by Mark “Six” James CPO, EPS, CAS
For those old enough to remember “The Bodyguard” – Starring Witney Houston, Frank Farmer was the name of bodyguard played by Kevin Costner. While art often imitates life, life rarely imitates art. However, Hollywood’s job is to entertain us first and focus on occupational accuracy second. Thus, the glamour of the big screen is often far removed from the real sweat equity that makes up the craft. Week after week all around the country there are back room, chat room and in your face discussions about transitioning into the Executive Protection Industry. Being in the protection field is not a job or career it is a commitment to a profession built on a lifestyle of service, honor and most importantly sacrifice. You don’t make a decision to get into Executive Protection it has to be in you. There is nothing fun or sexy about agreeing to put your body at risk or standing on your feet for 14 – 18 hours often sleep deprived. However, there is nothing more rewarding than a client telling you “my family feels better and sleeps better when you and your team are around.” Regardless of the option you decide, we all share the common objectives of keeping the client safe and getting your team members and yourself back home safely.
Shortly after the initial contemplation about jumping in, comes the next ongoing debate, labor vs. management. Despite what appears to be the occasional rift, more times than not there is no rift at all, it really comes down to choices.
Choosing to work independently or for an agency really comes down to a few major considerations:
- Who assumes the bulk of the responsibility and liability?
- Who is responsible for the ongoing business development?
- Do I have the infrastructure to run the business (intellectual, technical, financial, legal and human)?
- Do I have the stamina to stick with it?
- Who receives the lion-share of the proceeds?
- Does my state legally allow for independent protection specialists?
Those questions remind me of something my fraternity brothers use to tell me when I was a pledge. “It is harder to be a brother than it is to pledge.” Trust me, it is far easier to be an employee than it is to own an agency. Billionaire Mark Cuban in his advice to entrepreneurs says “Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy it’s not an obsession.” However, don’t confuse enthusiasm with competency and business development.
As an owner your mission is clear, enhance the strategic health of the agency. In addition to the day to day operations you must also focus on the one to three year operating plan. While it is great to have that A-List client today, if the business relationship changes so does your revenues and profits. In short, you eat what you kill, and what you can store and preserve for later.
You often may function best when you are lean with minimal overhead but have access to additional resources. Strategic partnerships with like-minded and similarly trained individuals and organizations can help extend your strategic capabilities. The other challenge is how do you get your team operationally functional moving toward excellence. You have to train and develop your staff while simultaneously keeping both you and your team fed. In today’s economy those challenges have never been more apparent. While the overhead may be higher, some of the key advantages of having your own agency are enhanced span of control, better focus, integration and commonality of vision and consistent standards. Whether you choose to own an agency, become an employee or choose to work independently, it is highly recommended you attend a bodyguard academy first. Newcomers often don’t realize how much they don’t know. While the initial investment will be a little higher it will significantly enhance your ramp up time. If you cannot afford to attend a reputable training academy that is the first sign you are not ready to be in the business. While historically many people come into the business with former backgrounds in security, law enforcement or the military there is nothing like protective services but protective services.
Often, when an individual chooses to work independently it is usually driven by wanting a more streamlined service model, limited overhead, enhanced profitability or the direct ability to control their own destiny. If your goal is to reduce overhead make sure that it does not come at the expense of proper credentialing. If more agents had the proper credentialing or knew how to better dimensionalize their value we would not see some of the rock bottom rate structures some offer in the marketplace. Remember, our clients don’t have budget issues, they often have safety and brand protection issues. Some people attempt to fly under the radar and use the term independent as a way of avoiding the overhead or reducing their cost structure. Please check with the state where you are looking to do business in to ensure that independent operators are legally allowed. In many states there is no such thing as an independent operator and an agent must work for a private agency. However, some states do allow independent agents. There is nothing worse than working a detail and the police stop your motorcade and detain or incarcerate you for not having the proper credentials. Not only will that ruin your future chances for working in the industry you may find yourself locked up for impersonating an officer. If you have had previous encounters or confrontations with other individuals you may find yourself liable for civil rights violations. Based on your previous unlicensed actions.
Some may choose to open their respective agency and only have one employee. One of the disadvantages is limited capacity and unified operating procedures when looking to take on larger opportunities. Throwing together a hodge-podge team is often easily identifiable and poor security or protection service fools no one but the person assembling the team. Having been blessed to have the same team for the past 7 – 10 years, I can tell you there is nothing more comforting than the operational chemistry of a seasoned team. Your best advertisement will always be your work so selecting the right team members when required is mission critical, not just to the detail but to your individual or company exposure. I have a general rule which I apply to all multi-member operations. If I have never trained with you, I can’t work with you. If you are too busy to train, then you are too busy to work. It is only through ongoing familiarity can you truly extend the protection capabilities for your business and most importantly your client. During the detail is not the time to attempt to develop your personnel or develop team chemistry.
There is no right or wrong choice just personal preferences and business considerations. Choose wisely but most importantly be your own success story! Best of luck to you.