Our November Featured Notary is Claudine Osborne. She has been providing notary services for five years and loan signings for nearly four years. She received the 2008 Notary of the Year Special Honoree Award from the National Notary Association for her contributions to the industry. Claudine and her husband Paul (also a signing agent) own and run CAP Mobile Notary in Madison, Ohio.
Certified Notary Signing Agent
CAPS Mobile Notary
Q: When did you start in the industry?
A: I started on my own officially in 2006 but I had been a Notary since 2003, doing notary signings for my employer. I was thinking of branching out on my own, but leaving a steady paycheck is a difficult decision Then my position with that employer was eliminated! I had been looking into doing this for a while, and I ordered a book on line on how to get started. My husband , Paul, was the driving force behind me! When I lost my job, I was getting unemployment and I thought this was a great time to get going!
Q: What was your first signing experience?
A: I was a nervous wreck!! The Loan Officer was with us, and I did not want him to know that I wasn’t sure what I was doing! He walked me through it, and he was awesome. I learned a lot from him! (Thanks, Bill.) I continued to work with him for a few years.
Q: Is your business full time or part time?
A: It is now part-time due to the real estate slump. Of course I would like this to be full time again. I am in Ohio a hard hit area with the sub-prime mortgage mess. This is a cycle we are all in, but things seem to be starting to improve a bit.
Q: How many hours a week do you work?
A: I work approximately 30 hours a week now. This includes marketing, research, emailing, bookkeeping, and, of course, signings!
Q: Do you work with signing companies?
A: Yes. I will work for whoever calls unless they have a bad reputation. Signing companies are good for newbies. They can help you when you have a question, their instructions are usually spelled out, and you can get experience! Title companies expect you to know a whole lot more.
Q: What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other?
A: 90% is from loan signings and I do the typical notary work, too.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing?
A: I probably will get scolded for disclosing this, but this is to help others: I average $125 to 200. I am sure others make more, and I believe that it depends on the area. Higher fees are getting harder to find get due to the economy.
Q: Do you have a minimum fee?
A: Yes. I cannot work for less than $100. I live in a rural area and travel time has to be considered. Also with the gas prices on the rise again, I have to meet expenses.
Q: Obviously changes in the real estate and mortgage industries are affecting you right now.
A: Yes. I am getting fewer calls, just like others, and I’m getting calls from signing companies for $45 with e-docs. That is ridiculous, but people are taking them; they are hungry and will take these! I will not. What people do not realize is that they are hurting everyone in the long run.
Q: What are you doing to overcome the slowdown?
A: I market myself every day! I also pray a lot, and I have to lower my expectations. This is a bad cycle we are in, but I’m seeing a slight increase in business lately.
Q: Do you have a business plan?
A: Yes I do, and I make changes as needed on a monthly basis.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising?
A: I average about 20% on advertising.
Q: Where do you advertise?
A: We have a website that my husband maintains, and I’m in a few directories like GoGetNotary.com. I also use business cards and postcards. I do direct mailings and hang up signs in our area. I also talk to anyone who will listen!
Q: How do you network?
A: I attend business meetings that are open to the public and that are free. I use a couple of forums online, too. I would love to have a network of notaries, in my area, but have not found anything. I have tried reaching out to some notaries in this area, but have not been successful with that.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to?
A: Currently, the only professional organization I belong to is the National Notary Association.
Q: What skills or traits are essential for a notary to succeed?
A: The skills needed to be a success are: You must be organized, dedicated, and a “people person.” You need to gain experience. You must also know the Notary laws in your state! You must pay attention to details and be diligent and patient.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about a career as a notary?
A: You can make BIG bucks! As a Notary, the fees are set by the state. As a Notary Signing Agent (NSA), you obviously make more. On a whole, the fact that there are so many NSAs in the industry now has an impact on your earning potential.
Q: What advice would you give a notary starting today?
A: Research, research and research some more! Keep your day job until you are established. It is scary without a steady income to count on, and this could take a full year or more. Along with being scary, this career is also rewarding and challenging. There is a lot more to being an NSA then you realize. Some things you just can’t learn from a book! One last thing you must have is perseverance. Do not give up and work hard every day. I am at my desk, every day at the same time, dressed, ready to work, etc., just like I was leaving for an office.
Q: What has been your most unusual or memorable signing experience so far?
A: I had a signing where the husband and wife were to be at his office for the signing. It was a long drive at 8:00 p.m. I brought my husband along (he’s an NSA, also). When we arrived the wife was not there, and the husband said she was at home, an hour away and in a different county! This loan package had a ton of docs. When we finished with him we were speeding to get to the wife; we arrived there at 11:15 p.m. I was afraid of running past midnight, which would have been a different date; we finished with the signing at 11:50 with only 10 minutes to spare.
Q: What books are tops on your recommended reading list?
A: I find it hard to locate good books on the NSA field. I read a lot of articles and business magazines about the loan and housing industry.
Q: How would you sum up your keys to success?
A: Hard work, perseverance and professionalism. I started my business being unemployed, and I now make money doing what I love! Being my own boss is challenging. When I started this, it was hard for friends and family to think that I was actually working and I had a lot of interruptions, but now they finally understand. Working from home can be lonely at times, too, but I do volunteer work and that helps. I am responsible for everything involved in running my own business, except the technical computer stuff (that’s my husband’s job). Being successful can mean a lot of different things to people. Being happy with what you are doing and having a positive attitude can make everyone be and feel successful! That’s how I measure success so I feel successful!
I would like to add for newbies… There are a lot of hours involved in starting out in this industry; you must dedicate yourself to a few hours of work every day. Be patient and keeping going forward. Seek out others in this industry. There are people out there who will help. Some newbies feel they can simply ask others how to get going. I would ask the newbie, what have YOU done so far. I will help others as long as they demonstrate they are doing their homework. If they are looking for quick answers and short cuts, it will be difficult to find a mentor. Keep in mind we are helping others in our industry which is suffering right now! Don’t take it to heart; develop a thick skin.
I would suggest you put together an ?”I Love Me Packet” that you keep close at hand when signing up with various companies. This folder should contain all the pertinent information about your business, such as your notary commission certificate, E&O insurance, bond, W-9, profile, contact info, background screening, references, etc. When you’re asked to fax certain items, everything will be in one location and easier to find.
Also I would make up an “Elevator Speech.” This will help you sell yourself! Whether it’s for signing up or telling someone about yourself, this is your chance to show what you can do for the customer. This is a quick way to promote yourself as sometimes you only have a minute or limited space to include this info in an application. Learn to cut and paste from your polished profile!
There are costs involved in getting started. Expect to start off with a couple of thousand dollars although this depends on your situation and existing equipment. A Laser printer, fax machine, Internet service, office supplies and, of course, fees to “get listed” on places like GoGetNotary. These are just a few of the items needed to get going!
Lastly, keep a positive attitude. There are a lot of naysayers in this world, so be careful what you listen to. Take only what you need and forget the rest! Good luck!
Thanks for your time, Claudine. You’ve offered some good advice and especially great tips for notary signing agents just starting out.
To learn more about Claudine, please visit her GGN website.