Linda Percoco, a Spencer business customer, is a self-made, ambitious, successful businesswoman who started her own company in 2004, Max Title Agency in Livingston, N.J. She’s proved you don’t have to be a young entrepreneur and made it before the age of 30. At 50 she launched her business, proving sometimes second acts can be our best acts yet.
What was the inspiration behind starting your own company?
After going through some difficult personal times, late in life, I realized I had to depend on myself and build a financially secure future. I ventured into real estate for a bit but it was not everything I had hoped it could be – for me personally. My girlfriend had started a title insurance agency. Watching her grow her business, inspired me to go down that road as well. At the time I was living with my partner who was a great supporter and mentor. He encouraged me to get out there and really do it – start my own business! It was through his support and mentorship that I was able to successfully accomplish this. I got out there and started to hustle – really hustle. I walked around and introduced myself to all the mortgage companies, to all the banks, etc. and soon I developed my own client base. I acted as a settlement company for another title agency with my own clientele. In 2004, I said I should just open up my own agency.
I got into this business when I was in my 50s, so I didn’t start when I was a child. I believe some people just take longer to flourish, to blossom. I also believe that challenging times in life can make or break you. For me, I decided they would make me. I remember being out with my partner and mentor and we had this discussion about what do you want to do when you grow up! I was 50 at the time and selling real estate.
When I first started I was at my desk working from home from 6am – 2am, 7 days a week. Success didn’t come easy. I had to be willing to pay the price to have a successful career.
Can you tell me more about your business and industry?
No one really knows what title insurance is, but everyone has to pay for it. We ensure to the lender that the money they are lending you, the buyer, has no other property liens. We ensure the buyer they are the legal owner of the property. The American dream has always been to own your own land. I take a lot of pride in what I do because I give people peace of mind and help them achieve this American dream. I know that the property you bought is good. I’m insuring it.
There are a lot of important things that go into this. For example, when you call me and want to put your fence up and you find out that your neighbor’s property is on your property or you want to try and build a dock at your shore house but can’t – well, those are title claims. So these are the important things people don’t realize that we do. We help make your American dream happen for you, and give you some piece of mind in the process. I ensure the past – everything that happened, so you have a clean piece of property and you know it belongs to you. This is the biggest investment of your life.
Most title agencies are family owned. I’m one of the rare ones. This is my family. My people are my family. They’ve all been with me pretty much since day one. No one has ever left me. Together, we work as a team to nurture our clients and see to it that they are more than taken care of.
What advice would you give other business owners?
Don’t separate yourself from the everyday routine. You have to know what is going on in your business. It takes a lot of glamour out of it, which is true. Also, I have no voicemail. I don’t want anyone to leave a message. Someone from my team should be able to give my customers an answer and if they can’t then that is when they pass it to me. But, someone should be there to help them at all times.
Learning to delegate is very important. Women, especially, do not delegate because we want to do it all. I started to get my life back as soon as I learned to delegate. I had to let go. You have to believe in people, your staff – trust yourself and let go. Just like Steinbrenner, I developed a team and each position is very strong in what they do.
Confidence takes awhile to build up. In the beginning, fake it till you make it. We sometimes don’t gain confidence until later in life – 40s+. Believe in yourself.
Finally, balance is very important. It is important to try to spend as much time as you can with your loved ones because life can be short.
In January, we celebrated mentorship month. How important do you think are mentors?
It is extremely important. My partner was the best coach, mentor and supporter. He was the original entrepreneur and he always told me – you will never make money working for someone else. He helped set me up and get started. He used to tell me that I didn’t need a dining room because I never entertained! He made that my office. I had an old desktop computer. He set me up with a desk and a fax machine and said – now you start your business, go out and develop your own clients. At the time, I remember buying a box of 25 file folders and thinking – if I use every single file folder in this box, I’m going to be rich! Well since 1996 to today, I’ve probably done well over 10,000 closings – and well over 25 folders.
I spent three years working from home. We got super busy and then he said – now you know how to make money, now you can move to an office. My whole house was covered with files. I got an outside office and had to hire help because we were that busy. I couldn’t have done it without a strong mentor by my side to lead the way and help me develop the confidence I needed to succeed. He taught me to never listen to anybody, focus on what you want, the sky will always be falling around you and everyone will always have something to say – just focus on what you are going to do and do not pay attention to anyone else. Listen to yourself first before taking advice from anyone. I would come home and complain about something and he said if you don’t want problems don’t be in business because as long as you are in business you will always have problems. It was a reality check I needed to hear.
What’s your philosophy on networking?
Networking is key for success. People have to know who you are. The phone is not going to ring. They have to know you. I really enjoy meeting people. I love to connect people together which is why I love networking. It’s probably one of my best assets. It’s like playing a match game. I also feel strongly that if you go out of your way to help someone, it will come back to you. Karma is a wonderful thing. You have to form relationships and Centers of Influence (COI’s). I have a few great networking groups that I am part of, along with Ronna and Spencer Savings Bank. There are attorneys, CPAs, underwriters in there – all types of people. We all have chemistry and enjoy the group very much. It has been very helpful.
How has Spencer Savings Bank helped you achieve your business goals?
The most important business relationship I have is the one with my bank. I can choose from many banks to bank with – but I need a person who pays attention to me and my company’s needs. I need someone I can pick up the phone with and say, ”Hey, I need a $5m wire now.” It’s a personal relationship and Spencer really understands this and how important it is for a title company. If we have a problem – I need to know that this is going to be handled now. Many times, I have reached Ronna on vacation and she still attended to me. What makes her special is even if she doesn’t know what is going on she makes it her business to find out. Honestly, other bigger banks have not done this for me. You can’t compare the level of service you receive at Spencer with other larger banks. It was horrible. The level of service is vastly different. Ronna cares and caring is an important part. It’s not only how many clients can I get, but also how can I take care of the ones I have. It’s like my mentor taught me – “Your clients are like your teeth … if you ignore them, they go away.”