successful in the skip tracing business, but for your home office there’s nothing better than a nice, powerful computer with two monitors.
It’s reasonable to assume that you already have a computer. Desktop or laptop – great. Here’s all you need in the way of an office computer:
- Desktop Computer. PC or Mac – whatever you’re familiar with
- Graphics card that supports two monitors
- Internal Network Card that supports both ethernet (hard-wired) and Wi-Fi
- Minimum of 8GB RAM (Memory). 16GB is better!
- 500 GB – 1 TB SSD (Solid State Drive). They’re fast and more reliable than a HDD
- 2 TB HDD (Hard Disk Drive). Mostly used as a back-up.
- Pay attention to the power source – get at least 500 watts
- External SSD. They’re much smaller these days, reliable – and mobile!
- Computer Memory Card Reader
- 3.0 USB ports for thumb drives, etc. The older 2.0 ports work fine
You may wonder why I have recommended some rather large drives for your storage. Believe me, they can fill up fast. With all of the documents you’ll be receiving/filing, photos, and probably video – you’re going to need a lot of space. When your desktop hard drives fill up – just offload them to an external storage drive.
Where should you purchase your computer? Most people buy them through Amazon or at a BestBuy. Probably set you back around $400 – $800. Something like that. Computers from these stores are mass-produced and you really need to be careful in your purchasing choice.
I’ve bought many computers from these stores throughout the years and finally wised up. Built my own. If you’re computer savvy, it may be worth your while to build your own so you can upgrade some of the different components in the future at a fraction of the cost.
My computer? Pretty much the same one that’s being built in this video on YouTube: How to Build a Computer. You DO NOT need a high-powered computer like the one in the video – or mine. I record and edit a lot of videos and have Adobe Creative Suite as well as Camtasia Studio – and a bunch of additional memory eating applications. You won’t need that much power.
Ideally, you would have a desktop for your home office, a laptop to haul around with you, and a smart phone – of course. As a skip tracer, there will be some down time while you’re waiting to get some photos or serve some papers. Hopefully, you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot or have a good cell phone data plan.
Your Portable Laptop Computer
This is another area where you don’t need to go overboard. If you have a desktop computer in your office, then I would seriously consider buying a lower-end laptop. If all you have is a laptop, then you might wish to purchase a fairly decent one – with a port for an additional monitor when you’re at the home office. There I go again about having two monitors.
There’s going to be some down time when you are out and about in the field. Of course, wasting some time watching videos on your smart phone is cool – but a laptop is much better. And, if you have some office productivity apps on your laptop you can catch up on some work.
I realize that a smart phone can do much of the above these days, but I like the large size of a laptop. And, it can hold a lot more files, documents, and whatever. Also – you may be taking notes in a courtroom – or at an individual’s house. A laptop says “I’m a Professional.” A cell phone says “I’m flying by the seat of my pants.”
Eventually, you may wish to get a portable printer. Why? Because you can be out in the field when a new job comes in. Let’s say you have to serve some papers. You’re already in the area for that particular serve, so why not be able to print those documents immediately and save some time? And mileage costs. Work smarter – not harder.
Two monitors are better than one! We’re talking about increased productivity here, and I cannot imagine working with just one monitor anymore. Once you get used to two monitors – you’ll never go back.
I prefer the 24 inch monitors. Nice and big. Don’t be alarmed by the above picture – overkill, huh? That’s one of my desks. The two monitors on the left go to one computer, and the three monitors on the right are hooked into my main (very high-powered), computer. And, a television at the top, of course!
If you have only a laptop – fine. Hopefully, it has a port to add in an additional monitor. If not, I guess you’ll just have to get by with what you have and consider upgrading later.
Input/output devices. You know, everything used to support your computer:
- Keyboard/mouse (I like using a mouse even with a laptop)
- Microphone – You may have to record an affidavit or declaration
- Headphones. Good if you’re using VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). Not a big fan
- Speakers. They’re getting really inexpensive these days
- Camera that works directly (and easily), with your computer through a USB port
- Know what’s needed to download photos and video from your cell phone
- Thumb/Flash Drives. Again, getting very inexpensive these days
All of the above are relatively inexpensive these days. Don’t spend a lot of time, or money, shopping for your peripherals. Just get something that works! As with everything else you purchase for your office setup – upgrade as you become more successful.
This is a biggie, folks. You’re going to print a LOT of documents! In the past, I always bought the cheaper printers – and then paid through the nose for ink. I still have a couple of HP Envy 4500’s in the office that I use for back-up, but finally got smart and purchased a fantastic printer. (NOT HP!) The cost of the HP’s ink cartridges are now around $20 for black and $30 for color. Ouch.
And don’t get me started on those ‘discount’ ink cartridges from 3rd parties. I never had any luck with those. I have also tried refilling the cartridge’s using different methods and types of ink and completely botched ALL of those attempts.
I found the solution. Actually, my brother found the perfect printer for our industry. He is also a Certified Private Process Server (and prints TONS of documents), and bought the perfect printer a year or so ago. He has an Epson ET-3750, so I recently bought the updated Epson ET-3760 model. Cost me a little over $400.00. Scans copies, prints, etc.
So, that’s a bit more money than a $100 DeskJet, isn’t it? Yes, but well worth it. The Epson comes with a lot of ink (four colors), when you first buy it. 1000’s of pages worth. Refills are cheap – about $75 total for the three colors and the black. But here’s the kicker: The ink will last you for almost a year! Yes, and that’s with printing a TON of documents. Do the math.
High-Speed Internet Service
It’s all about reliability here. And security. There’s nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of a project and your internet goes down. I realize that in some areas of the country you have no choice – there’s one internet provider – and one only. Oh well. Obviously, you need an internet connection so you have no choice.
Internet Service Provider (ISP). Shop around. I’m almost positive that you already have an internet connection, but look around a bit. They have deals out there, internet download speeds are getting faster and faster, and prices are coming down. I’m not a fan of ‘bundling’ TV with internet and phone – but you may be different.
Router/Modem. Buy your own. Please, try to avoid leasing. You can get a very nice modem with a built-in router for around $100. Well worth the cost. Dual-band is best with both 2.4 and 5.0 GB. Having two bands allows you to separate your computer internet from your television internet. Can you say Netflix?
Wi-Fi/Ethernet. You’re going to be dealing with sensitive information. Please, do yourself a favor and hardwire the computers that you’re using for business.
Protect Your Valuable Equipment
This is so important. Whether it’s password protecting your computer, securing your laptop, or choosing to use Wi-Fi or ethernet – it’s all about security. Don’t skimp on this part of your office set-up! We’ll look at protecting your hardware here.
Surge Protector. This is a no brainer, and shouldn’t be confused with a power strip. We all have power (or electrical) strips that we use to maximize the shortage of built-in electrical outlets in most houses and apartments these days. Especially those older homes. That’s great, but is it also a ‘surge protector?’
Surge protectors really don’t cost that much, and it’s certainly worth it to invest in a nice one that protects your computer, modem/router, and printer. Get one with a ‘Connected Equipment Warranty’ that guarantees your equipment is protected and reimburses you for any damage due to surges, spikes, or a lightening strike.
A little more about surge protectors. Get one with at least an 8 foot cord a minimum of 8 outlets. The Belkin 12-Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector is perfect. On this particular model, notice how it has plenty of space between the outlets.
Power Backup UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply). These can get a bit expensive, so invest wisely. Anywhere from $60 – $500. And more. I do have one of these – but didn’t purchase it until I was well situated and successful in my business.
These power backups do exactly what they say – if your power goes out, the unit kicks in and supplies power to your computer and other electronics – whatever is plugged into it. It will also protect against spikes and surges. A great investment if and when it fits into your budget.
You must protect your home office environment and equipment. If you’re leasing or own commercial space – you’re probably good to go for the most part. Hopefully, the building has professional security monitoring the premises. But most of us don’t as we’re working from home.
You’ve put a lot of money into setting up your home office. And let’s not forget that this is your HOME! We’re also talking about you, personally, and your family. No shortcuts here. It’s a crazy world out there, and, as a skip tracer, you deal with some pretty crazy people. You don’t have to at home.
Protecting Your Computer
There’s way too many scammers and spammers out there. Hackers trying to gain access to your computer’s most sensitive files, phishing emails, virus and malware – potential threats are always just around the corner. You’ve worked hard to build your skip tracing business – don’t be a victim!
There are some basic things you need to do in order to protect your computer. Remember that your Skip Tracing and/or Process Service business is going to require the ‘really good databases.’ This means that the person inspecting your office is going to look closely at your computer security.
I’m going to give you a general checklist here that you can go through to ensure that you have the best protection possible for you computer. Here we go.
- Antivirus Software
- Password Protect Your Computer
- Consider Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
- Surge Protector/UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply)
- Run Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter
I’m not going to go into any detail here on the above items. A simple Google search on these topics will give you a pretty good idea of what you need to do. We talked about surge protectors and UPS’s earlier in this post, and installing antivirus software is a no-brainer.
I’m a big fan of using a VPN. Antivirus software legend Norton gives us a really good explanation of how a VPN works that you might give a quick read. Keep in mind that, generally speaking, you cannot use a VPN with some of the skip tracing databases. That’s a big no-no, and they could zap your account for violating their terms of service. Don’t ever mess with the ‘Terms of Service’ outlined by Database Providers!
Protecting Your Files and Documents
Just as protecting your computer from hackers and scammers is extremely important, protecting and securing your documents is also something you should not overlook. Again, The database providers are going to send someone to inspect your home office – don’t give them any reason to disqualify you! You MUST secure your documents, files, and folders. Do this by checking off the below list:
- Office Door – Install a deadbolt
- Locking Filing Cabinets
- Backups – Regular and Scheduled
- Password Protect Individual Files
I discussed locks for your office door and filing cabinets previously in this post. No worries there. Backing up your files and folders is one of the most important things you can do. Make sure you have an external hard drive that AUTOMATICALLY backs all of your files up.
A “Cloud” backup is also recommended. For a paid option, I Drive would be my suggestion – but there is a number of options out there. Free stuff like Google Drive, Drop Box, Microsoft’s One Drive, Apple’s iCloud. You get the picture.
Yes, you can password protect individual files and folders on your computer. Instead of going into a lengthy tutorial here about how to do that, I found a really good Guide to Password Protect Files and Folders online that will get you up to speed.
Protecting Your Home Office
It goes without saying that you need a safe environment to work in. Protecting your office equipment, computer, and files is one thing – protecting you and your family is another. Common sense goes a long way here.
Do you have security camera’s? Get some. How about a doorbell camera? You might wish to consider installing a home security system. Actually, you should probably have one of those even if you’re not working from home.
Is your office on the ground floor? A second story office location is better. Are you roaming around your backyard while on a call with a client? People are listening, my friend, and no one needs to know your business. The skip tracing business involves sensitive information that you’re probably working on – tighten things up.
Camera’s aren’t really part of a ‘Home Office,’ but in the skip tracing business they’re an integral part – so we need to talk briefly about them. The main thing here is to make sure your camera, and smart phone, work seamlessly with your computer.
I’m sure you have a smart phone, don’t you? You’re going to need it. For example, if you will be serving papers, you’re going to need to take pictures at the location where the papers are being served. Many 3rd party Process Service Companies have an app that records the GPS coordinates, and make it simple to upload your service attempts and other information.
An additional fairly good digital camera is also needed. I’m still using a Canon Rebel T5i that records great video as well as stills. Don’t go overboard here. A decent camera with an SD card makes it quick and easy to transfer your photos and video. Get a zoom lens. AS I mentioned before, make sure your computer can easily import pictures and video.
I’m no camera expert by any means. I’m sure you can do some online research yourself and find the best camera available in your price range. The most important thing is that the pictures and video footage is easily downloadable to your computer. Make sure you have the proper accessories!
Where to Go From Here
OK, so you now have everything you need for your home office. If you do not yet have the proper licensing to be a Skip Tracer, Process Server, or Private Investigator, I would suggest that you read my post on How Do I Start a Skip Tracing Business? There’s a ton of information in there on how to get set up the right way.
Upgrade your office furniture, computers, and camera’s as you go along. There’s no reason to spend frivolously on new equipment when you’re first starting out. Get some business first! I made a lot of mistakes when I first set up my skip tracing business, and sincerely hope that you will at least take a look at my suggestions throughout this post – and save some money!
Related Skip Tracing Topics
OK, so now my office is set up. How do I start getting some business? Good question. I wrote an in-depth article about just this subject. You need a website, of course. And, you need to learn how to advertise through Google AdWords and other pay-per-click platforms. I’ll show you how in this post: 30 Practical Ways to Market Your Skip Tracing Business.
What software do I need to run my skip tracing business efficiently? There are some requirements. A website, of course. QuickBooks, or something similar. Google Sheets should do the trick, or some other office productivity suite. Process Service or Investigative apps. For a list of recommended and optional software applications, check out What Software Do I Need to Be a Successful Skip Tracer?