Classes on “How to Become a Private Detective” have enjoyed great popularity in adult ed programs and I think I know why. For as long as I can remember, mystery writers have delighted us with tales of amateur sleuths who always outsmart the professionals. It’s logical, then, that some of us would deduce that we could be solving fascinating cases that have others stumped. But becoming a private detective isn’t the only way to satisfy an urge to solve mysteries.

During our visit to Tuscany, my sister Margaret, brother Jim, and I were being given a tour of the Etruscan Museum in Murlo by our sister Nancy. Since Nancy had worked on the excavation from which the artifacts in the museum originated, she knew a great deal about the things she was showing us. She casually mentioned that she had personally made a discovery that had completely altered a popular theory about Greek and Etruscan influences. “Good detective work, Nancy,” I thought.

All of a sudden, my mind flashed back to our days growing up with early television and I remembered that Nancy was the one who loved solving the crimes on Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, she was usually the first one to finger the villain. Her life as an archaeologist has given her the perfect vehicle to keep solving mysteries without having to deal with living criminals.

If you love to put together the pieces of a puzzle or love to follow clues to their conclusion, you could easily utilize that skill in designing a business. Persistence, clarity and good problem-solving abilities plus a love of the hunt are what’s needed. Add to that a bit of expertise, a network of “sources,” and an active intuition, and you could have the concept that keeps you happily engaged solving problems for your customers and clients.

While the possibilities go on and on for ideas that would thrive on detective work, one of the most promising is to be a professional finder. What might you find? Almost anything and everything that needs finding, it appears. Here are some ways others have done it:

Lost loves. Wondering what became of that adorable redhead who broke your heart in the seventh grade? Even if you aren’t looking for someone from your past, plenty of other people are. And those who are computer savvy know that much of the legwork can be done in cyberspace rather than in musty old county clerks’ offices. Businesses, too, use the services of private agencies to do background and credit checks. Not as romantic, of course, but another opportunity.

Locations. Out-of-towners visiting my hometown of Minneapolis frequently ask to see the Mary Tyler Moore house. It’s one of our famous attractions (and, yes, it is an actual residence). Films and television programs aren’t the only businesses that need to find appropriate backdrops for their work, however. Magazine editors, advertising agencies and photographers also use the services of location scouts who find the perfect place for a shoot and make the appropriate arrangements. (This would have been an ideal business for my father, who thought driving around town was high entertainment.)

Information. Tracking down information and doing in-depth research is another perfect occupation for wannabe detectives. Information brokering has, of course, become a hot business in the past several years. “It comes as a surprise to people who love to dig for information,” says info broker Carl Hansen, “that not everyone wants to spend time locating data. Many people who could happily run such a business don’t realize what a valuable service they have to offer.”

For more independent souls, this offers endless opportunities for gathering and compiling data that interests them and is useful to others. Jack and Marcia Kelly, for example, followed their own curiosity and ended up compiling a directory of monasteries and retreat centers that take in paying guests, combining a passion of theirs with a void in the market. Independent researchers are also employed by a host of businesses, writers, television producers, and marketing firms.

Things. Until a friend introduced me to John Dunning’s mysteries, I had never heard of book scouts. But I learned a lot about book scouting from him and, also, from another book called Book Finds by Ian C. Ellis. A book scout works independently to track down valuable books which are then sold to dealers or private collectors.

All sorts of profit center possibilities exist for tracking down hard-to-find items. For example, when Southwestern decor and cuisine became trendy throughout the U.S., one scout specialized in buying items from the Southwest, which he sold to restaurants wanting to duplicate a Santa Fe ambiance in other parts of the country.

Then there’s the young aristocrat in London who specializes in tracking down antiques for an elite clientele. Most such businesses are highly specialized, rather than all-purpose. You might think of it as being a freelance buyer with the entire world being your marketplace.

If you’re looking to add a touch of mystery and adventure to your life, creating a business that allows you to sleuth has all the necessary elements. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” Why should Agatha Christie have had all the fun? Why not create your own business with lots of corners?

There’s more where this came from.
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