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Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery
by Robert Franco | 2008/01/10 |

I am flattered! It is true what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When I began working on Source of Title in 2002, it was because I had a lot of clients calling me asking for referrals for counties I did not cover. Often times, I just didn't know anyone and I thought there really should be an easier way for potential clients to find abstractors. After all, if my clients are having trouble finding abstractors in other counties, there must some out there that can't find me.

The first thing I did was look online to see if I could find any other abstractor directories. Who wants to reinvent the wheel? I didn't find any, so I buried my head in programming books for the summer and create the first version of the site myself. It was very rudimentary, but functional. By the time we started to grow, there were a few other sites offering an abstractor directory. Since we were all in the very early stages of growth, I don't think any of us copied the others. In fact, we all had very different plans for how to model our sites. It was obviously going to come down to who implemented the best plan as to which directory would become the standard.

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I realized during my development that much more was possible but I didn't have the expertise, or time, to do it. Thus, I hired Slade, the guru who designed the site we have today. (--Big thanks to Slade--) We added the message forums, news, and a few other features to make Source of Title a community, rather than just a directory. We wanted to create a site where those in the title industry could network and share ideas with others similarly situated. On the news front, we hired a journalist, Jarrod, to find relevant industry news to keep everyone informed. (--Big thanks to Jarrod--)

Over time, however, many have cropped up and tried to launch new sites. There was one that was charging $50 per county for listings - we still offer free listings and charge only for enhanced listings for those that would like a little extra exposure. Another new site popped up on my radar yesterday when I received several e-mails from our users who were solicited. We will have to keep an eye on how they do.

I have no problem with competition - it keeps us on our toes. However, what I do find appalling is that they use our directory to mine contact information to try to solicit our users. One of the e-mails I received confirmed my suspicions that this was the case, and I know others have in the past as well. I guess that is the price we pay for being first to market - we didn't do that. We relied on good old fashion direct mail marketing, at great expense, and from there word of mouth has continued to grow our numbers.

What I don't think some of these competitors realize is that it is expensive to imitate us. We have a full time staff that does nothing but work on the Web site. And despite appearances to the contrary - it is not an extremely profitable venture. Less than half of one percent of our listings are paid enhanced listings - the other 99.5% are free. Similarly, less than three-tenths of a percent of our user base has purchased subscriptions. More than 99.7% of our users still have access to the enhanced listings in the directory, select news articles, and the forums for free. And, if they are satisfied with their level of access to the site, we are happy to provide free services to them. What we have tried to do is keep much of our site free for them, and offer more to those who want it and are willing to support our efforts.

We still have a long way to go. There is so much more that we would like to be able to offer our users, such as detailed information about counties (i.e. recording fees, hours of operation, holidays, special notices, etc.), access to state specific title standards and case law, credit worthiness of potential clients, etc. But, we haven't reached the point where that is in our budget. We would have to dramatically increase our staff to do these things.

One of the changes we will be making in the near future will include offering a listing type somewhere between our free listings and enhanced listings. Our goal is to get many more of users to pay a modest fee and increase our budget to be able to continue to grow our services. There will be many other changes coming along with this, but I'll save a little something for a formal announcement when we are ready to launch the new site.

When our redesign is ready, all I can say to our would-be competitors is "watch out! We haven't even gotten started yet."

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Abstractors, Innovation, Opportunities, Title Industry

1145 words | 2743 views | 6 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Robert, my grandfather always told ...
Robert, my grandfather always told me that first is forever. I’ve dealt with this problem in my title business for years. Those companies that are trying to replicate your business model will not succeed. They'll always be viewed as a second rate Source of Title. Remember there is one key ingredient they'll never have, You... 
by Shane Kane - | 2008/01/10 | log in or register to post a reply

I have had four abstractors leave m...
I have had four abstractors leave my employement after bringing them into the business, teaching them how to abstract. The started their own abstract companies despite non-compete agreements, but none have gotten past a one person operation and most are barely scrapping a living. So most of it depends on heart and passion not just copying an idea. Jay 
by Jay Duncan | 2008/01/10 | log in or register to post a reply

What I find odd about most of these...
What I find odd about most of these sites, including the most recent one, is that they don't tell you who they are. Their domain name is registered anonymously and their "contact us" page doesn't provide an address or the names of any of the people at the "company."

I think everyone pretty much knows Slade, Jarrod and myself. Our "contact us" page provides our street address, phone number, email, and even a live-chat widget. In addition, we don't have our domain name registered anonymously; if you do a WHOIS search for "" it will show that I am the administrative contact along with my contact information. I wouldn't feel comfortable sending money to an anonymous Web site and I don't expect our user to either. We have been around for more than five years and we are proud enough of Source of Title to put our names on it.
by Robert Franco | 2008/01/10 | log in or register to post a reply

I noticed that too, Rob. Looks to ...
I noticed that too, Rob. Looks to me as if these guys went out of their way to keep their identities secret.

Sorta makes ya think, don't it?
by Scott Perry | 2008/01/10 | log in or register to post a reply

I noticed the anonymous thing too. ...
I noticed the anonymous thing too. And, being the conspiracy theorist that I am, my first thought was that it was INDIA trying to build their own national database of abstractors. Am I paranoid? 
by Jill Kissell | 2008/01/14 | log in or register to post a reply

Maybe so, Jill...but when they're o...
Maybe so, Jill...but when they're out to get you, paranoia is just right thinking ;-)

by Scott L. Perry | 2008/01/14 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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