Could you give me some advice on how to advertise my notary services?

If you are interested in using your notary commission to an extra income, advertising your services may be a way to build or increase your business. Before you leap into 60-second radio commercials or full-page ads in your local newspaper, let's discuss some important aspects of advertising.

First, you should consult the notary law. Subsections 117.05(10) & (11), Florida Statutes, must be your guide if you are not an attorney and are advertising your notary services in a foreign language. Your advertisement must contain the following notice in English and in the language used for the advertisement: "I am not an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Florida, and I may not give legal advice or accept fees for legal advice." You are also prohibited from translating the term "Notary Public" into a language other than English. These requirements apply to advertisements via radio, television, signs, pamphlets, newspaper, or other written communication, with the exception of a single desk plaque. Additionally, some notaries like to imprint their notary seal on written advertisements. We advise against this. The notary law requires that a notary seal must be affixed to all notarized documents. §117.107(3)(a), Fla. Stat. The law does not authorize any other use of the notary seal.

Next, decide what services you will provide. Are you willing to perform marriage ceremonies? Some notaries prefer not to solemnize the rites of matrimony for religious reasons. Would you be willing to travel to a hospital, nursing home, office, or private residence to perform your duties? If so, you may need to set specific hours that are convenient to you and the public. You should also be careful that you do not advertise services that you, as a notary public, are not authorized to perform. For example, do not advertise that you provide certified translations or signature guarantees, judge contests or certify contest results, or "notarize" photographs or collectable memorabilia, etc. These are not authorized duties of a Florida notary public, and to perform such duties in your capacity as a notary public is unlawful. Additionally, unless you are a licensed attorney, you may not give legal advice or prepare legal documents, such as those pertaining to immigration, trusts, etc.

When deciding on the types of services you will provide, you should also consider establishing a schedule of fees. This will provide consistency and demonstrate credibility with your customers, and avoid the appearance of discrimination. Remember, though, you cannot exceed the maximum fees allowed by law up to $10 per notarial act or up to $20 for solemnizing marriage. If you are asked to travel 25 miles to a hospital in a neighboring town, are you willing to do it? If so, you may want to charge your customary fee for the notarization and a small fee for travel expense. In performing a marriage ceremony, will you provide additional services, such as flowers, photographer, wedding cake, etc.? If so, you have a right to be compensated for these extras. However, make sure that your customer understands your fees prior to performing the services. We recommend that you always give an itemized receipt for your services. Receipts also provide you with reliable records for income tax preparation. Advertise only those services that you are willing to perform, and be careful that you do not discriminate between customers. If you advertise your services, you should be willing to provide those services to everyone.

Additionally, think about the medium to use for your advertising. What will reach the most people for the money you have to spend? Besides advertisements in newspapers, on radio and television, and window or street signs, you may consider advertising in the newsletter of your church or civic organization, putting up a poster in your community supermarket (with the permission of management), posting a sign by your office copy machine, or passing out your own business cards to people you come in contact with. Some companies specialize in direct mail advertising in conjunction with other advertisers for a nominal cost. A long-lasting advertising medium, such as your telephone yellow pages, may also be an option. Whatever medium you use, spend some time refining your advertisement. Remember, you want to catch the attention of your reader or listener.

If you post a sign in your yard, be sure to check with your local government to find out what ordinances may govern your advertising. Some local governments would not consider a small sign displayed tastefully in your front yard as advertising a business in a residential area. Other local governments, though, have ordinances that strictly prohibit such displays. In addition, there may be local laws that would require you to obtain an occupational license.

Finally, you should know that a notary public and a Justice of the Peace are not the same. Florida has not had Justices of the Peace since January 2, 1973, when the office was abolished by law. Therefore, you should not advertise your services as a Justice of the Peace. This may be considered deceptive advertising. The Economic Crimes Division of the Florida Department of Legal Affairs (the Attorney General's Office) strongly warns notaries against deceptive, false or misleading advertising.

Advertising can be an effective way of making your services known as a notary public. Before you advertise, though, you should investigate and think through all your options to make sure that you are obeying the law and that your efforts will be profitable.