Our Featured Notary for Feb/Mar 2015 is Donna Mastrantonio, owner of Fidelity Notary Services in Mine Hill, New Jersey. She has been a notary public since 2004 and is an NNA Certified Signing Agent.
Certified Notary Signing Agent
Mine Hill, New Jersey
Q: When did you start your notary business?
A:I started my notary business in 2012. This is my third year as a certified notary signing agent.
Q:Why did you decide to become a notary?
A: I became a notary in 2004 because my job requested it. I work for attorneys.
Q:What was your first signing experience?
A: My first signing was in Randolph, New Jersey. It was not a bad experience although I remember the borrowers had questions I could not answer and I was so nervous about getting everything right. It went well though.
Q:Is your business full time or part time?
A: My business is part time because I already work full time at a large NJ law firm.
Q:About how many hours a week do you work?
A: Every week is different. I would say approximately 10 hours or less per week at this time.
Q:What has been your experience with signing companies?
A: Most of the signing companies I have dealt with are professional but honestly I would rather deal with the title companies directly. I’ve had some negative experiences with signing companies going out of business and not getting paid for the work I’ve done. This can be frustrating. I also feel there can be extra work when a signing company is involved. They have their own forms that need to be filled out and their own procedures they implement that sometimes make it more difficult for the notary instead of easier.
Q:What is your experience in getting paid in a timely manner?
A: My experience in getting paid has been positive for the most part. There have been times where I have had to track a signing company down to follow up on payment. There have also been times where I did not get paid or had to try very hard to get paid. More times than not though, it has been a positive experience.
Q:What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: I would say 90% of my business entails loan signings while the other 10% is notarizing miscellaneous legal documents for the public. I also am called upon for other types of jobs that do not require notarization like inspections and I-9 forms.
Q:If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing?
A: I would say on average it would be $75 to $85 per signing for a refinance. Depending on the company, the fee may be higher. I do get a higher fee for purchases.
I do not have a minimum however I try not to go out to work for less than $65 for a refinance. Between the printing, the driving and the faxbacks, I feel that for me, it has to be worthwhile.
Q:How have the changes in the industry and/or economy affected you?
A: When I first started my business in 2012, my phone would not stop ringing. I had to turn some of the jobs down because I could not do them all. I was extremely busy and was bringing in approximately $1100 to $1500 per month just part time. It seemed like overnight, this changed and the phone stopped ringing completely at one point. I actually had to call some of the title companies I am partnered with and ask them if my status was still active. I couldn’t believe the difference in the work I was getting. It has since picked up again but still not nearly what it was when I started.
Q:What have you done to overcome those changes?
A: In order to overcome the changes in the economy, I started signing up for things like doing merchant inspections for banks and completing I-9 forms. I have not gotten a large amount of business from this but I did expand my business by trying to figure out different areas I could make money in other than just the loan closings.
Q:Do you have a business plan?
A: I would love to run my business full time. At this time, I am doing a local mailing to some of the professional services businesses in my area with magnetic calendars advertising my business. Hopefully when someone needs a notary in my area they will call upon me. I am also planning to create my own professional website and am trying to get connected with some adoption agencies in my area. In addition to that, I would love to give back to my community and partner with the local senior citizen communities to provide free notarizations and donate some time to that.
Q:What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising?
A: I do not spend much at all on advertising at this time but I do realize that if I want my business to grow, I will need to spend a bit more. I do believe advertising is important but with a small business like this,you have to be careful about how much of your profit is spent in that area.
Q:Where do you advertise?
A: As I mentioned I am just doing a local mailing but I also advertise on all of the notary internet sites as well as have a webpage on GoGetNotary.com. I also have signage up in a window at a local CPA’s office that I am connected with so that if any of the clients there need a notary they can call upon me.
Q:How do you network?
A: I make sure I give every customer a business card and leave my business cards around at many places that allow it. I do not have much time to attend any networking events but would like to incorporate more of that in the future.
Q:What professional organizations do you belong to?
A: I belong to the National Notary Association. I am also a paralegal and belong to an organization through work.
Q:What skills or traits are essential for a notary to succeed?
A: When I first started out and was getting ramped up to start this business, I thought that anyone could be a signing agent but then I realized that this is not the case. After working my first year I started to realize that in order to succeed in this, there are certain skills that a notary must possess. Some of the key skills or traits related to success are being highly organized, paying close attention to detail, customer service skills, follow up skills and also being professional but yet making customers feel comfortable. Also, knowing or having some experience in the legal field is always helpful but not necessary.
Q:What is the biggest misconception about a career as a notary?
A: I think that sometimes people feel it is easy to just sign and stamp documents. They don’t realize what is really involved behind the scenes to prepare for a closing and finish it up properly.
Q:What advice would you give a notary starting today?
A: I would say that a notary just starting up as a signing agent should try to have a mentor. Someone who could tell them what this business entails before they do it and someone who could help them through to their first few signings. I was lucky enough to have someone who did that for me and have to say that it would have been very difficult without that person.
Q:What advice would you give a notary who wants to take their business to the next level?
A: I would say do research as to your local area and what the needs are there. I think that you have to see who your competition is as well. Once you have that information, you will know what areas to target. I think that a website or a webpage is important and you can take your business to the next level by partnering up with as many title companies and signing companies as you can.
Q:What books are tops on your recommended reading list?
A: I think having a Primer for the state you live in is important. This is a good guide book. Also, I learned so much reading the periodic magazines from the National Notary Association. There are so many great articles, updates, news and ideas for notaries to expand their businesses.
Q:What has been your most unusual/memorable signing experience so far?
A: I have had a few that I could remember. When you deal with people, there are always very unusual or unique situations you may encounter. I will never forget the closing I had when I entered the home of the individual who happened to be a hoarder and I could barely get in the door, had nowhere to sit down and no table to do the closing at. It was a very awkward and difficult scenario that I will never forget!
Q:What has been the key to your success?
A: I think being motivated and driven is a key to any successful business but also enjoying what you do is important. I enjoy this business because its a people business. I also think that creating strong relationships with the companies you get business from is key. You have to show them that you are professional, dependable and reliable and that they can call upon you to come through for them even in a pinch sometimes.
Q:Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I would like to add that before starting this business, one of the things to remember is that you have to be comfortable going into people’s homes. This is a big part of the loan closings. With that comes an issue on safety that all notaries, especially women, should be aware of. You are consistently required to go to unfamiliar places at night to meet strangers but there are tips out there about how to stay safe in these scenarios.
Thanks so much for your time and thoughts, Donna. I know your comments will provide some helpful info for others in the industry.
To learn more about Donna, please visit her GGN website.