I received an e-mail asking how to start your own paranormal group. I thought I would offer my response to everyone out there who may be looking to start their own team now or sometime in the future. I will offer my advice based on how I run my group, which may not suit everyone out there. But here are my personal opinions, practical tips and ideas for starting and running a successful paranormal investigation team.
- Start off slow: While you may be eager to jump right into investigations, if you are inexperienced you may want to start out by doing some research first. Get a good beginners book or find some basics to ghost hunting articles on the web to expand your knowledge of investigation techniques, equipment and protocol. Your first investigations should be held in either public locations where you pay to investigate or even at family and friends homes. You want to gain a little first hand experience before offering your groups services to the general public. Eventually you will find plenty of opportunities for investigations when you are ready.
- Rules to live by: A good foundation is the key to a good group. You want to set some basic rules for your group and its members, and stick by those rules. Your rules should be practical and consider safety, wellbeing and integrity within the group. HPIR has a set of guidelines and membership requirements and I typically revise them on a yearly basis just to make them adapt to any changes within the groups structure. Our rules are not too demanding, because lets face it, who wants to join a group with a list of rules a mile long that are too strict to allow for any enjoyment of investigating? Our guidelines are expected to be followed but are not so unreasonable that we can not enjoy what we do.
- Building a team: I honestly think the most difficult task in getting a team together is finding the right people and building a successful team from that. Unless you already have a close knit group of friends or family who you are investigating with, building a team from scratch can prove to be tough. Over the years I have had some wonderful individuals who have been part of my team, and others not so much. It can be difficult to find people who will stick with the team for the long haul, some people are just looking for a thrill and find themselves bored very quickly and they quit. Others are very dedicated but sometimes life gets in the way, or their path may just go in a different direction. You may have members come and go it’s something no team is immune to. Many teams have broken up or just completely been disbanded over conflicts among members. If you have a strong leadership, little tolerance for drama, and a welcoming environment for your members you can build a successful team. There may be times that you have to part ways with a member but keep in mind that you should always do what is best for the team as a whole and the person who is parting ways just has to find their own path. I offer an application process for perspective new members. An application is a good way to get to know someone before meeting them and an interview with you and your team will give you some indication if the perspective member will be a good addition to your team. Make sure any perspective member is aware of your group’s rules, protocols and any additional expectations before they join.
- The Right equipment: The best equipment is not always the most expensive equipment and it’s pretty simple and easy to get an equipment base built up. If you own a camera you are on your way to a basic ghost hunting kit. You can start off as simple with a camera, voice recorder, notebook and pen. If you can afford to go all out for more equipment to start with that is great, but not everyone can do this. I have always relied on what equipment I own myself and anything other members bring with them to an investigation is an added bonus. Over the years I have added pieces of equipment to my kit and as a group we have raised money to purchase more expensive equipment. It’s really up to each individual on what type of equipment you want to use within your group, but I highly recommend that you know the equipment that you use, what it is capable of and what it isn’t capable of. Ghost hunting is not a real science that allows us have these devices that were made specifically to detect a ghost, no matter how advanced technology gets, we just aren't there yet. Every piece of equipment in existence today, even those items made specifically for ghost hunting are all based on theory and it really all boils down to what you believe your equipment can do for you.
- Mission Possible: Ask yourself what is my mission in forming this team? I would say the most common mission is to help others in dealing with paranormal activity. Maybe your mission falls in line with the general population of teams, or perhaps it differs in some way. You may have to really consider what you want to accomplish with your team and what direction you want your team to go. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong answer with what your mission should be, but consider the reasons you want to start a group and go from there.
- Enjoy what you do: I think it goes without saying that if you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t want to do it. While it’s important to take investigations seriously, there has to be a little down time to enjoy a laugh or spend time getting to know your team. It is generally a good idea to occasionally organize group events or meetings outside of investigations where you all can get together and talk, laugh or to discuss any team problems. Our group typically has a picnic every year to celebrate our group’s anniversary, monthly meetings, and other little gatherings throughout the year.
- Avoid Burnout: I know there are some groups out there that investigate on a weekly basis or perhaps even more often. I think it’s great to have many opportunities to investigate but too much too often can become monotonous and lead to burnout. You will have to decide what amount of investigations suit your desire but as with anything, give yourself the occasional break to relax and time off when needed. Our group philosophy with both evidence and investigations is quality over quantity. We do not investigate every weekend, but when we do investigate we generally have had time to do some research on the place beforehand. We are not in a race to see how many investigations we can do, we investigate as opportunities present themselves but other times we will seek investigations when we are eager to get out there and do a case or there is a particular location we want to investigate.
- You will never know it all: Always keep in mind that you will never have all the answers. There are no experts in this field, paranormal investigation is not recognized by the scientific community because paranormal activity is not something you can put in a pretty little box, carry it into the laboratory and study it under a microscope. Will paranormal investigation one day lead to an amazing breakthrough for the scientific community? Well, we will never know unless we try. I would like to at least think that if enough substantial evidence is found that maybe one day a few scientists out there might start scratching their heads and thinking hmm….
- Accept Changes and Challenges: This is a new point I am adding (2018) accept the changes and the challenges as they come. If your group is around for years, you will experience changes. Changes can be good, bad or neutral depending on their nature. Our group has changed so much over the years, we have grown, we have had setbacks, we have had big challenges to face and crazy situations that have come along. But despite all the changes and the challenges that we have faced, we still are holding on. In this moment, our group is slow, we aren't investigating, but we talk and we still have this in common. We still get together, just not as often and we still host a great ghost tour event every year. We still love each other as friends and as a unique family that we have created through our love of the paranormal world, and we are still standing. Bend when you need to, but don't let the changes and the challenges you face break you. Re-invent your group if you have hit a wall, persist in what you love to do, no matter how you do it.
- Getting your name out there: This was a new question recently asked in the comments and I thought it may be a great new addition to add to this article. In the world of the internet and social media, it isn't too difficult to get noticed these days. Start a blog or website, use a free service to save on money. You can post information about your group, what you do, how long you have been together, what you can help people with. Make a group or page on Facebook, start a Twitter or Instagram for your group. Engage with your users to talk to you, post articles or photos that may spark conversations. Post local haunted places in your area, just consider all the possibilities to keep an audience engaged, and then people will start asking you for investigations. Don't overdo it though, keep your posts relevant and don't clog up your followers feeds or they may stop following you. Keep it professional and simple. This is a matter of opinion, but I feel groups should avoid scary, gory and otherwise overly spooky images to brand your group with. You could also schedule talks or lectures at your local library or other community facilities.
2018 Update -This is my most popular post and I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my article and comment (and I apologize if I did not reply). We are now going into our 12th year as a group and so much has changed since I wrote this post, but it still rings so true for me and my group to this day.
I personally have had 2 little boys since 2014, in addition to my older daughter. My time is less focused on investigating and keeping up the blog as it used to be, like I mentioned above, sometimes life gets in the way. We have had members move away, and several that moved on to form another group. The paranormal craze has died down in our area and we are just not as busy like we once were. However, our core members are still here, standing with me and with our love for all things paranormal.
Again, thanks for reading and I wish you all much success in starting your own groups!