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Bounty hunters track down criminals who have skipped out on their bail and bring them back to the county in which they were arrested. In the US, bounty hunters catch 90% of the people who jump bail, which means bounty hunters enjoy a generally favorable reputation with bail bondsman.
Who is this business right for?
This business is good for someone who wants to be a combination of a stand-alone police officer and private investigator. Not only is it risky to become a bounty hunter, but it’s also incredibly time-consuming. You’ll need a flexible schedule to track a fugitive down (in some cases, traveling thousands of miles to find them). And while it likely won’t be anything like a reality T.V. show, it’s worth understanding and accepting the risks before choosing this line of work.
What happens during a typical day at a bounty hunter business?
Most cases start with a call from a bail bondsman. A bondsman has put up the money needed for a criminal's bail and desperately wants to get the money back by bringing the fugitive to court. Bounty hunters will typically travel to the bondsman and obtain power of authority, which allows the bounty hunter to arrest the fugitive. Then, the bounty hunter will get the personal information (e.g., financial data, car make and model, etc.) before setting out to track the person down.
What is the target market?
Most of the time, it’s bail bondsman who hire a bounty hunter. However, friends or family members who scraped bail money together may also hire a bounty hunter to recover their savings.
How does a bounty hunter business make money?
Usually, bounty hunters only charge people if they’re able to catch the fugitive. This way, bounty hunters are highly motivated, and bondsmen have every incentive to hire them to get the job done.
What is the growth potential for a bounty hunter business?
Bounty hunters who are efficient at what they do have an excellent chance at achieving growth — even if the competition in an area is fierce. Bounty hunting is not an exact science, and it's inevitable that some will be faster and more productive than others. Bondsman will look for these qualities before deciding who to hire.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful bounty hunter business?
State requirements vary when it comes to bounty hunters. Some will make you take general coursework related to criminal law and/or obtain an official license. Additional formal education is not required, though a degree in law enforcement will certainly be helpful.
Bounty hunters need to be curious, organized, and quick thinkers. Fugitives will likely have a few tricks up their sleeve to stay out of sight, and bounty hunters need to be prepared. You’ll also need to be assertive to work with people who may attempt to harm you after you find them. You don’t necessarily need to be a bodybuilder, but you should understand self-defense enough to apprehend someone without risking life or limb.
What are the costs involved in opening a bounty hunter business?
Every bounty hunter has their own arsenal of tools, which can include anything from walkie-talkies to a firearm and a taser. Bounty hunters will need to purchase handcuffs and potentially leg restraints. They should also invest in protective clothing, such as a tactical vest with ballistic panels.
What are the steps to start a bounty hunter business?
Once you're ready to start your bounty hunter business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your bounty hunter business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your bounty hunter business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a bounty hunter business?
Bounty hunters are in a dangerous line of work, so it helps to anticipate the risks ahead of time. For example, it may seem like you should work out of your home to cut costs — except that you may end up endangering your family if the wrong person finds out where you live.
Good bounty hunters have to be relentless to find people, but they also have to be clever. The idea is to never use force unless it’s absolutely necessary. Some bounty hunters will try to confuse or trick a fugitive to ensure they have the time to peacefully apprehend them. They may jam the locks of their car or their home so it’s easier to make the arrest.
You’ll also need to learn about the restrictions in every state before you begin bounty hunting. Some states don’t allow bounty hunting (or bail bonds for that matter) of any kind. These states will typically enforce their own laws rather than the laws of the state in which the fugitive originally ran from. In other words, you may be held liable if you catch a person in a neighborhood that doesn't allow bounty hunters.
How to promote & market a bounty hunter business
Bounty hunters need to know the bail bondsman of their county before they can generate business. Even if a bondsman is used to working with a specific bounty hunter, it’s worth making those relationships to get your name out there. You can also try online advertising if you’re looking to attract attention from civilians, but this will generally be only a small fraction of your business.
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How to keep customers coming back
Bondsman aren’t just hoping that you’ll bring the fugitive back — they’re hoping you’ll do so quickly and without a lot of drama. The more efficient you are, the more likely it is that people will count on you in the future.
How and when to build a team
Some bounty hunters prefer to work alone, but many will want a partner or even a full team to make it easier to catch a fugitive. Having several pairs of eyes on any given person can make it easier to spot the potential happens before they happen. If you do choose to work alone, ensure you have an organization system that will help keep track of the billing and scheduling necessities.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a bounty hunter business. It is especially important to note that some states and counties prohibit the business of bounty hunters completely, so it is important to know local legislation in order to avoid legal trouble. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
It is important to run your bounty hunter business out of an office in order to protect your personal information such as place of residence. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a bounty hunter business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your bounty hunter business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Bounty hunters perform their job at great risk and they can take on cases with bails set as high as seven figures. As such, it’s not unusual for some agencies to pay up to $500,000 to get their clients back. Usually though, a bounty hunter charges between 10–20% of the amount of the bail.
What are the ongoing expenses for a bounty hunter business?
As long as a bounty hunter is buying durable equipment, they likely won’t have too many ongoing expenses. They may need to replace their clothing or repair their communications equipment, but for the most part, the initial capital will be the biggest expense.
How much profit can a bounty hunter business make?
A good bounty hunter can make $1 million a year, though the average salary is about $70,000. These numbers account for costs of travel and equipment. Most bounty hunters will need to take on at least 100 cases per year in order to achieve the average salary.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Successful bounty hunters can consider starting their own education courses for up-and-coming bounty hunters in their area. Or they may choose to offer additional consulting services to bail bondsman. For example, they may give specific tips so a bondsman can spot someone who's likely to run.