Our Featured Notary for February is Kelly Robertson, a Notary Signing Agent in California who started LoanSigner101, a mentoring service. A teacher of on-site notary public classes, she created her own course, Practical Application Workshop, specifically designed for loan signers. Kelly’s enthusiasm for life coupled with her sense of humor made her the perfect trainer.
Former Notary Signing Agent
Classroom Trainer for NotaryClasses.com
Q: When did you start your notary business?
A: I was Active Duty U.S. Air Force in 1997 and knew there was going to be some downsizing within the military again. I thought the time was right to begin my journey as a loan signer while I still had another income.
Q: Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: I first became a Notary in 1986—not by choice though!—while I was deployed to an Air Force base in Turkey. As the Wing Commander looked out into the sea of soldiers and aviators, he noticed me—being one of the only females there—and appointed me to the notary position. I liked the job and decided to pursue my Commission some years later in 1990. I was stationed at a military school house in Arizona and remember it was easy to get my Commission: I think all I needed was twenty bucks, a note from a neighbor stating I was a good citizen and two Cheerios box tops. I think it’s still that way in AZ! (Just kidding, Arizonans!)
Q: What was your first signing experience?
A: I love to tell this story because it helps me keep my ego in check—none of us should ever forget where we came from. I got my first call from a signing service and was so excited that I didn’t care that it was about 2 hours away in Palm Desert. I left 6 hours early for my appointment so I wouldn’t be late. The signing was a refi with a single older gentleman—a great guy—and I got through the job with no problems. I don’t think the customer ever suspected I was new. However, when I got home and started going through the docs to make sure I didn’t miss anything….Well, I did miss something: the borrower’s signature on the Deed! I called the customer back and we agreed to meet the next morning at his work so I knew I would have time to get his signature and get the docs out in time for FedEx. The customer reminded me he was a firefighter and since he was working, we needed to meet at his workplace; no biggie.. that is until he told me he worked about another 2 hours past his house and in another state! Fixing my error took me the entire next day (Sunday, thank goodness) and the customer had to drive a few miles into California so that the notarization would be legal. The good news is that I’ve never, ever made that mistake again!
Q: Was your business full time or part time then?
A: Part-time. I took jobs before work, during lunch, after work and on weekends and holidays. At the end-of-month, I’d take personal leave since I could make so much more money as a loan signer! I accepted jobs for the end-of-the day every day and sometimes wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m. or later.
Q: How many hours a week did you work?
A: I’d say about 15 and sometimes more! I wanted this opportunity to succeed. Plus, there really weren’t too many notaries that signed loans back then so I had plenty of work once I hooked up with a few signing companies. The first company to every hire me was TL Signing and I’ll never forget it (more later on that first signing job!). I also did a ton of work back then for Nations Direct—they paid $50 and gave me everything in my area. I still correspond every once in a while with Tiffany from TL and Jeff Stone, the owner of ND.
Q: Did you work with signing companies?
A: Absolutely! Tons of them, good and bad. At $50 a whack and 10-15 a week, I was making a lot of extra income.
Q: What percentage of your business were loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: I’d say that loan signings were probably 90 percent of my money. I felt uneasy around attorneys and at doctors’ offices, I felt like I was always waiting around. I did perform quite a few common/general notarizations (I like cash) for several convalescent home patients and learned a lot about what I call “real notary public work”—good experience for a newbie.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what was your average for a loan signing?
A: When I first started, I charged $50 a job for signing services. Funny how the fees can be less now, all these years later! Aren’t we supposed to get a raise since gas is so high?
Q: Did you have a minimum fee today?
A: My personal minimum for signing companies is $100 as long as it’s really close to home and overnight docs. However, I have been known to take a $50 job that was nearby if I had nothing else going on—$50 is better than no dollars! I admit, however, I think I’d respectfully decline if a low-paying job required a bunch of fax-backs or to split the package for return.. sometimes that stuff takes longer than the job!
My fee for escrow/title is $150 for a single set of overnight docs and $175-$195 for edocs. My fee to lenders/brokers starts at $200 and goes up to $300-$350. Of course, I charge more for piggybacks/doubles.
By the way, I never quote my fee first. When I get a call for work and the client asks me what my fee is, I always turn it around and ask, “What’s the most you can pay me?” Of course, I have a fee in mind (I use zip codes as my basis—go to www.zip-codes.com/zip-code-radius-finder.asp). Nine times out of ten, they meet my fee or they quote even higher than I would have asked!
Q: How have changes in the industry or economy affected you?
A: Great question. When I first started, there was no such thing as a “Signing Agent.” That term was coined by the Susan Pense, owner of the National Association for Signing Agents (NASA), a woman and a company to whom I owe a great debt. In those days, there were no professional associations that specialized in signing agents besides NASA. They also had a great message board that I made friends on. I’m still friends with many of those people today, some of which I’ve never met in person but consider my confidants. Anyhow, Susan sold her company to the National Notary Association (NNA) which by the way, caused quite the ruckus back then. It’s because of NASA that I am successful today. Just ask any “veteran” like me and they’ll tell you the same thing!
In those days, I used to get calls, “Are you a notary who signs loans?” Interest rates were high but I was still busy because there was really no competition. Then the amount of signing agents increased and I found that I needed to “up my game” by learning about edocs and advertising that service. Certification became an issue then, too, so I became certified by the only company who was doing it then, NNA.
Then, the refi boom came and I made a ton of money. After that, creative financing followed (80/20 purchases, interest-only/mortgage builder loans, variables and lots of balloons) which kept me busy, busy, busy.
Now people are choosing to refi again because they’re worried about their variable rates going up and so want switched to a fixed rate My business is a bit slower but it’s the beginning of a new year and I’m still signing enough to keep a few bucks in the bank. I really don’t work for too many signing services anymore and I thank God every day for those successful loan originators who call me often and pay me well. I call it “working smarter, not harder.”
Q: So that’s how you overcome changes in the industry?
A: Yes. You’ve got to up your game all the time and never quit marketing. There is little loyalty in this business and you must find your niche and put some juice in your profile. Offer up what will make potential clients want to call you first or choose you over another signing agent in your area. Tell them what they want to hear: That you accept edocs, are available, don’t mind last-minute assignments, are bilingual, etc.
Remember, too, that escrow officers and loan officers may check up on you and ask the customer how they liked you. They may ask what you were wearing, if you arrived on time, suggested they call with questions, etc. It’s a lot easier to impress and nurture existing clients than to drum up new business and if an escrow officer or loan officer likes your work, they will use you for everything in your area.
Q: Did you have a business plan? Have one now?
A: Absolutely! I even pay myself to empty the trash. It took some time, but I was able to complete it. I got some great info from SCORE and the California Business Portal.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on notary advertising?
A: In 2006, I spent almost 20%, a little less than 2005 because I was working on other non-signing work projects. What’s the use of having a great service if no one knows about it?! Q: Where do you advertise?
A: I am signed up on all the freebie sites that advertise notaries and signing agents (I know of 18) plus there are tons of other free sites such as Google Ads, etc. I am also signed up on quite a few paid listings but I track the referrals/jobs I get from those paid sites: If I don’t get any work for that year, I don’t re-up. I like using other people’s money to advertise myself and get more hits since I have a website that I link with that profile. I’d have to say that my favorite sites are ones that I can put my photo on. Most of my new referrals come from this site, GoGetNotary, plus GoMobileNotary and 123Notary.
Q: How do you network?
A: I regularly participate on many chat and message boards frequented by loan signers and try hard to attend all of our Southern California Networking functions which are held quarterly. I’ve hosted a few as well with my other notary friends. I have made friends with others in the industry who have industry-related companies and therefore, I meet their buddies and end up networking that way too.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to?
A: I was a Charter member of The Signing Registry and was proud to be on the Advisory Council for GoGetNotary for several years. I belong to APN&CSA and try to frequent their message board to help newbies with questions. Q: How did you get started teaching classes?
A: A funny story, but proof-positive that paths never cross by chance. Joan Bergstrom was working for Dan Jones, the owner of NotaryClasses.com. His company was growing quickly and he asked Joan if she knew anyone who might be interested in teaching classes. Joan and I had met only once or twice at notary functions but we signed in the same area and knew each other by reputation. Joanie called a couple of other friends, but no one answered their phone. Since I answered the phone, I got the job! Q: Why did you start your mentoring service?
A: I had mentored several other newbies and really enjoyed showing them the ropes and watching their business grow. “Service to Others” is important to me from a spiritual aspect, and it was very fulfilling to see how I could actually change people’s lives. For example, my buddy Connie Adams used to be my Fed Ex girl! She had a young son and she wanted to stay home with him so I taught her how to be a loan signer. Plus in those days, there was more than enough work to go around.
Ultimately, I was spending so much time with my mentorees, that I had less and less time for my own signings and my family, and my cell bill was getting bigger and bigger. I had one gal who “stole” all my clients because she was right in my neighborhood… it happens sometimes, and this, I guess, is why other signing agents don’t want to train anyone, worried they’d be training their competition. I’ve noticed also that a few newbies seem to have a sense of entitlement; I don’t know where that comes from. The School of Experience is like no other.
Eventually, I realized it would be okay to be an “information broker,” as Brenda Stone from Texas calls it. I saw nothing wrong with providing expert services for a fee and decided to do a little research to see what other companies were doing in this area. I couldn’t find any other operation that was even close to what I envisioned my company, LoanSigner101, so I decided to write it all out and go for it. The lesson plans and services have been modified many times and will continue to be “living documents” since things change constantly. My webmaster has the patience of a saint, let me tell ya!
Q: You’re seeing a positive response to your company, aren’t you?
A: Yes, and I must say that our coaches make a huge difference in the industry by providing real-world, no-hype training, like Ride-Alongs, and I could not do it without them. Wish I would have started the workshops sooner—everyone wants the hands-on practical application of what they learned in class because so many really need someone to “show” not just “tell” how to do it. Lectures, classes and books aren’t enough to satisfy most new notaries.
Notary schools and trainers are sometimes accused of saturating the market but my response to that is: There’s plenty of work for everyone. Our focus is training serious notaries how to be professional signing agents, showing them how to sign loans the right way and be a credit to the industry with quality service. Even after taking all the classes and mentoring with LS101, people are people and many may never ever go for it. And the fact remains that no matter how much training you get, this job is definitely not for everyone. Even if there are a zillion notaries in your area today, many will leave the biz, especially in slow times like right now, which leaves more work for you—that is, if you’re the right notary for the job.
Q: What advice would you offer a notary starting today?
A: Good question and one that I get asked via email every day. Do your research and “Be Prepared” before you advertise that you’re a Loan Signing Agent. Also, this may not be in the correct order, but to me the following considerations are important:
- Find out how many signing agents are in your town or your area before you invest your money in a course of study, equipment, etc. Don’t’ worry about your competition, but be aware of them. If there are a ton of notaries near you, your road to success will be a lot tougher than someone who lives rural or in the mountains or desert. Competition can be fierce—no cry-babies allowed!
- Before you go for it, you’d better make sure you have money in the bank. Don’t quit your day job unless you’re confident you can make it through the slow times. Having savings and a plan to augment your income with non-loan notary work will keep you afloat. I’ll recommend a book later.
- Write a business plan and find out what it takes in your town to have a legitimate business. Don’t make this an unexpected expense! Get the proper permits and licenses, a business account and reliable software to manage your business.
- If you decide to go forward with your goal, get certified by a reputable vendor. I only recommend an all-day live seminar, never a home-study or online course—and peruse the message boards for info. There is a plethora of free resources all over the web to include all the great info right here on GoGetNotary. Learn your craft and be a professional. Being certified means that you are serious about your goal and took the time to participate in a course of study related to your occupation. Being certified is becoming a requirement for some potential clients.
- Buy the right equipment—the best equipment. Investing in the right equipment is important now and down the road. Good equipment lasts longer. The right equipment, especially for edocs, means that when you accept an edocs job, you’ll be able to complete that edocs job. Be sure to have plenty of legal paper and toner/toner-refill kits on hand. It’s a law of nature that you’ll run out of paper and toner right in the middle of an edocs job and who will suffer if you can’t make the appointment? That’s right: Your customer, the borrower.
- Dedicate yourself to signing up with 150-200 signing companies. Overwhelming? Start eating this elephant one bite at a time by signing up with a few, every single day. Dedicate yourself to marketing every day and expect to spend a lot of your first year plopped in front of your computer. Even if you have an “in” in our industry, I’d still suggest you not put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t be complacent or lazy—the killer traits.
- I should have said this first: You must love people to be successful in this field, no exceptions. When I teach, I look out at all the faces of eager students. As soon as I tell them that when they go into clients’ homes they must be prepared to cope with heavy smokers, to be required to take off their shoes, deal with extreme body odor, kitty litter smells, dogs noses up your wazoo, bedridden clients in stuffy bedroom, breast-feeding mommies, bratty kids, cats in your briefcase, holding babies so customers can sign and “the readers” who will carefully read every document. I take a look at the students’ faces again and whittle the potential success rate down to a few…those few who really love people.
- Make sure your profile is upbeat and snappy and update it often. I read some profiles that have tons of rules—negative and demanding words, very limited hours and info that no one cares about—and wonder how they ever get any calls.
- Get some sharp business cards! They are pretty cheap so get some particular to your loan signings and then another that may pertain just to your Mobile or Traveling Notary work.
Q: What advice would you give notaries who wants to take their business to the next level?
A: Up Your Game! Update ALL your profiles and use “call me” words. Get some juice in your marketing plan. What worked last year may not work this year so be open to new ideas. Find your niche and brag about it. For example, if I were bilingual, I’d have that in Bold and Big Letters on all my profiles, my website and business cards.
Speaking of websites, times have changed and you must have one. Must, must, must. And be sure to put your professional photograph on everything you can: Potential clients want to see that you don’t have blue hair, metal in your face and tattoos up your neck. People resonate with faces and smiles (the rare exception is if you look like the client’s ex-wife or husband…well, I guess they may not call you!).
Q: What books are tops on your recommended reading list?
A: I think “How to Become A Wildly Successful Loan Signing Agent” is awesome for and Laura Vestanen’s book on Marketing Your Non-Loan Signing Services is outstanding and very inexpensive. Gerrie Pierre-Fleurimond also has some super books that are inexpensive.
Q: What has been your most unusual or memorable signing experience so far?
A: Just recently I accepted an early morning assignment. It was for a single signer early on a Sunday morning, at 5 a.m. (I’m known for early morning signings and fetch more money for them). Unfortunately, I went to the wrong house and, of course, woke everyone up to the tune of their doorbell. I also woke up half the neighborhood because of barking dogs (it only takes one to start!). I was pretty embarrassed and felt terrible!
When I started out, I occasionally drove to signings with the wrong set of docs having left the correct set at home… yeah, that made me look real professional. You learn to double-check, triple-check docs before you get in the car!
Once I got a flat tire and had to ask my client to “come and get me.” He did, brought me to his house, we signed, he brought me back to my car and changed my tire. I signed him for free and sent a thank you note along with a gift card.
Last summer, I met with a deaf woman who told me she could read lips but warned that I must look right at her and speak clearly and slowly so she could understand what I was saying. By the time I was halfway through the signing, I guess I was talking really loud because she put her hand up and said, “Stop. You don’t have to yell at me…I’m deaf!”
I met with a client this year on New Year’s Day (a holiday, another way to command top dollar) and have always made it my custom to bring a bottle of champagne for holiday signings. So upon arrival, I handed my clients their decorated bottle and wished them a happy New Year. They told me that they don’t drink so my reply was, “Oh well, just re-gift it!” They in turn told me that they are very religious and don’t allow alcohol in their home and asked me to return the bottle to my car. I felt like a real dork. Another lesson learned.
Want more? I’ve had dogs pee-pee on my shoes and bite me. I’ve taken home kittens, original artwork, autographed books and bottles of wine. I’ve met many famous authors and actors. I’ve signed in the back of vans, trucks and cars. I’ve signed at bars, jails, during court proceedings and on the golf course. When a desk or table wasn’t available, I’ve signed on top of pool tables, on people’s backs, on curbs in parking lots and on TV trays in client’s bedrooms. I’ve also done signings at funeral homes but my pal, Joan Bergstrom, one-upped that by taking a signing during a funeral! Gotta love the variety in this job!
Q: Kelly, thanks so much for your time. I knew this interview would be both enlightening and fun.
One of Kelly’s “additional streams of income” began to take off a few years ago. Although she now has a thriving Senegence distributorship (CelebrityLipstick.com), she still teaches at NotaryClasses.com.