How to Establish and Grow Your New (and even old) Mediation Practice?
Up and running
When you’ve completed your basic education and mediation training, have secured a business license, and perhaps have been listed in the court roster as an approved mediator, you are ready to begin mediating cases. Congratulations, you’ve come a long way!
But you aren’t just a mediator, you are a new business owner. As such, it is in your best interest to invest time into planning ahead and looking at ways to grow. This article outlines several steps to take to establish your mediation practice; the more steps you complete, the higher your chances for success.
1. Write a business plan
Formulating a business plan is one of the most important ways to plan for success. It may not be a fun process, but writing a business plan forces you to solidify your various goals, the steps you will take to achieve them, and the steps you will take when (not if) challenges arise. Review and update your business plan every year to stay on track.
2. Create a marketing plan
With your marketing goals clearly written out in a business plan, it’s time to detail how you will achieve them. A marketing plan explicitly identifies your buyer personas and specifies how you will attract their attention, convert them into clients, and serve their needs so well that they become promoters of your services.
Like the business plan, your marketing plan should be reviewed every year; determine what parts of the plan were successful (and should therefore be repeated or enlarged), what parts didn’t work well (and should therefore be improved or dropped), and what new elements might be added for the coming year. This is how a business grows!
Your professional website is your business presence in the online world; its design and content define who you are to your target market. There are plenty of easy-to-use website builders available online, but if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself or just don’t want to bother, then hire a professional to do it for you. (A professional – not your neighbor’s cousin’s 12-year-old.)
A static website is fine but if you can write a blog, create a blog-based site. Writing a regular blog will keep the content of your site fresh, which helps keep it ranked high with online search engines. A blog will also build your reputation as an expert at what you do, and it will give people a reason to keep coming back to your site. Write as often or as little as you are comfortable with – regularity is more important than frequency.
4. Build your email list
Even if you aren’t ready to launch an email marketing campaign, you want to collect email addresses whenever you can, starting right now.
Whether you launch a newsletter or email advertising campaign, or want to invite people to your latest speaking engagement, you will eventually have need of email addresses from people who have expressed interest in you and what you do.
Add a “Subscribe” option to your website/blog, your social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), and in the signature fields of your emails and online forum posts.
Write longer articles on dispute resolution and require an email address – with an opt-in checkbox – to download them from your website.
Create an interesting survey on your website and include an option to subscribe or submit an email address.
Join the conversation! Spend time participating in industry forums on social media platforms and in the blogosphere. Post links to articles relevant to the conversation – yes, your own articles too! – and include them in your blog posts. When folks make comments on your blog posts, respond to and engage them.
Join the conversations of the offline world by attending workshops, meetings, and conferences. Learn about the people around you there, and let them learn about you.
These conversations position you as a well-informed and professional member of the industry, and connect you to many people: colleagues, clients, and referral sources.
The key to successful advertising is to “go fishing where the fish are.” Your marketing plan has identified your buyer personas and where they are most likely to notice advertising, so focus your efforts in those locations. It might be traditional advertising such as a radio spot (which stations?) or newspaper (which ones?), or today’s popular online channels (Facebook? Mediate.com? MediatorSelect.com?)
Where do your fish (buyer personas) spend their time? That’s where you spend your advertising budget.
Volunteer work introduces you to business contacts and referral sources while gaining experience and credibility within your community. As a mediator, you might:
Work pro bono cases.
Speak at local service clubs – Rotary, Lions, Jaycees, etc.
Offer a class or workshop.
Mentor a student or new mediator.
8. Keep learning
Never stop learning! Mediation is a relatively new discipline, still developing. Staying up to date will ensure that you keep pace with progress and offer your clients your very best work.
Your goals will change as your business grows, so keep reviewing your business plan and marketing plan. If you can learn from mistakes and capitalize on achievements, then your mediation business will continue to grow.
Eventually, your practice will be firmly established and you can call yourself an experienced, successful business owner! At this point, you may be ready to expand your business.