Necessary and Successful

One online comment we’ve all seen many times from notaries is how this or that suggested thing is “not necessary.”

I would humbly suggest that “necessary” is about following laws and regulations. This is a minimum to be in business, and it is not enough to succeed in business. Success is about more than what is merely necessary.

Success is about knowing your market; having a data-driven plan that includes a strategy for achieving what you’ve chosen as your definition of success within that market; taking action within that strategy; measuring the results of your actions; adapting your plan and actions based on those measured results; and anticipating changes to laws and technology and other aspects of your market so you are prepared to handle them and stay on course toward your goals.

Success is about marketing — finding and qualifying customers & clients and convincing them to know, like, and trust you so that they buy, repeat, and refer others to what goods or services you offer.

Success is about return on investment — a measurable positive impact on the profitability or marketability of your business for every dollar or hour you spend on it.

Success is about benefits that are more valuable than the cost to obtain them, both the benefits you obtain in exchange for your investments in your business and the benefits you offer to your clients and customers when they buy from you.

So, no, it is not “necessary” to be a member in the NNA, get certified by them, buy a background check through them, be listed in the big three directories (notaryrotary, 123notary, and notarycafe) with a paid membership in each, and have more notary Errors & Ommissions insurance than your state requires.

These things are not about what is “necessary.” They are about success. They are about Return On Investment and marketing and cost-benefit.

You can have a notary business without any of them. You can have an NSA business without any of them.

Just know that being in these types of business without them will be like reaching for your goals with one hand tied behind your back.

Don’t expect to start from scratch with no relevant background and build it quickly to success without them, as your established competitors are very likely to have them all and to out-compete you using the advantages that these things offer.

And don’t expect anyone to tell you for free how to succeed without those advantages. That knowledge does not come cheap; it requires spending significant amounts of time and money to learn. It always has and always will.

If you want to be successful in business, you will need training and every other advantage you can acquire. Stopping with only the minimum necessary is a good way to fail.

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On Notaries and Marketing

Notaries and Marketing:
Active Marketing is Required for Success

Whenever someone asks about getting more work as a notary, the first answer usually given is sign up with lots of companies. That’s a good first step, but it’s not the only thing you can do — and it is not enough if you want your business to be a success.

Sure, repeat business and referrals from doing great work is wonderful — but that is hard to generate when you are new or times are slow so that the business is not repeating or referring.

So, when you don’t have the referrals and the repeat business or when you need to grow your income by adding more assignments, what do you do?

You have to engage in active marketing.

Many people don’t understand the difference between passive and active marketing. Signing up with one or more potential clients and having profiles on all the usual directory sites — heck, even having a website that has great SEO — these are passive marketing. They depend on the customer to take the time to find you.

Back in the earlier years of the notary signing agent industry, passive was good enough. Now, you need active marketing if you’re going to survive as an NSA. Simply signing up with potential clients is not enough; they will only call someone new if their old hands are busy OR if you’ve made yourself top-of-mind to them when they have an assignment.

You make yourself top-of-mind by active marketing. Go to the library and get some books on marketing a service business and how to prepare a marketing plan.

Studying marketing for service businesses and developing a marketing plan are the best things you can do if you want to move from working for lowball firms who pay slowly if at all and who will wear you out with their demands to working for good clients who pay well and on time with minimal issues.

Study what the marketing experts say about passive and active marketing and develop a marketing plan for how you will do both. Those two steps will work wonders for you when you need more business or just want to keep the same level of income during times when overall work is slow.

I’m not saying to skip the passive marketing (the signing up and the having a website with good SEO results), just that it’s not enough.

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How Much Should a Notary Charge? 

How Much Should a Notary Charge?

One of the questions that gets asked most often in the groups on Facebook where notaries gather is “how much should a notary charge to do this ?”

The answer to that is simple, but many notaries refuse to believe it. Here it is:

No other notary can tell you what to charge. 

If they are not in your area, any figure or range of figures that they may give you would be irrelevant because their market conditions are not your market conditions.

If they are in your area, they’re your competitors and it would be price fixing for them to tell you what to charge. Price fixing is a Big Deal because it is against federal law. (For an introduction to price fixing, see this article by the Federal Trade Commission: Price Fixing.)

What to charge is something you have to figure out on your own based on your expected expenses to complete the scope of work as described in the offered assignment and your own market research.

Let’s say that someone does respond to your question about this that you posted online. If they are in another state, their answer may be somewhere between irrelevant and totally useless to you.

For instance,  California permits her notaries to charge up to $15 per notarization. Other states allow much less. Some (such as my own Tennessee) say that we can charge any reasonable fee. What does your state let you charge? Are you allowed by your state to charge a trip fee for traveling to the signers? Are there other specifics about the fees that your state laws and rules cover? It is YOUR responsibility to know the laws and rules in your state, and no one in another state should be expected to research that for you or to know it on their own. (They might, but expecting them to do so is unreasonable.)

Are you in an attorney-only state? If so, you are limited in what NSA work you can do.

Are you in a state that requires a title producer’s license before you can assist with closing loans? If so, you have to invest in getting that before you even start marketing, even the passive marketing of being listed on directories.

How crowded is the market in your service area? Are you trained and certified and background checked by the firm that this client prefers or requires? Do you have as much Errors and Omissions insurance as they require? Do you have availability at times they usually offer assignments? And those are not all the issues that you need to address in your market research and your personal preparation and business planning.

Each of these can affect how much you can reasonably expect to charge without losing the assignment.

Then you get into your expenses. If you live in a rural area, your driving expenses and time will be more than someone in an urban area. On the other hand, your dollars may go further for basic expenses, so you might be able to make a profit from a fee that someone in a more expensive part of the country would turn down.

If you have to buy a new printer, a better cell phone or improved plan, or more E&O insurance, your net after expenses is going to be less, even before you pay taxes on your earnings.

Even when someone tells you what they charge, it does not answer your question of what should YOU charge. It is YOUR business. You are responsible for setting your own fees, based on your own market research.

House made of Twenty Dollar Bills

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So This Happened

So, this happened.

2017 to 2021 Notary Commission

2017 to 2021 Notary Commission

Yes, I am commissioned for another four year term. This makes my 6th term of office.

I was sworn in earlier today. It was a good thing, as my previous commission expired next Friday and I was getting a bit nervous about cutting it close. So pleased to have this done. Now I just have to update my credentials with all of my clients.


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Why A Notary Signing Agent Must Call the Borrowers

I posted about this on my original blog several years ago. It all remains true. (I have added a few additional points to it that were not in the earlier version.)

Why A Notary Signing Agent Must Call the Borrrowers
Before Printing Documents or Making a Trip to the Signing Location

Sometimes, when I receive an assignment to handle a real estate signing as a Notary Signing Agent, my client will include a statement about going ahead even if I can not reach the signers/borrowers. Sometimes, they don’t provide useful phone numbers (disconnected, cell phone that is unanswered while they are at work, main switchboard for an employer where you need at least a department to reach the employee, or other circumstances). Whether it is because they don’t want anyone to call the borrowers or because the phone numbers given are not useful, this creates an issue and the need to explain why I insist on calling the signer and, preferrably, speaking with them first before I go out.

First, there is the matter of identification.

If they don’t have a form of I.D. acceptable under the Tennessee law and rules for Notaries Public, they need to get an acceptable I.D. before I arrive.

I do not expect title companies or lenders whose offices are in other states to be familiar with the notary laws and rules in Tennessee. That’s my job and I must follow the rules here.

Problems with their i.d. are a big issue for those who took title under one version of their name but have a different version of it on their driver license and other forms of i.d. The only ways around that are if I already know the signer(s) personally (rarely happens) or if we can use a credible witness, which can get complicated. I have only used a Credible Witness once or twice in all the many years that I have been a Notary Public.

Second, for a refinance loan (which most of my work as an NSA has been), there is the matter of funds changing hands.

If there is cash due from the borrower, it will have to be in a cashiers check or wire transfer it it is above a certain amount, which varies based on the title company and/or lender.

If there is money due to the borrower from the loan proceeds, the borrowers need to understand that I don’t deliver money; there is a 3 day right to cancel period that has to pass before the lender or title company will cut any outgoing checks.

If the borrower does not have the required funds due or if they expect me to deliver the funds coming to them, this could mean the signing does not take place.

Third, there is the matter of how long the signing will take.

Some loan officers tell borrowers it will take 30 minutes. In my experience (15+ years), the average signing take 60-90 minutes & can take as long as 2-3 hours, depending on circumstances. They need to know this & have set aside enough time to get it done so we don’t find ourselves having to stop before we are finished.

Fourth, there is the matter or where and when.

Sometimes, despite assurances from the title company and the lender that the appointment was confirmed, the signers are actually not available at the time and place on the work order. (I had one recently who lived in another state, with the work order showing the signing location here due to the property being here. They had no plans to visit the property on that date, so the appointment was re-assigned to a notary in the area where they lived.)

Sometimes, the borrowers are available yet they prefer to sign at a different time or place than indicated on the work order. I will accomodate them as much as I am able. If they want it to be earlier or a different day, they need to speak with their loan officer to make sure the loan documents are prepared in time with the correct info on them.

Part of this is also verifying that the location is where the online maps show it as being; those maps are not always accurate & I don’t want to get lost on the way there.

Also, sometimes the house numbers are impossible to read from the street, so knowing what landmarks or vehicles to look for can mean the difference between finding them and driving around looking.

In addition, some neighborhoods or properties can be unsafe to enter unless there is someone there who is expecting you.

Fifth, there is the matter of my fees.

(This is really the least important reason to me, but it is a reason.) I expect to be paid my full fee once I arrive at the signing location unless I do something wrong.

While print fees & trip fees are nice and certainly appreciated, I am there as a Notary Public, a disinterested third party witness. If you make my fee contingent on whether they sign the docs, this may be seen as changing the nature of my role in the signing to someone with a vested interest in encouraging them to sign.

I always try to be a Notary Public first & a Signing Agent second. If I arrive without speaking with the signer(s)/borrower(s) and they are not ready to proceed due to one of the above reasons or any other and you want to reduce my fee because they did not sign, this creates a conflict that I would rather avoid. Even if we have agreed in advance about my fees under such circumstances, it may be seen as a conflict of interest.

I am a professional Certified Notary Signing Agent. This explanation is offered so everyone involved will understand why providing good contact numbers for the borrowers is always a Good Idea and why asking a notary signing agent to “go ahead even if you can not reach them” is a Bad Idea.2017 National Notary Association badge - Trained, Background Screened, Certifed Notary Signing Agent

Notary to Pro Certificate

Notary2Pro Certificate

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