The Mandrien Blog

SEO For Dummies. Seriously.

We recently asked the heads of some startups and maturing companies why they’ve avoided optimizing SEO for their websites. The most common reason we received was some variation on the same theme, namely “SEO seems like this complicated and time-consuming thing that requires a lot of knowledge we don’t have.”
 
 There’s a perception throughout the business community that SEO is extremely complex, and this is the reason so many companies choose to completely ignore it. While this reputation is somewhat deserved, the basics of search engine optimization are actually fairly straightforward. Also, if you and your company ignore SEO, the result is that you’re basically turning your back on the largest source of free customers on the Web, which is Google. This potentially limits growth and lowers revenues by refusing to use what is essentially a free marketing tool.
 
A Quick Test: Does Your SEO Need Improvement?  
 
Many webmasters don’t even realize that they’re either ignoring SEO or actually actively making it difficult for Google to discover their content, albeit not on purpose. Here are three quick ways to find out if your websites SEO needs improvement:  
 
• Do a site search on Google at site:yoursite.com. The results should yield at least as many pages as the number of pages on your website. If not, you may have a problem.
 
• Your URLs should not have long strings of random letters and numbers that don’t make any sense, such as “http://www.art.com/gallery/id–b20122/costume-fashion-posters.htm?ui=C00E35085A574472B0B64F1F0229765C”
 
• If your page titles don’t accurately describe the content that is contained on each page of your website, you’re limiting Google’s ability to identify what each page contains in terms of information.
 
When any of these examples describe your website, you need to take some time out of your busy schedule to fix your SEO and make your website more Google- and user-friendly. It wont take long at all. Simply set aside an hour or two and take these five basic steps that will vastly improve your websites SEO and position it to get more Google traffic:  

Strategic Planning Isn't For the Faint of Heart

Keeping up with a company’s daily operations is often difficult enough as it is. In the midst of the daily hustle and bustle, taking a step back in order to think or act in a strategic manner can be a tall order. However, the sum of our daily business actions can produce the results and transformations a company needs to stay competitive—or can result in the incremental inefficiency that brings a company down. Acting strategically requires business stamina and strategic muscle. And businesses develop those muscles by using strategic planning to improve their strengths and fortifying their weak areas.
 
Strategic Planning is an Imperative
 
Without a good plan to follow, businesses will often experience mission drift and suffer a slow demise as a culmination of poor decisions and misguided actions exact their damage over long periods of time. Strategic planning helps bring clarity to an otherwise cloudy business vision. The very process of strategic planning helps a company identify market trends and customer preferences, which the company can then address accordingly. Laying down a solid business plan establishes the correct architecture for fiscally responsible growth, and—second only to superb execution—is the single most important determinant of organizational success. Success largely depends on an entity’s ability to build internal capacity and capability that sets in on the right path.
 
No Pain, No Gain
 
Strategic planning is rigorous work. Organizations new to the discipline sometimes get discouraged early on, wondering if the effort they are expending will be worth the payoff. Of course, most of us already know that strategic planning is well worth the effort, but for the naysayers and doubters out there, let’s spell out the benefits.
 
Strategic planning achieves the following goals:
 
Forces consideration and planning for the future: Strategic planning helps define a course of action that furthers the mission of the organization and creates the capacity to grow successfully. A thorough strategic planning process identifies potential growth markets that can be investment opportunities for the organization’s resources. Such markets can become the next generation of revenue sources and replace those that are becoming saturated, undergoing fundamental changes that pose risk to the business, or experiencing decline.
 
Identifies the correct organizational priorities: Because strategic planning involves a structured analysis of initiatives, it forces companies to align their spending with their priorities. On a more subtle level, strategic planning relates to hiring decisions. Correct hiring practices support strategic programs by supplying the business with the right talent at the right time. The operational plans, within the strategic planning umbrella, spell out those requirements. Additionally, strategic planning promotes job performance accountability and gives incentives for completing goal-related initiatives. For the roles and responsibilities of an organization’s personnel to remain clear, the right incentives must be provided for those who perform high quality work. Employees that understand their role in the company and know exactly how to perform their job and contribute positively to the organization become empowered team players.
 
Provides structure and accountability: People thrive best in structured environments—including well-organized workplaces. A strategic plan aligns thinking, action, and values, and it helps motivate management and employees by giving them a clear direction to work toward. Strong line-level managers and employees are better able to guide the operations of a company and take the reins for the goal-supporting initiatives that fuel a company’s future. Using organizational performance indicators and metrics makes controlling and managing workflow easier, as this information indicates the need for evaluation and analysis early, when corrections can be made more easily and at less cost. Once proper accountability is established, those closest to the action in a business can respond quickly and appropriately when needed—always operating within predefined spheres of control and in concert with the strategic goals. This system allows employees to embrace the business vision and fully participate in its tactical execution.
 
Strengthens culture: Ultimately, strategic plans help strengthen an organization’s corporate culture. In practical terms, the process of planning the execution of strategy means energizing and inspiring people so that they truly invest themselves in the organization’s continued success. In order to achieve this goal, the CEO must serve as a sort of “strategy ambassador.” Everyone in the organization should fully believe that their actions are relevant to the business’s achieving its mission and strategic objectives. This sense of involvement should include all executive management, senior managers and employees; but it also extends to customers, vendors, partners, investors and even boards of directors. Open and honest communication about a company’s strategy a vital ingredient to achieving employee buy-in—and the motivation and inspiration that results from it. In fact, a key aspect of the planning process is creating the most effective communication pathways possible. Good communication unifies the organization behind a goal, and subsequently the culture grows stronger and healthier.
 
The Cost of Not Acting Strategically
 
Just as there are payoffs to diligently performing strategic planning, there are consequences for neglecting to do so. Consider Borders Books. Once a prominent brand, they no longer exist today and have even vanished from the online shopping world.
 
The old Borders website redirects shoppers to the Barnes & Noble website with a welcome message to Borders customers.
 
Undoubtedly, Borders Books is a sad example of a business that failed to plan for their future correctly. As a result, in September 2011 Borders Books closed its doors forever. The company liquidated all of its assets and delivered pink slips to approximately 11,000 employees.

Meanwhile, as a result of smarter strategies that recognized and accounted for changing dynamics in their marketplace, competitors like Barnes & Noble fared much better. How can two such similar bookstore giants end up on such divergent paths?
 
For starters, as early as the 1990‘s, Barnes & Nobles noted the growth and popularity of online book sales and e-books. The company adopted a strategy to become a player in online book sales and invested in programs that would make it a major player in the sale of books over the Internet. This strategy paid off. Their early entrance into online sales arrived in time to capture market share and establish a beachhead. Likewise, Barnes & Noble developed the Nook to strategically position themselves with the market segment that prefers to read e-books. On the other hand, Borders Books ignored the market trend, outsourcing its online sales to competitor Amazon—a decision that turned out to be a huge strategic blunder for Borders. Borders also pumped money into plant capacity to support distribution of physical books, despite the declining market, and updated their retail store across their large network. Instead of taking a dynamic stance, they stayed in the same rut even as the market changed. Borders wasn’t able to evolve quickly enough, and it suffered as a result of its lack of strategy.
 
Finding the Right Strategy for Your Company
 
In terms of a business operation, capacity refers to the actual or potential ability to perform smoothly, yield results, and withstand challenges. Capability means actually living up to this potential. Capability is the sum of expertise, hard work, and capacity. Strategic planning helps systematically expand a company’s capacity and develop its capability. However, be aware that strategic planning is rigorous work. Organizations new to the discipline often get discouraged when the first challenges arise. It’s much easier to follow a rut than to interact dynamically with your current and potential markets.
 
For business organizations to consistently demonstrate strategic behavior, the enterprise must have developed the strategic “muscle” it takes to get the job done and the business stamina to actually accomplish its goals. Businesses build strategic muscle by developing their strengths (increasing capability) and fortifying in their weak areas (increasing capacity) through strategic planning.
 
Without a good plan to follow, businesses languish in their current-state and fail to evolve into modern competitive enterprises. So start thinking today about how you can start developing and flexing those strategic muscles—and watch the success that follows from having a proactive, strategic outlook. But remember: strategic planning isn’t for the faint of heart. 
 

Goldman Sachs: Where is the Accountability?

The financial services sector greases the wheels of industry, funds innovation, and keeps America competitive on the worldwide arena—where would we be without it? Responsible investing makes the world go ‘round, and many of the nation’s best and brightest minds have become the moving forces in this industry.

 

The American people put a great deal of faith in our financial institutions. We allow them to grow “too big to fail,” tie up our economic wellbeing with their performance, and bail them out when they are in trouble. But what happens when banks take advantage of our good faith, making obscene profits while leaving our economy in shambles?

 

Nothing happens, apparently. These companies operate in a consequence-free environment—and they know it.  

 

This August, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) declined to bring criminal charges against Goldman Sachs, one of the banks whose recklessness and greed contributed to the devastating 2008 financial crisis our nation is still reeling from. There is a possibility the SEC will bring civil charges against Goldman Sachs, extracting what would be the equivalent of pocket change in the world of high finance. Meanwhile, the individuals and entities responsible for the crisis will not be held accountable.

 

So what exactly happened? The deeper you dig, the more damning the evidence.

 

At the heart of the crisis lie subprime mortgages. Homeownership is the American dream, and many who cannot reasonably afford a house still aspire to have one. Traditionally, a person with shaky credit history or poor documentation will be denied a mortgage. They might apply in good faith, with every intention of paying their loan back on time—but at the end of the month, good intentions can’t write a check, and underwriters who must be fully accountable for their actions usually decline to take such a risk.

 

But in the past decade, banks became more reckless as they took on subprime mortgages. They even lured customers in with introductory “teaser” rates, sweetening the deal so that financially illiterate borrowers would be induced to take loans they probably wouldn’t be able to pay once the true, steep interest rates kicked in. This risky mortgage debt was then batched together and sold and resold to third parties.

 

In 2006, Goldman Sachs executives realized they were sitting on over $2 billion of junk debt. The subprime chickens were coming home to roost: once the borrowers began defaulting—and it was clear they would soon be defaulting—those securities would become practically worthless, ripping a large hole in the American economy.

 

So what did Goldman Sachs do? Instead of taking steps to nip the looming financial crisis in the bud, it shuffled the mortgage debt around and batched it so that it would receive a falsely high rating from rating agencies. Goldman Sachs thus helped create a massive bubble—assets valued in the billions but practically worthless. They aggressively sold these toxic assets to third parties. And then Goldman Sachs used its insider knowledge of the impending worthlessness of these securities to bet against them and made billions in the process.

 

Internal memos and emails indicate that Goldman Sachs executives were fully aware of what they were doing (even mocking the suckers who bought the garbage bonds). In the end, it was the taxpayers who had to pay the price once the bubble popped. Goldman Sachs itself received about $13 billion from the AIG bailout—an insurance payout for the securities Goldman Sachs knew would fail.

 

Goldman Sachs played a corrupt system against itself and profited off the American people in the process. The masterminds behind these dealings were aware that they would suffer no personal repercussions for their actions, and to date Goldman Sachs has been fined only $550 million dollars. Now that SEC has declined to pursue any criminal charges, Goldman Sachs only faces the possibility of the piddling fines that would be taken from it in civil suits.

 

This is outrageous.

 

Banks and other major financial institutions have worked for the past two decades to erode the power of regulatory agencies—we must bring back accountability, create real consequences, and eliminate the incentives that cause banks to take unreasonable risks. No bank should make a profit at the taxpayers’ expense by betting against itself or sabotaging other institutions

 
The silver lining to this whole debacle is that it has gotten people talking about the role banks play in our society—even if those conversations aren’t always productive. As the American economy progresses down the road of recovery, perhaps now we’ll be able to make policy changes that protect us from the devastation that can result from of a few powerful individuals. This is a systemic problem, and until we fix the system we will continue incentivizing betting against the American economy. But by failing to continue its investigation, the SEC has sent a very clear message to banks: you are still operating in a consequence-free zone.
 
 

About Mandrien:

 

Mandrien Consulting Group is a management consulting and strategic planning  firm that serves the title and mortgage industries with results-driven services. Already a proven leader in this industry, Mandrien built its reputation on consistently delivering desired results. Through its expanded products and services — which include strategic development, process optimization, and technology planning Mandrien can assist title and mortgage companies with all of their consulting needs.

 

 

 

Beware: Dont Make This Common Fatal Licensing Renewal Error!

Does this question look familiar?

 

“Since original licensure or last renewal is the business entity or any owner, partner, or director a party to, or been found liable in any lawsuit or arbitration proceeding involving allegations of fraud, misappropriation or conversion of funds, misrepresentation or breach of fiduciary duty?

 

This question (or a variation of it) is common on license renewal forms. And many agencies answer it incorrectly.

 

How does your agency handle license renewals? Do you pay attention to each step of the process, or to you simply have an admin jump online and check off “No” as the answer to all the questions?

 

If you simply check off “No” when the answer is actually “Yes,” you are opening your title agency up to some serious issues. Perhaps you simply made a mistake, thinking that failing an audit of an escrow account by a state department of insurance isn’t a breach of fiduciary duty. But it might be construed as such. If you failed to disclose a proceeding, you are liable to be fined and might even forfeit your license.

 

Consider the worst-case scenario: you are caught by the state department for answering a question incorrectly. Not only must you deal with the immediate repercussions of your incorrect answer, but you must also now self-report to multiple states, an act which will in turn result in a second, more intense round of fines and investigations.

 

The licensing renewal process is a tricky business. To do it properly takes a great deal of care and consideration. It’s so much easier to brush the process off and give approximate information, hoping everything will pan out for the best. Unfortunately, if your agency makes a false move, it leaves itself vulnerable to some extremely onerous consequences.

 

So what do you choose? Do you spend a great deal of time and effort making sure you deal with your license renewals properly each year, or do you fill out the forms hastily and hope it all works out for the best?

 

There is a third option. You could let the licensing experts at Mandrien handle the process for you. Mandrien has literally written the book on title agency licensing, and we have ongoing contracts with agencies across the country that help them remain compliant on their licenses.

 

You produce excellent title. Focus on that, and let Mandrien Consulting Group help you with the administrative red tape. Our experts are happy to talk to you about the licensing and compliance processes. Call us today at 917-338-4222 to learn more!


Author

Alex Crompton

Understanding the Value of Investment in Website Development

As a business, your website creates your first impression. Setting a budget for this key asset is centrally important. Finding the right information is frustrating, however, because design companies resist revealing total costs. Mandrien Consulting Group understands. This article helps by providing an overview of the elements of website design so you can create a realistic budget from a place of informed understanding.
 
Step 1: Your Website is Your Business
 
A business’s website is its modern day handshake. It takes moments for your customers to decide if your company is what they need. Your first impression must be tremendous and bring them directly to resolving their needs through your conversion goals. Overall website architecture and functionality set the foundation, but Mandrien Consulting Group knows there is more to consider:
• Catching Customers’ Attention: organizing elements like animations, presentations, CMS manageable interactive features, videos and slide shows to bring customers to your home page and keep them there.
• Establishing Your Brand: generating content for landing pages, blogs and online brochures along with e-mail templates that capture the power of your brand
• System Management: including deciding on a content system like Drupal or WordPress, working with messaging, and considering mobile requirements
The decisions you make about these elements directly influences the overall design cost. For our customers at Mandrien Consulting Group, these expenses cost most companies between 4 and 10 percent of their overall annual advertising budget when combined with a monthly advertising allowance.
 
Step 2: How Much to Invest
 
Developing a business website can range from $500 to several hundred thousand dollars for a fully-customized e-commerce solution or database-driven website. What’s right for you? Consider these questions, keeping in mind a 3 year budget as websites generally last 2-3 years before needing major revision:
• What is the guiding vision that determines the overall goals of my business?
• What role does my website play in building my brand experience and generating revenue?
• With this in mind, what part of my total marketing budget does it deserve?
Mandrien Consulting Group provides website services that range from an inexpensive revision of current material to a detailed collaborative analysis of your business plan, marketing strategy and brand to build an entirely new online marketing campaign. Either approach helps, but the more Mandrien Consulting Group and your company work together the higher the potential is that the site we build and the marketing we establish will double or even triple your revenue over the next few years.
 
Step 3: Quality Means Customers
 
A bad website not only fails to bring in new customers, but also wreaks havoc on the reputation of your brand. The people behind the design of the website at the front of your business make all the difference. Keeping within the budget you determine, Mandrien Consulting Group has put together a crack team of creative talent to take your business through a proven, customized process that will result in an exceptional website crafted to the unique qualities of your business.
 
Step 4: The Details
 
Mandrien Consulting Group has found that successful websites often include the following:
• Creative Brief: a clear articulation of your marketing strategies developed through a discovery process • Site Map: a customer-friendly and easily navigable outline of your website
• Visual Direction & Messaging: an attractive home page layout for your marketing objectives
• Interior Page Template: an interactive design for subpages that emphasizes your brand identify and allows visitors to easily flow through your site
• Professional Content: copywriting that is optimized for easy scanning and designed to bring them to your calls of action
• Animation: attractive scenes that capture essential points in concise visualizations • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): content that broadens the field of your searchable keywords and raises your search engine ranking
• Brand-Specific Blog: the central hub of your public relations and a home for valuable SEO
• E-mail Stationery: a customized brand template to help you capitalize on the best ROI marketing available
• PDF Brochure: a user-friendly file with all the details so customers can save it, print it and share it
• Interactive Contact Forms: a simple online way for customers to contact you and for you to gather data automatically
• Calls to Action: landing pages that draw your visitors directly to your conversion goals
 
Step 5: Mandrien Consulting Group
 
Individually, these website elements can cost from a few hundred up to thousands of dollars, clearly making the development of an online brand through a customized website a major investment. The growth in revenues and brand awareness among your customers, however, is tremendous. Mandrien Consulting Group has a history of breathing new life into business brands and returning unbelievable ROIs. From lucrative small-business sites at a cost of less than $5,000 to fully customized brand revivals, Mandrien Consulting Group can provide the services you need.

Potential Clients are Looking For You. But Can They Find You?

In the good old days—say, five or ten years ago—online brand promotion was relatively simple. You made a good website with some useful information. Maybe you uploaded a brochure. And then you called it a day. Even a decade ago, many companies in the title industry only put forth a minimal effort to cultivate their online brand presence. They had other priorities when it came to marketing and business development. But the way that people collect information has changed drastically in the past few years. Title agencies and other companies must respond accordingly, or they will be left behind.


Nowadays, potential clients and business partners are turning to the internet as they search for their title solution. As a businessperson, you need to ask yourself, What are they seeing about my company? Are they even seeing my company at all? Title agencies and other businesses are responsible for ensuring that their company’s brand is highly visible online. You have products and services that people need—but if they can’t find you, they’ll never even consider you as an option. If you’re operating your website the same way that you were in 2005, it’s time for an update. It’s your responsibility to make sure that, when people search Google for services you provide, your website pops up in the results.

 
Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is a key way to ensure your company gets the exposure it deserves. For many people, a Google search is the first step to finding information on the internet—whether they are looking for a restaurant review, a definition, or a good title agency. SEO helps you make sure that potential clients who are looking for services you provide are able to find you.
 

SEO is implemented by tweaking a webpage in such a way that makes the page more attractive for certain key words to the algorithms that search engines use. By emphasizing the right key words and using the appropriate SEO techniques, your company’s online visibility can increase substantially. Bolstering your webpage’s ranking for various search terms is one of the most effective marketing techniques there is, because it makes all internet users who search the right terms potential leads.

 

Furthermore, by giving you control over search results, SEO helps you manage your brand’s image online. You can choose what portions of your website you would like to emphasize for different search terms. The landing page is a basic concept in online marketing: bringing users to the precise webpage they are searching for is an excellent way to help them down your sales funnel. SEO sets your business up for success.

 

An example of effective Search Engine Optimization. If you Google-search “title agency marketing,” Mandrien is featured in six of the first ten results.

 

SEO used have a mystical air to it—almost nobody knew how or why it worked, and most SEO specialist used shady methods to game the system. But nowadays it has become a standard part of many companies’ marketing efforts. And, in an industry where the constant influx of new business is often a necessary part of a healthy business model, a effective SEO campaign can be the difference between thriving and foundering.

 

Mandrien Consulting Group has been helping businesses manage their online presence for years, be it through designing stellar websites, managing social media efforts, or providing the SEO services necessary to help a company increase its bottom line. To learn more about our SEO services and to hear more about our success stories, call us at 917-338-4222.

 

Analysis Paralysis: Don't be a Deer in Headlights

               We all know the old expression about a deer freezing when it is caught in headlights. The deer finds itself in a dangerous, confusing situation, and instead of making any moves to protect itself, it simply stays put. This paralysis in the face of danger is often deadly—before states began outlawing the practice, many deer were felled by unsportsmanlike hunters flicking on their high beams.


Why doesn’t the deer do something? What on earth is it waiting for? Many title agencies should look to themselves for an answer to this question.


            The fact is that many title agencies are in the same position as that deer. They are faced with a tremendous new challenge—staying competitive in a swiftly changing industry, revolutionized by the consolidation of the financial services sector and the sudden improvement of tech infrastructure—and they find themselves paralyzed. They spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve their agency. But they don’t do a darn thing. And they are on the track to failure because of it.


            Title agencies suffer from what we like to call “analysis paralysis.” The prospect of change is too overwhelming and seems too risky. Changing long-held habits seems impossible. So instead of addressing their institutional limitations to move forward, they don't do anything at all. They fool themselves, thinking they are biding their time or waiting for some impossibly perfect opportunity to present itself. In other instances, agencies flood themselves with information about how to improve their business process but then never take the plunge because they are bogged down trying to find the chimerical risk-free process improvement methodology. Meanwhile, their competitors are moving forward, expanding, and improving their services.


            Luckily, there are easy methods an agency can take to prevent analysis paralysis and successfully implement process improvements.


            First, agencies should engage pertinent, digestible information about their industry and market. By staying grounded in practical information, they can make an informed decision about how to go about effecting improvements at their business, instead of drowning themselves in an endless flood of minutiae. Gaining a robust knowledge of the local and national market and of the associated risks and benefits of a change is indispensible. All agencies should know the benefits and challenges involved in expanding their footprint to new jurisdictions. Researching new technological opportunities and analyzing their potential benefits are important steps as well. But an agency should be sure not to let itself use research as a method of procrastinating much-needed enhancements to its business practices.


            Agencies should also look to thought leaders across the industry to see what the current trends are—what people are talking about, what works, and what doesn’t. Are all your competitors automating a certain step in their transactions? Are agents talking about a new software? What are people discussing on Linkedin groups? Take advantage of this information—there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Scrupulously following trends and working to stay current are some of the best ways to spot new opportunities. Oftentimes the practical knowledge gained from these sources can be just the thing needed to jump-start a slow-moving process improvement.


            Mandrien provides products and services that can help agencies suffering from analysis paralysis. Our comprehensive title agent licensing manual includes relevant information about rules and regulations in all 51 jurisdictions and features helpful tips and tricks our consultants have picked up in the trenches. Mandrien also offers process optimization and Six Sigma consultation, thus providing a personalized step-by-step roadmap to enjoying the benefits of working at full efficiency.


            Don’t be a deer caught in the headlights! Analysis is a vital part of any process improvement, but a well-executed analysis is very different from using data-gathering as a way to avoid taking the risks necessary to stay competitive. Call Mandrien at 917 338-4222 for more information, or to schedule a free consultation.

Six Sigma for Title Agencies

Many professionals are still operating under the misconception that Six Sigma process optimization techniques aren’t useful in services industries such as title insurance. I don’t have an assembly line, they think, so how could Six Sigma help me?

This misunderstanding is damaging to title agencies because it keeps them from reaping the benefits of an effective Six Sigma campaign.

The fact is that Six Sigma is especially effective in a title agency setting, where many players must work together harmoniously to complete each transaction. Inefficiencies can be easily overlooked in the flurry of activity surrounding them. Those managing a title agency are usually aware that their agency needs an improved business model—they simply don’t know where to begin. A Six Sigma consultation is an excellent way of getting the very roadmap an agency needs to guide itself through the improvement process.

Six Sigma is a codified method of pinpointing errors in an organization’s processes so that those errors can be address and eliminated. For a title agency, an error can be caused by anything from an unnecessarily slow turn time, to a surplus or dearth of personnel in a certain department, to an employee’s confusion over the appropriate course of action under a certain set of circumstances.

A Six Sigma consultation begins by identifying and listening to the “voice of the customer.” In this case, “customer” not only refers to clients, but also staff, management, and vendors—basically, anyone with a stake in the process. A forthright assessment from all those involved in common transactions is invaluable—and all it takes is a little prompting and a good faith show of receptivity. Gaining a global understanding of an organization’s “corporate culture” can be extremely illuminating for those trying to understand the organization’s shortcomings.

Once a business has an idea of what exactly drives customer satisfaction, it can begin examining the ways it is failing to provide full customer satisfaction. The ultimate goal is the total or near-total elimination of errors. For title agencies, the most obvious, common problems—slow turn times and a low volume capacity—usually have a number of underlying failures causing them, and these underlying causes differ drastically from agency to agency. Six Sigma is at its heart an analytic method (its name, after all, comes from a statistical term), so it turns to quantitative methods to identify these underlying causes. Extensive data analysis shows weaknesses and flaws in the process. In addition to the qualitative information gathered by speaking with employees on all levels of an organization, the consultant must gather comprehensive data and pore over it for signs of variability and inefficiency.

Wastage is insidious for those in the title industry because often agencies don’t even realize how inefficient their process is. The quality control process must address an agency’s full potential—not just the full potential of its current way of doing business. Six Sigma consultants know when to fix a broken system and when to suggest scrapping the old system and replacing it with something more effective in the long run.

When hiring a consultant to perform Six Sigma for your title agency, it is imperative to find a consultant who has intimate knowledge of the title industry, because many of the potential improvements might involve new technology, platforms, or outsourcing options about which a consultant outside the industry probably wouldn’t have any knowledge.

To learn more about how Six Sigma can bring your agency to the next level, call Mandrien Consulting Group at 917-388-4222. Our consultants would be more than happy to explain how many title companies across the nation have already used Six Sigma techniques to improve their profitability, even during a downturn in the housing market.

When Doing a Better Job Isn't Good Enough

Simply doing a better job isn’t good enough anymore.

 

Performing the same old tasks faster won’t cut it. Title agencies realize they must improve the efficiency of their methods to stay competitive in an industry that has entered a period of flux. But many agencies are making the mistake of thinking they can keep up simply by hiring more employees or pushing their staff to work harder. This is a dangerously limited approach to business improvement, because it neglects to address the framework in which the employees are working.

 

No matter how much you tweak outdated methods, they will never help you flourish in an industry that has already moved forward. No matter how much you soup up a car, it will never outstrip a jet.   

 

Mandrien has been working overtime the past couple of weeks helping several title agencies across the country improve their business methods. These agencies were successful and expanding, but they had come against a wall. They had refined their old methods to perfection, but found they still couldn’t keep up. In order to remain successful, they realized, they had to make some bigger changes. That’s why they called us in.

 

Luckily for them, they had already taken the first step to process improvement. They accepted that change was inevitable and decided to move forward. Many agencies are resistant to the prospect of change—either because they are too attached to their old ways or simply too scared to take the plunge—and put off improvements indefinitely. This mistake is often fatal.

 

So what are some ways that a title agency could undergo a process improvement?

 

First, better technology is indispensable. The right software will automate rote tasks, guide the process step by step, and keep all interested parties easily apprised of new developments. A sturdy technological infrastructure will also allow agencies to scale upward and downward quickly without sacrificing efficiency. By automatically time-stamping key points in the process, software can help management monitor key turn-time metrics so they can quickly identify and eliminate bottlenecks. Investing in new technology opens up new possibilities in efficiency and quality control.

 

Furthermore, the new technology should allow the agency to adopt a paperless process. Going paperless can be a difficult step for some title professionals. Many agents become attached to physical files and visualize their workflow in terms of stacks of paper. But storing documents online means they can be easily transferred to, and quickly accessed by, interested parties. The paperless title process is here to stay, and agencies should profit of it as quickly as possible.

 

Agencies should also take a good hard look at their process map and consider task redistribution. Are a constant influx of routine telephone calls and emails keeping staff from concentrating on their job? Create a call center staffed with highly trained customer service reps. Could outsourcing certain steps save the agency time and money? Research vendors and weigh the possibility. Understanding how all employees fit into the larger framework of the organization is the linchpin of the task redistribution process, so creating a detailed organizational chart can be helpful.

 

Finally, many agencies benefit from calling in an expert who can use business process improvement techniques such as Six Sigma to pinpoint the individual agency’s strengths and weaknesses. Without an outside pair of eyes, many agencies don’t realize where their true limitations lie. An analytic approach to identifying and removing defects is an excellent way to ensure an agency’s long-term profitability.

 

Now is the time to embrace the new possibilities that technology has opened up for the title industry. No matter how perfectly an agency hones the old methods, it will fall short of its competitors if it doesn't evaluate and ultimately implement certain changes. Stop making the same mistakes—look into process improvement today.

 
 

SIX TYPES OF REAL ESTATE FRAUD AND WHAT MANDRIEN CONSULTING GROUP  SUGGESTS WE DO ABOUT IT

Though the real estate system is set up with multiple checks meant to keep all the players in a transaction accountable, our industry has so much money floating around and so many different individuals involved in each transaction that full visibility is practically impossible. Every day scammers are thinking up new and creative ways to game the system, or falling back on old tricks to defraud new victims. At Mandrien Consulting Group we believe it is our responsibility as real estate professionals to educate ourselves about the different types of fraud so we can have an eye for them if we ever encounter them in the course of our dealings—and so we can close loopholes and create an industry culture more conducive to spotting scams and nipping them in the bud. Here is a list of six common types of real estate fraud to be used as a resource both for homebuyers and for real estate professionals.

 

FLIPPING

 

The term “flipping” has entered common parlance to mean buying a home, renovating it strategically, and selling it for an overall profit. That is a totally legal enterprise, and if you can pull it off—more power to you! Recently there was a bumper crop of reality TV shows featuring buyers renovating and flipping their homes. Maybe—if you play your cards right—you could be the next Kim Kardashian.

 

However, “flipping” can also refer to a type of real estate fraud in which a number of people collude to inflate a property’s value with the purpose of securing a hefty second mortgage. While there are always multiple players involved in illegal flipping, the appraiser and the closer are the scam’s cornerstone.

 

First, the buyer takes out a mortgage for the home’s actual cost. Shortly thereafter, perhaps after some perfunctory improvements, a fraudulent appraiser values the home for significantly more than it is worth. The original buyer sells the house to another person (the home is “flipped”), who takes out a large mortgage. The larger mortgage is used to pay off the original mortgage, the profits are split, and the larger mortgage defaults. Sometimes the buyers are in on the scam, sometimes they are not, but usually the lenders bear the brunt of the loss.  

 

APPRAISAL FRAUD

 

Real estate agents work on a commission—the more the buyer pays for the property, the more money goes into the agent’s pockets. That’s why real estate agents are known to play hardball—they want a smooth, fast transaction, and every cent affects their salary.

 

However, some real estate agents take it a step further. With the help of a fraudulent appraiser who receives kickbacks for his or her services, they sell a house for more than it is worth with an eye to secure a large commission. Sometimes the homeowner is in on the scam, and splits a mortgage payment between the co-conspirators before allowing the home to immediately default. Other times, buyers are unaware of the fraud and have no idea they’ve been duped into overpaying for their home.

 

“STRAW BUYER”

 

The “straw man” is a logical fallacy in which a debater misrepresents his opponent’s argument in order to win the argument. The debater creates a “straw man” that is easier to knock down. For example, if I say, “Mandrien Consulting Group should go to the beach,” and you say, “No, Mandrien Consulting Group shouldn’t fritter away the whole day—we have errands to run,” you are creating a straw man argument. The Mandrien Consulting Group proposed beach trip might have taken four hours—but you are deceptively presenting my suggestion as a full-day trip, which makes your argument seem stronger than it really is. (And if you don’t want to go, you can just tell me.)

 

Just as a straw man argument is a deceptive misrepresentation, a “straw buyer” deceptively misrepresents his creditworthiness. By helping buyers distort their financial situation, the perpetrator helps them buy a home and secure a mortgage they wouldn’t otherwise have been creditworthy enough to qualify for.

 

Sometimes the perpetrator temporarily increases the buyer’s net worth by briefly lending the buyer some money. The buyer allows his financial situation to be misrepresented, because doing so allows him to get the home he wants. (“Besides,” he thinks—“I’ll be able to pay it off later.”) Other times, another buyer—one who is more creditworthy than the actual buyer—enters the equation and buys the home on the other person’s behalf.

 

While the latter form of “straw buying” isn’t necessarily illegal, duping banks into entering agreements with borrowers who are actually sub-prime is an unethical and costly practice.

 

DEFALCATION

 

Defalcation is probably one of the most basic types of real estate fraud. The attorney or agent in charge of the escrow funds absconds. Buyer and lender alike are left bewildered. As long as we have an escrow system in place, defalcation is possible. An individual who has fiduciary responsibility over funds can break the contract and leave without warning. Usually the lender is held liable for the loss.

 

FALSE FORECLOSURE RELEIF

 

When the subprime mortgage bubble popped, many homeowners found themselves defaulting on their mortgages and facing foreclosure. During this time of confusion and fear, a wave of unscrupulous individuals and groups presented themselves as a solution for homeowners facing the prospect of losing their home. Using aggressive telemarketing and advertisement campaigns, they promised that, for a fee, they could reduce the homeowner’s debt burden or even release the homeowner from debt obligations altogether. Sometimes the scammers would send official-looking documents, telling homeowners facing foreclosure that, for a fee, they can join a massive lawsuit against banks or other lenders.

 

Of course, the services promised are never rendered, and the scammers make off with the cash while the homeowners, worse off than before, face foreclosure.

 

REVERSE MORTGAGE SCAMS

 

Home equity conversion mortgages (HECMs), commonly known as reverse mortgages, are especially susceptible to fraudulent activities because these mortgages serve a vulnerable segment of the population. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners over the age of 62 to convert their home equity into a payment, which they can receive either in monthly chunks or in one lump sum. Borrowers don’t need to repay the loan until after they stop using the home as their primary residence (either due to death or moving, usually).

 

The number of reverse mortgages taken out by seniors has increase tenfold over the past decade, and fraud has increased as well. In addition to most of the types of fraud described above, perpetrators also prey on vulnerable seniors using more straightforward methods, like demanding bogus payments, withholding money that rightfully belongs to the buyer, or bullying the buyer into disadvantageous deals.

 

The risks associated with reverse mortgages have multiplied now that HUD has recently ended its program of subsidized, mandatory counseling for reverse mortgage applicants. While there are still certain avenues that applicants can take to receive counseling free of charge, this change makes the process more complicated, and reduces the likelihood of seniors educating themselves about the process.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

 

Mandrien Consulting Group believes that education and accountability are the keys to reducing fraud. Buyers must be knowledgeable about what they are doing. Too often buyers feel that they are being presented with reams of papers to sign, and that they are pressured to sign them quickly and without careful consideration. The Internet is an excellent resource, and many consumer-facing guides exist to explain the concepts behind and steps involved in a real estate transaction. Mandrien Consulting Group further believes that we  should take the time to keep buyers abreast of the transactions they are taking part in, and we should point them toward the resources they can use. By demystifying the real estate process, we could help make fraudulent activities seem more suspicious.

 

Also, we should remain vigilant of the warning signs that fraud is occurring, and we should be tougher on the perpetrators of these scams. If a property is quickly resold for a substantial mark-up, there should be a system of checks in place that throw up a red flag. If an attorney defalcates, punishment more severe than a simple disbarment must be enacted. California Attorney General Kamala Harris is on the right track: she recently initiated a lawsuit against a group who allegedly duped thousands of homeowners into paying money to join a nonexistent lawsuit against banks.

 

Together, we can reduce the incidences of mortgage and real estate fraud. As real estate professionals, it is our duty to educate ourselves and be vigilant against mortgage scams, which in the long run affect our whole economy. 

 
By: Alex Crompton
 
 

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