Prior Profession: Sales and linguistics training
Niche: CPAs, attorneys and other busy professionals, and self-employed
Most Effective Marketing: Word-of-mouth
Support Team: One assistant, two processors, one loan coordinator
Applications Taken Personally: 70%
Workweek: 5 Days, 50 hours
Favorite Book: “Enders Game,” By Orson Scott Card
Favorite Quote: “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
M.O.M.— How did you get started in the lending business?
Sosa-Rocha—I had previously been in sales and linguistics training for salespeople and teachers. I went to get my first mortgage and was frustrated by the treatment I received and the lack of information the broker wanted to give me. I thought that I could do a better job and my sister who is also a top producer encouraged me to do it. Plus, I’ve always wanted to control my own destiny, rather than having to rely on someone else. I went to work for a small mortgage brokerage, and eventually became their top producer. I later worked for another broker before opening my own firm in 2001.
Knowledge is power and I went into the industry to learn and then to educate other consumers. I believe in empowering people so they always know their choices and can make informed decisions that will serve them. The more you give, the more loyalty you get back.
M.O.M.—What was your first marketing activity?
Sosa-Rocha— I started out cold calling and built a referral business from there. My cold calling was basically telemarketing. I called people at home to ask if they were interested in a loan. But I wasn’t overly aggressive and did it with some humor. For example, I would say, “Hello, this is your friendly neighborhood mortgage broker bothering you on a Sunday night.” I did a lot of difficult loans and subprime deals from those early calls. Some people would say, “You can’t help me.” But I did and continued to do their later loans as well. I also sent letters to people. I was working about 12 hours a day at that point.
M.O.M.—How did it evolve from there?
Sosa-Rocha—Consumers would tell their co-workers, friends and family that they had found an honest person in the mortgage business who actually listened. People knew I would treat them fairly and help them find the right loan for them no matter what their income or credit rating. I work hard for every client without regard to the price range of the home they are purchasing, whether it’s a $50,000 loan or a $5 million dollar loan.
M.O.M.—Did you call on Realtors and builders?
Sosa-Rocha— Fortunately, it has not been necessary very often. I have developed contacts with Realtors over the years that are ongoing. I am beginning to do the same with builders and developers. I believe in the power of networking, especially with like-minded professionals, but I have never sought to build my business based on cold calling Realtors or Builders. One of my best examples of a developed relationship between professionals is the office space I currently share with Nine Mile Trolley, a real estate agency. We have a very good relationship. The Realtors work with me because they know I get the job done.
Most of the time I am asked for my card (by Realtors) because of the experience they have at closings or through talking to others in the industry.
M.O.M—How do you stay in contact with past customers?
Sosa-Rocha—I take several steps to make sure my customers remember us. This includes:
- Thank you cards
- Closing gifts, such as a bottle of champagne or a Home Depot gift card.
- Four greeting cards sent on “odd” holidays, such as Halloween or New Year’s Eve.
- Christmas presents (Such as cookies and gift cards) to my favorite clients. Everything is very personal and tailored to the person. For example, if a client likes to golf, I will send chocolates shaped like golf clubs. I generally try to do something with the most potential impact and lowest cost.
I spend time talking to my clients (old and new) because they are the people who make my business a success. I think that periodic phone calls to talk about family or other personal matters is often more effective than mailers and gifts.
M.O.M.—How do you develop referrals?
Sosa-Rocha—When you do a good, honest job, you don’t need to ask – the clients come. My business is based on referrals; 50 percent of my business comes from agents. They know their clients are in good hands and they will benefit by referring them to me. I used to hand out business cards at various functions, but no longer do so. One of my e-mails to customers will encourage them to refer their friends to me.
I will also do some loans for free (no broker fees), which certainly makes people want to refer others. I’ll do this for my close Realtors or when I’m in a competitive situation with another originator and don’t want to lose the loan to a customer who is shopping.
M.O.M.—Have you hosted seminars?
Sosa-Rocha—Not recently, although I used to do seminars in my prior profession. Seminars are something I plan to do in the future. One of the secrets to an effective seminar is to keep it moving, have fun and don’t get too serious.
M.O.M.—Do you have a specific niche market?
Sosa-Rocha—I seem to work with a lot of attorneys, CPAs and doctors, many of whom are first-time homebuyers. While I don’t market specifically to them, I think that business professionals appreciate how quickly and seamlessly I can run through many different scenarios with them. I believe it’s critical that you don’t focus too much on one or two niches, but rather have several at all times.
M.O.M.—Have you done any advertising?
Sosa-Rocha—I’ve had ads primarily in local papers every now and then just to keep my name out there. The ads mention rates and products, but primarily focus on helping clients realize their dreams. Advertising has to be cost effective, and I’ve found that it doesn’t always work very well. I believe that word of mouth is still the best advertising.
M.O.M.—How do you use your Web site?
Sosa-Rocha—I primarily use it as a tool, enabling customers to fill out an application. We’ll get a few new customers from people finding us through a search engine.
M.O.M.—Any other marketing?
Sosa-Rocha—I have an office in a downtown coffee shop, it reminds me of the Central Perk coffee house that was in the “Friends” TV show. It has a great atmosphere and people feel like they can come in and talk about mortgages casually.
M.O.M.—Do you provide customers with any value-added benefit?
Sosa-Rocha—We provide mortgage planning for clients. We review their entire financial status and determine how the mortgage can fit into their overall plan. We become their trusted advisor. Our team will also advise on credit scoring. Sometimes, five to 10 points can save the client on rates. We will use our rescoring ability to make this happen.
M.O.M.—Do you develop an annual marketing plan?
Sosa-Rocha—At the beginning of each year, I review what I did the prior year to determine what worked and what didn’t, and make the appropriate adjustments. I’ll always try something new!
M.O.M.—What prompted you to start your own firm?
Sosa-Rocha—I worked for a company that I loved for several years. Everyone thought I owned the company and I began to wonder why I didn’t. This satisfies my entrepreneurial nature and allows me to be the sole producer, without having to worry about other originators.
M.O.M.—How did you select your company name?
Sosa-Rocha—I thought Truth and Lending would epitomize what I stand for and let customers know our core values; that we are honest and stress ethical standards. We are upfront about everything and sometimes provide customers with more information than they want.
M.O.M.—Who is on your support team?
Sosa-Rocha— I have an assistant, Lane Taylor; a loan coordinator, Shannon Williams, who I just promoted to branch manager; and two processors, Adrienne Kearney and Cheryl Franklin who can handle more than 100 files in processing at any given time. We close 50-60 files a month.
My assistant and my loan coordinator handle pricing, locking and loan placement and are incredible communicators so we are consistently on the same page with each client’s status. It works to make sure the files are ready for processing so the closing goes smoothly.
M.O.M.—What else do you do to ensure a trouble-free pipeline?
Sosa-Rocha— I have a fairly simple system. The assistant will review the estimates and after I review the programs with client, she takes over and gets them the documents to sign and then follows up to get their paperwork. I get all loans pre-approved through underwriting before I send them out. This insures that all loans will close and there is no fallout. We submit the loan to processing with very specific instructions to the processor and the loan closes on time.
M.O.M.—How do you get the most out of your loan origination system?
Sosa-Rocha—We use our LOS system (Calyx) to manage the status and provide reports of new applicants, loans in processing, loans approved, loans submitted to underwriting and loans closed. These reports help us manage the large volume of applicants at different stages of the process.
M.O.M.—Do you attend closings?
Sosa-Rocha—Someone the client is familiar with (either me or one of our team) is always present for purchases and sometimes for the refinances.
M.O.M.—What do you consider key characteristics of superstar originators?
Sosa-Rocha—I think the most successful originators take responsibility for all of their actions. For instance, if something should go wrong with a loan, I’ll assume responsibility, even if it wasn’t a result of my actions.
I also believe that the best LOs have multiple solutions for different customer situations. They have back-up plans for everything.
M.O.M.—How do you balance work with personal life?
Sosa-Rocha—I’m still trying. I prioritize—my children come first, but my clients are a close second. I work a reasonable schedule of 50 hours a week. I generally don’t take my work home with me. However, I will make a point to be available, especially to first-timers. For instance, I will call them late Saturday night to tell them not to worry, if I feel they are especially nervous.
M.O.M.—What about the future?
Sosa-Rocha—During the last couple of years, we’ve been so busy that there hasn’t been much time to do more marketing, so I plan to hire a marketing assistant to help with mailings and other programs. In addition, we’ve just started placing 100% Financing signs with certain Realtor properties, so we’ll be developing this strategy.
I’m also working on a book for consumers that will tell them how to find the best loan and avoid working with dishonest originators.
I plan to be around for a very long time. I’ve found that the future takes care of itself if you plan and stick with your core values.