Laura Vestanen has been a notary public for over 14 years in two states and performed over 10,000 notarizations. Before launching her own full time notary public business in Bellingham, Washington, she was manager of a successful law firm for ten years and worked in various law firms for twenty years. She is the author of Marketing Your Non-Loan Notary Services.
Notary Public, Author
Q: Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: I had been managing small law firms for several years when one attorney needed someone to travel to clients’ offices and retirement homes to notarize their legal documents. They didn’t like their secretary-notaries to be away from the office. I thought notary work would be a dead bore but it would be another service to ensure client loyalty so I got my commission. To my surprise, I fell in love with the work.
Q: What was your first mobile notary experience?
A: I went to a retirement facility to notarize documents drawn by one of my attorney clients for an elderly couple. The wife was slightly crippled and Alzheimer’s disease was starting to take hold. She went off on long oral tangents several times but she clearly understood what she was signing. She could barely make an X so I had to notarize using Signature by Mark. What made that appointment memorable was the husband’s love for his wife. Neither by word nor gesture did he apologize for his wife’s silly storytelling or awkward movements. He adored her and was proud of her.
Q: Is your business full time or part time?
A: I am a full time notary. I do mostly general public (not loan) notarizations with some Reverse Mortgage work. Plus I give seminars a few times a year on how borrowers can get great loans. (I’m a good little notary: I offer consumer resources and information, never advice.) I do some tutoring on Washington notary regulations via telephone while we view documents on the internet. The notary division of my Secretary of State’s office has asked me to do some volunteer work related to notary regulations and procedures this fall. So I’ll do that and brag about it on my website early next year.
Plus I have been working on my most ambitious volunteer project ever. After a great deal of research, I found a way for notaries and other small business owners in Washington to get great health insurance at group rates through participation in a non-profit association I will launch this fall (lots more to do first). If all goes well, insurance will be offered mid-2008. If I can pull this off, thousands of people will be helped.
Q: How have you handled changes in the industry or economy?
A: I try to stay informed on upcoming changes that will affect my business by several means:
- Reading meaty websites like GoGetNotary.
- Swapping emails with business-savvy people across the country like you (Sharon Hassler), Kelly Robertson, Joan Bergstrom, Roger Rill, and a gal in Florida who asked me to never name her because she gets too much fan mail already.
- I call the women at my Secretary of State’s notary division office and one of the top notaries at the Department of Licensing to chat and swap news. (We are governed by two agencies in Washington.)
- I schedule regular appointments with the terrific counselors at my local Small Business Administration and Score offices.
As I become aware of changes, I revise my services and marketing strategies. A few examples:
- When it became clear some years ago that home loan interest rates would rise and loan volume would plummet, I stopped all marketing to title companies and lenders.
- Until last fall, notary fees in my state were pitiful so I had focused my marketing on getting work that would get me travel fees, like medical reports signed by doctors. Last November my state’s notary fees were raised to be on par with California and Florida. After calling my Secretary of State’s notary office to thank them profusely, I quickly changed my marketing to attract clients who would drive to me. (I have an arrangement with an office two blocks from home. I do free notarizations for them and they let me use their conference room.) Now I only drive to notary appointments for medical, nursing home, and Reverse Mortgage work. Almost all my clients bring their paperwork to me – even my business clients. I usually get $40-$150 cash for appointments that rarely take more than one hour. The Reverse Mortgage work doesn’t pay as well as general work but seniors are being helped so I do it. I will train another notary this winter to take over my RM work. She has not yet come to loathe late edocs.
Q: Where do you advertise?
A: I advertise where my clients look for a notary. That sounds flippant but it is the accurate answer. My advertising needs to suit my target clientele which becomes different due to economic or demographic change. In choosing where and how to advertise, it is urgent that I first identify my best potential clients and learn where they look for a notary. I’ve been a notary in two states. When one of pmy rimary target markets was elderly people, I purchased a listing in the Yellow Pages and joined the local trade association of businesses serving homebound seniors. When I was doing loan work, much of my advertising money went to the notary directories and participating in real estate association meetings. My current biggest target is sophisticated business people needing types of notarizations few notaries in my state can handle. Sophisticated business people look for everything on the Internet. So I learned which search words they use and how to get information about my services on the first page of Google and Yahoo for those words. My time and money is mostly spent on Internet marketing now. I heard of one fellow who has a small roadside stand just east of the California-Nevada border. All day long he notarizes titles for expensive vehicles purchased in California being delivered to Nevada. His advertising dollars are spent on his road sign and his business cards.
A website tip for your notaries: if you are not good at writing, then hire or barter with someone who is. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but most notary website text is horrific in terms of advertising effectiveness. I write my own materials but these skills were not easily achieved. The credit goes to my ruthless graduate school marketing teachers who thoroughly bloodied my papers with red ink.
Q: What is the most important advice you would give notaries?
A: Do thorough demographic research to discover the underserved niche notary work in your area and write a business plan. Almost all notaries skip these essential steps. The business plan outline and instructions I like are in the Planning section at SBA.gov.
Free counselors at the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Score offices can help you with your plan and teach you how to do demographic research and discover effective marketing techniques. I have been self-employed for 25 years and I still go to these agencies for advice several times a year. Both require you to submit a brief business plan at or before your first meeting. Find an office near you at SBA.gov and Score.org. SBA offices go by several names including Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Centers, so search several types to find an office near you.
The Federal Government pays SBA counselors and most have MBA degrees. Some branches require you to visit a Score office first. Score advisors are all volunteers so expertise varies widely by office. (For example: My local Score office didn’t have a clue about Internet marketing but the one in the next county had a volunteer who gave me lots of useful tips.) Not one SBA or Score counselor I have ever worked with knew anything about notary work so don’t hold that against your counselors. Ask them for advice on running a profitable professional service business. Score has an online counseling service but it is difficult to get relevant advice that way. I’ve been using Score and SBA for years and it took me months to discover how to get useful advice from the online counselors. Work with the counselors in person.
Many states have transformed their unemployment offices into free career resource centers for small business owners as well as job seekers. The free counselors at my county’s office know more about upcoming local economic and industry changes than the SBA and Score counselors.
Q: With your varied experiences, have you had any memorable signings?
A: Gosh yes! It can be so hard not to laugh. Some challenging moments:
- The 60-ish lady with the highly improbable red bouffant hair who wore lipstick, eye shadow, and nail polish to match her neon-bright magenta and violet colored outfit and whose teeth were in a glass on the kitchen counter.
- The man with the shoe fetish who enthusiastically gave me detailed descriptions of more than a dozen pairs of his wife’s high heels.
- The May-September couple filling out a “Formerly Known As” name Affidavit wherein the husband shockingly learned his young wife had been previously married five times instead of just three.
- The woman bartender who bragged that not a single one of her now-adult children had been jailed more than twice.
- The marvelous taxi driver from New York who told the lying loan officer at the signing table—in numerous creative ways—what he could do with his loan.
Thanks, Laura, for your tips today and for all the advice in your articles and ebook. It’s good to spread the word that there is a notary career outside of loan-signings!
For more about Laura, visit her Linkedin page