Barbara Sonafelt has seven years of experience as a Certified Notary Signing Agent with over 4,500 signings. She owns and operates PA Notary Public, a traveling notary, DMV office and loan signing service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylania. She’s also owner and manager of The Notary Academy where Pennsylvania Notaries can polish their skills and network.
Notary Public, Trainer &
Certified Signing Agent
Q: When did you start in the industry? A: I started out as an AAA title clerk in 1997. I was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) for 20 years before that with a nine year break raising kids.
Q: Why did you decide to become a notary? A: That came with the job at AAA. I was just looking for a job where I could work part time and AAA in my town was hiring. Little did I know it would lead to this!
Q: What was your first signing experience? A: Believe it or not my first signing was fixing someone else’s errors on a modification of a VA mortgage at 7:30 in the morning. And I never did get paid for it!
Q: Is your business full time or part time? A: I am full time.
Q: How many hours a week do you work? A: (Laughs) Since I opened the office and included title work, I work about 50-60 hours a week and that is not including the seminars and teaching.
Q: Do you work with signing companies? A: A few, but not many any more. Most of my work is now direct with the title and settlement agents.
Q: What percentage of your business is loan signings, legal, medical, other? A: 60% real estate loan signings; 40% DMV and miscellaneous. And that is by choice to help build the DMV part of the business or I would be doing 100% signings. As much as I try, I can not be in both places at once.
Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what do you average for a loan signing? A: $125.00.
Q: Do you have a minimum fee? A: Yes I charge $75.00 base in my two counties and $25.00 for E-Docs.
Q: Have changes in the industry or economy affected you? A: A: Unbelievably not yet. I know others who are struggling or have shut down, but for now I am okay.
Q: How will you handle changes in the future? A: A few months ago I out grew my office in the house and decided to go back to my roots doing DMV work. With this new office expanding the business, I think I will be fine in the coming years. If recent business is any indication, I will be hiring office help soon, and this office should be self supporting. The signing end of it will then be increased to be a plus instead of supporting the office.
Q: Do you believe a business plan is important and do you have one? A: Yes and yes.
Q: What percentage of your net income do you spend on advertising? A: For my signing services I do a mailing about once a year which cost about $150, but most of the work I get is now by word of mouth and networking. My website gets a lot of business for me also on both sides of the business. As for advertising the DMV and general notary office, I spend about $100 a month in newspapers ads, etc. Once this builds I will scale back.
Q: How do you network? A: Business Networks, Chamber of Commerce and Title agent seminars.
Q: What professional organizations do you belong to? A: National Notary Association, Pennsylvania Association of Notaries, and Pennsylvania Land Title Association.
Q: What skills or traits do you think are essential for a notary to succeed? A: Patience and the ability to think on your feet.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about a career as a notary? A: That it is a cake walk and that there is BIG money to be made.
Q: What advice would you give a notary starting today? A: As in anything else in life, be patient, roll with the punches and do not give up or in!
Q: What advice would you give a notary who wants to take their business to the next level? A: Remember to take care of yourself. I used to make jokes that I was so busy I forget to schedule time to sleep. You can do anything you want if you take care of yourself.
But seriously…the most important thing is what I tell my students: Notary work is not rocket science. Do not over think this work. Stay within the law, follow the rules and you will be fine. But do go all out, do everything you can do as a notary. Do not focus just on the money and loan signings. The more exposure you have the more business you will get.
Q: What has been your most unusual or memorable signing experience so far? A: Oh…(laughs) that has to be the Gloria story! This client had seven boxers (dogs) and lots of cats roaming around, and birds were flying free in this big house. I felt like I was in a zoo! But when we done with the closing she wanted to show me “Gloria.”
When I went around the corner I saw “Gloria.” She was a HUGE iguana, and I mean HUGE. She fit sideways in a cage that was the size of a china closet and the whole front was covered with chicken wire. They are like goldfish; they grow according to the size of their habitat. She was hanging onto the chicken wire with these claws the size of my hand. She fit sideways in that cage from corner to corner! The client said to me, “I think I will keep her in her cage for now. The birds bother her.” I was never more thankful!
Q: What books are tops on your recommended reading list? A: Any you think would help your thought process to do this work. There are some that I think are a waste but some are okay. Remember this is not rocket science. Common sense is your best friend.
Q: How would you sum up the keys to your success? A: Working in the back of an ambulance for all those years gave me a certain perspective on life and people. Having seen people at their worst only makes me appreciate my own life and other people more. So go for all you can. Do not do anything halfway; life is too short! And smile while you are doing it; it could always be so much worse!
Barbara, thanks, for your time and comments today. Sharing your experience here will be helpful to other notaries. I’d suggest new signing agents in Pennsylvania contact you for more info on your training.
To learn more about Barbara Sonafelt, please visit her GGN website.