Liu Changjiang, one of the first business investigators in China, is trying to improve the earnings of his Beijing company, Oriental Business Investigation Co Ltd, by directly reaching out to overseas clients.
About 70 percent of his clients are already from the overseas market, but what troubles 35-year-old Liu, founder and president of Oriental, is that most foreign deals are subcontracts.
Foreign business investigation companies act as the bridge between Oriental and its overseas clients. The result: Oriental gets far less than what the foreign companies pocket.
"Actually, we do all the investigation work. The foreign companies act only as agents but get the lion's share, which is unfair," said Liu, who has been in the trade for more than 10 years.
There are two reasons why this happens. First, foreign clients have no easy way to access Chinese companies; second, they don't have enough confidence to hand their cases to Chinese companies.
According to Liu, this can be rectified by widening the marketing channel to make foreign clients aware of his company's abilities and reputation.
As a relatively new line of business, with a history of just around 10 years, investigation can't even call itself an "industry" as thousands of small companies are engaged in a low-level competition, with not even a single umbrella association in China.
Most Chinese investigation companies are generally involved in two types of businesses: helping suspicious wives or husbands with evidence of adultery of their spouses; and aiding companies to demand the repayment of a loan.
Few are engaged in business investigation, which includes corporate investigation like due diligence, asset tracing, business fraud and bankruptcy; individual investigation such as family and educational background, criminal and civil records; insurance claim investigation; and business security services such as providing bodyguards.
As China gets more integrated with the world economy, more and more foreign companies are doing business with their Chinese counterparts, opening up more potential for business investigation, says Liu.
To prepare for the new opportunities, Oriental not only hires retired soldiers and former government security guards but also employs information analysts with solid English-language skills.
In 2004, Liu led his company to join the World Association of Detectives, the oldest international organization in the segment, as a major step into the international market.
Seeing Hong Kong as a key link between the mainland and the global market, Liu also registered a new company there this month.