(Originally published in the November 2012 issue ofThe National Notary magazine) For any business to succeed over the long run, it must create and follow an effective business growth plan. This is just as true for independent Notary Signing Agents as it is for the CEOs of multinational conglomerates. Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned NSA, the best approach is to develop a growth plan focusing on business development activities designed to reach specific, concrete financial goals. Then you should follow the plan. A good way to create a business development plan is to apply the acronym SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely — to your goals. Your plan should consist of very specific activities that are measured, realistic to attain, and take place over a specific time frame. Setting SMART Goals Instead of saying, 'I will earn more money this year,' decide how much money you want to make, say $60,000. If you earn an average of $100 per closing, that's 600 signings a year. That might seem ambitious, but break it down into manageable, attainable pieces. Divided into 50 weeks, that's 12 appointments a week. You now have your 'SMART' Goal: 'I will earn $60,000 this year by completing 12 loan signings each week.' This goal is specific, can be measured, is attainable, realistic and has a set time frame. In a tough economy, even this goal can seem intimidating. But look at your appointment history. Say you average 10 appointments from your various network boards, registries, and social media outlets. All you need to do is find two more appointments to meet your weekly goal. That's the gap between what you currently are producing and your goal. Honing Your Marketing Marketing is the key to establishing and growing any business. If the market doesn't know about you, it won't give you its business. Established Signing Agents typically use multiple signing registries, referral services, networking organizations, and various other resources to find work. You often can increase your assignments by improving your marketing or sales message. First impressions often are the most important, and they usually happen fast. So it's important to be prepared with an initial sales message or pitch that identifies who you are, what you do, why you do it, when you do it and how you do it. An effective sales message can be used anywhere from a Chamber of Commerce reception to an elevator ride. Developing your own message is simple. First, write down all the services and benefits you provide. For example: • Service: 24/7 Mobile Notary • Benefit: Convenience of having your documents notarized in your own home/office • Benefit: Excellent customer service • Benefit: Ethics and integrity Next, craft the message to show your audience what's in it for them — the only thing your audience wants to hear is what you can do for them. Here's an example. Imagine you're at a business conference, and you've just introduced yourself as a Certified Notary Signing Agent to a potential client. You have 30 seconds to leave an impression: 'Title companies rely on me to achieve their goals and provide their clients with the highest quality service and integrity in every loan closing — 24/7. When you need an experienced Signing Agent to make sure everything is done right the first time, call me.' Avoid leading with statements that focus on you rather than your customer, such as, 'I am proud to provide excellent customer service to all my clients 24/7 with ethics and integrity.' Everyone needs a Notary now and then, but no one will remember you if you cannot drive home how you can serve them. You also should reinforce your message with an effective marketing kit. Avoid those expensive, gimmicky versions we've all seen at trade shows and other business-to-business events. Glossy brochures, branded poly-bags and branded trinkets might have an immediate 'wow' effect, but they usually wind up in your trash bin or at the bottom of your desk drawer. Keep your marketing kit simple. It should consist of a cover letter that includes a schedule of your fees, your hours of operation, and several of your business cards. All these items can be placed in a large envelope, a folder or they can even be unpackaged. The purpose of your marketing kit is to keep your name and phone number front and center of the recipient so they will call you when they have a need for your services. Expanding Your Horizons While your bread-and-butter business comes from the mortgage industry, don't overlook the potential of other industries. Every industry needs a Notary or comes in contact with people who do. While many companies employ Notaries, conditions change. Employees turn over, other service providers become unavailable, or they are in a new location without access to the service you provide. You could consider anything from convenience stores to auto services to travel and concierge services. Your options will vary depending on your location. A good approach is to develop a list of all of the potential businesses in the geographic area you serve. Then set up a tracking system to keep tabs of your outreach efforts to them. There are many applications for laptops, tablets or smartphones to do this, or writing in a simple binder notebook will work. At minimum, your tracking system should include: the name of the business and person visited, the date of each visit, and notes about any relevant conversation or follow-up appointment. Now it's time to put your plan into action. Set aside time each week to visit potential new clients and start making the rounds to deliver your sales message and marketing kit. Keep the initial visit short — no more than two minutes in the office. This initial visit is not to sell a product; it is to sell the idea of you. Ask for a business card (if appropriate) and keep it. Be patient and repeat the same visits in two weeks. It is common in business development practices to make at least three visits before a sale is closed. Your business is no different. Managing Yourself Sole proprietors often behave like the 'worker' as opposed to the 'CEO.' You are also your own best sales rep, so it's crucial to manage yourself, track your progress, and hold yourself to your expectations. Be your own best boss. No business is successful without a dynamic sales team with effective leadership. Chrissey Ladd is the NNA's 2011 Notary of the Year. She is active in the Notary community in New Jersey and has held commissions in three states over the past 15 years.