Friday, July 30, 2010

On A Lighter Note...

My hometown of Plymouth, Michigan was recently transformed into the fictional town of Woodsboro for the filming of Scream 4 (also known as Scre4m). Celebrity sightings included Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, and Wes Craven.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Homeownership Continues To Plummet

With foreclosures continuing to rise, U.S. homeownership has fallen to a 10 year low of 66.9%. Conversely, apartments are filling at double the rate of 2009, with a vacancy rate of 6.6% compared to 8.2% at 2009 year end.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Starting A Notary Signing Agent Business

If you're looking to start as a notary signing agent or if you've recently started, Brenda Stone's free eBook is a terrific place to begin. There are great tips on researching your area, how to price your notary signing agent services, how to market yourself, where to find sample closing documents, and much more.

From NotaryLinks: Apply for a notary commission in your state.

Friday, July 23, 2010

National Notary Association and Signix Settle Class Action Lawsuit

This week, some of us received a notice regarding a settlement in a class action lawsuit involving the National Notary Association and Signix, Inc. The lawsuit relates to background checks performed from May 22, 2007 to April 22, 2009. The lawsuit alleges that the NNA and Signix (who performed the background checks on behalf of the NNA) violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by obtaining the reports without providing members with a clear disclosure in writing that a consumer report may be obtained for employment purposes and without obtaining proper written authorization. The suit also alleges that the NNA and Signix took unlawful adverse action against some consumers based on reports from October 6, 2006 to April 22, 2009 without providing consumers with a copy of their report and a description in writing of their FCRA rights and without notifying these consumers that the reporting agency did not make the decision to take the adverse action and was unable to provide the consumers with the reasons why the action was taken.

For those in the first category, you will receive a $52 credit for NNA membership or NNA goods and services. For the second group, you will received a cash payment of $250.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Goldman Sachs To Pay Record Fine

Goldman Sachs & Co. will pay $550 million, the largest against a Wall Street Firm in history, to settle fraud charges claiming they misled buyers of mortgage-related investments. Unfortunately, a half a billion dollars is less than 5% of Goldman Sach's 2009 net income of $12.2 billions.

The charges in a nut shell - Goldman Sachs sold mortgage investments without disclosing that the securities had been set up with help from a Goldman client that was betting on them to fail. Goldman said it was just an oopsy for the marketing materials to omit that key piece of information. Anyone actually buying that?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blogging With A Purpose

What kind of business blog keeps you coming back? One that focuses on relevant industry topics or one that promotes the writer or their business? Personally, I try to make my blog about posting on topics and providing content that others in the industry might find useful. I've always felt that some business blogs (and a few mortgage industry and signing agent blogs) miss the mark by focusing too much on self-promotion.

On Monday I posted a link to an eBook at HubSpot that provided some great tips on how to market a business online. The eBook includes tips on how to write a business blog. I thought this was noteworthy for those who write online:

"When thinking about blogging, take off your hat as a business owner and instead try to think like a magazine publisher. The goal of your business blog should be to publish articles that are not promotional but instead share industry expertise, much in the way a column or an article in an industry magazine would."

"Most business blogs start with a purpose. What are you trying to educate your industry and potential customers about? This education is not about your product, but instead about common industry issues..."

Blogging should focus on the reader, not the writer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Michigan Hardest Hit Program - Day 1

Today was the first day of the Michigan Hardest Hit program. The program was designed to pay $5,000 to $10,000 toward the mortgages of up to 17,000 homeowners that are expected to qualify. It offers mortgage-payment assistance for those receiving unemployment benefits, funds for homeowners who have fallen behind on mortgage payments because of a temporary layoff or medical emergency, and matching funds for principal reductions for homeowners who can't afford mortgage payments because their income was cut. That's the good news. The bad news? The program is completely voluntary for lenders, and as of now major lenders such as Bank of America and Citibank have not committed to the program.

A list of participating lenders here

Bernanke Urges Banks To Lend To Small Businesses - Think They'll Listen?

Speaking at a conference on small-business financing, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that extending and increasing credit to sound small businesses is crucial to our economic recovery. The issue "should be front and center among our current policy challenges." Bernanke also believes that "we need to find ways to ensure that creditworthy borrowers have access to needed loans." I have a feeling that his words are falling on deaf ears.

Monday, July 12, 2010

HubSpot Blog, a wonderful blog I've just discovered about how to market your services on the Internet, just posted a FREE eBook called "2010 Online Marketing Blueprint: A Multimedia Guide to Growing Your Business Online." The 26 page eBook provides instructions, how to videos, and links to other resources. Topics include:

How to establish a keyword strategy

Tips for leveraging social media to promote content online

Search engine optimization (SEO) basics

Tips for converting website visitors into leads

Email marketing best practices

Important website metrics to measure and track visitors

The guide is full of great tips. You can view it online (there's a button underneath the eBook that allows you to view the guide full screen) or you can download it after providing contact information.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Versatility Of A Notary Seal

Last night after a very late closing, I attempted to enter my house using the keypad on my attached garage. My code would not work. I tried 30 times with no success. Now normally this wouldn't be a problem. My car has a button that opens my garage door and my key chain has a key to my front door. Except my car is in the shop for repairs so no button and no key with me! Drats! Call to my best friend at 11 p.m., "did I give you a spare key to my house?" "No." Drive 20 minutes to my parent's house, no key either. Back to my house, try the pad 10 more times, no luck. My solution? I grabbed my notary seal from my bag and decided I was going to smash my garage window with it. Hey, it has a handle, it's metal, it would do the trick. As I fired myself up for the break in, I decided to try the keypad one last desperate time. To my complete shock, my garage door decided to open. Once inside, I was able to reset my code. Whew. Glad it didn't come to that, but good to know that there are other possible uses for a notary seal.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back To The Beginning - Marketing 101

I believe that marketing your notary signing business is an ongoing process. I'm always keeping an eye out for opportunities to grow my services with other companies. But whether you're a signing agent, a mortgage broker, a title company, or a Realtor, you know it's been a challenge trying to stay afloat and stay busy in these difficult times. Like most others in this industry, my volume isn't what it once was.

So, I recently decided to go back to the beginning. When I started as a notary signing agent, marketing was a full-time job. I contacted hundreds of title companies and signing services, I listed my services anywhere that I could think of, I called, wrote, emailed, and knocked on any door I could to drum up business. I networked and I asked for referrals. But after about six months of heavy marketing, I was able to focus almost all of my time and energy on handling closings. For seven years, my marketing has been about maintenance. But for the last few months, I've felt the need to do more. If you've seen your business slow down as well, maybe my plan of attack can help you too.

For starters, I felt it was important to remind my current clients that I greatly appreciated their business. You can never go wrong with simple, personal, handwritten thank you cards. Every one of my clients called or emailed me to say thanks.

Next, I made sure to update and freshen up my profile at the different sites I list my signing business. Nothing says "out of business" more than a profile that hasn't been updated in a year.

Sometimes I'm so focused on this blog that I forget that it's also important to participate in other places. Working by yourself, working from your home, it becomes so easy to isolate yourself. Forums like those at Notary Rotary, 123 Notary, and Notary Cafe are great for networking, being a part of the community, and just making yourself visible. So, I've increased my activity a little at a few of these sites and will continue to do so. I encourage everyone to do the same.

Here in Michigan, many purchase closings are "split closings." The buyer and the seller are both represented at the closing table by their own title company. It can make for some, um, interesting challenges. But it's also an opportunity to shine in front of another title company. If the other closer is an employee of the title company, I'm extra motivated to make a great impression. And after the closing, I make it a point to find out if they ever use contract closers. This has recently provided me with an exciting potential lead (fingers crossed).

And if the other closer is also a contract closer, it can still be an opportunity. Most contract closers that handle these split closings are the cream of the crop. There's just too much potential for disaster with an inexperienced, unprepared closer. So it can be an outstanding learning tool to watch how other quality closers handle their signings. I feel like I'm always learning something. Conversely, I did recently have the misfortune of sitting across from a closer that was sadly and painfully over their head. In that case, I later contacted that title company to offer my services as a contract closer. And no, I would not and did not mention that I watched one of their closers go up in flames. It should NEVER be about anything except what you can do for them.

Next, I browsed the forums for companies that have gotten positive feedback or that are actively looking for notary signing agents. I signed up with about 10 new companies in the last three to four weeks (at MY fees). I also followed up with companies that I signed up with in the past that have never called me for a signing. Two have already used me.

Finally, in all the above cases, I made it a point to emphasize what I think is a unique selling point for using my services. The Michigan Notary Network. Not only did I offer my services as a notary signing agent, I also stressed the fact that if I wasn't available for a closing, I could provide them with the name of another experienced, quality signing agent in the Metro Detroit area that could. Florida, Texas, California, Wisconsin, and Ohio all have networks. If you aren't networking with other great closers in your area, you should.

So, does an effective marketing blitz work miracles? Maybe not, but I can tell you that last week was one of my best weeks of the year. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Senate Finally Passes Homebuyer Tax Credit Extension

Deadlines - WhateverWell, don't wait until the last minute or anything. The U.S. Senate finally passed an extension of the federal homebuyer tax credit. The bill now awaits President Obama's approval. If signed (and there's no reason to expect otherwise), the bill will extend the tax credit until September 30th, 2010. As it stands, buyers had to close by Wednesday to qualify. The credit only applies to those homebuyers who entered into their contract by April 30th, 2010.

The homebuyer credit had been tied to an extension of unemployment benefits, causing the bill to stall. Once the Senate agreed to split the bills, the credit passed by a unanimous voice vote.