Whether you’re starting out as Notary Signing Agent or looking to expand, a good business plan will keep you organized and focused on the essentials. Here are five tips for creating a solid business plan from David Howell, a Texas Notary, business owner and mentor with SCORE, a national nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground. 1. Define the service your business will provide. The first and most important part of your business plan is to define exactly what Notary services your business will offer. “Notaries come in all shapes and sizes, so you have to ask yourself what you are going to do with your business,” Howell said. For example, will you focus solely on loan document services or offer general notarization services to the public? Do you want to target a specific clientele, such as healthcare facilities and senior centers, or broaden your services to the general public? Will you provide services in a single area or are you willing to travel, and if so how far? “You’re not ready to move forward until you can answer the following question in a clear, simple way: ‘How will I deliver my services and to whom?’” Howell said. 2. Decide what type of business entity you wish to form. Once you’ve defined your business, Howell says the next step is to research and determine what kind of business entity — such as a sole proprietorship or a Limited Liability Company — works best for you. Depending on budget and preference, Notaries may wish to research and apply to form a business themselves or consult with an attorney to assist with startup paperwork. Howell suggested Notaries visit the websites for their Secretary of State, state comptroller and the IRS to research different types of business entities and obtain necessary application instructions and forms. 3. Organize a startup and operating budget. You’ll need to put together a budget of startup and operating costs for your business, including commission and Notary tools, office supplies and equipment, and startup and business filing costs. Howell strongly recommended that new business owners obtain errors and omissions insurance to cover them in the event of a claim for a notarization issue. He also recommended obtaining a general business owner’s policy that offers protection against accidents on the job and other business-related liability issues not covered by Notary E&O policies. Howell suggested speaking with an independent insurance agent who’s familiar with both Notary E&O and general insurance to help select what coverage is best suited for your business. If you need a loan to help start your business, there are several options available including local banks, the Small Business Administration or even through family or friends. New business owners should research terms and availability of a startup loan and include them into the budget plan, Howell said. 4. Include ways to market yourself and reach customers in your business plan. Many new business owners don’t put enough preparation into advertising, finding new business or retaining customers, Howell said. “You will need to come up with ways to reach out regularly to clients, suppliers and vendors. Create and sustain value for your customers,” he said. “If you don’t stay in front of your customers, someone else will.” 5. Set a schedule to assess how your business is performing on a regular basis.Include a periodic assessment of how your company is doing as part of your business plan, Howell said. Each month or business quarter, you should review how your business is doing, see if you met your financial goals, and review what work strategies paid off or failed so you stay flexible and successful. “Many businesses don’t do that,” Howell said. “It’s important to stop for a moment, put your head above the trees, and see what’s been happening.” David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.