Now What? How to Expand Your Established Mediation Practice?
After you’ve been in business for a few years, helping people resolve conflicts and empowering them to move on, you may realize that you were drawn to this profession for more than just a paycheck. Mediating is one of those all-too-rare jobs that can nourish your soul.
But now what? Your wallet needs nourishment too, and mediators often do not have a lot of matters with the same hiring parties. Keeping your business alive means strategizing ways to expand and thrive.
1. Get involved
If you haven’t already joined a professional association, now is the time. Look around for local chapters of national associations as well as those based locally; ask your colleagues which are the most active and robust organizations. Once you have joined, get involved! Take these actions to advance and expand your industry knowledge and expertise:
Join or create discussions and sub-groups that focus on your area of practice.
Publish articles in the association's newsletter.
Serve as a liaison between the association and other organization, such as the state bar association.
Serve on a committee or board.
Coordinate outreach and training courses for new mediators.
Organize an informational conference or presentation about mediation and its benefits; invite or visit local business leaders and community organizations
White papers, case studies, and thought-provoking articles can be posted on your website and sent to industry journals and magazines for publication.
Mediation is as much art as it is science; there is plenty of room for new perspectives, so get yours out there. Don’t just join a conversation – start one.
Expand the services you offer in your practice area.
Join the roster of a court panel, if you haven’t done so already.
Offer mediation training in your specialty, online or offline.
Provide a mentorship or internship.
Build partnerships with other mediators who specialize in other areas. This relationship can be as casual as a referral network or as formal as a contracted business partnership.
Adding a related area of practice is another way to expand your services. Consider whether your goal is to develop subject matter expertise or to apply your mediation process to similar cases, then think about which related areas might best serve your goal (keep in mind that either goal is likely to require specialized training). For example:
Divorce mediators may consider taking other cases that deal with property division, such as estate and probate disputes.
Or, divorce mediators might be interested in expanding to cases involving other types of family issues, like elder care.
A landlord/tenant mediator might consider expanding to foreclosure disputes.
Mediators currently working in accounting, banking, or financial market cases might want to start taking cases in one of the other areas of practice dealing in finance.
Mediators that are passionate about environmental disputes may find that energy disputes are also interesting.
Expanding your area of practice means expanding your clientele.
Perhaps you have given mediation presentations to a few local service clubs, and now you’re ready to step up your game. Take your passion and inspiration on the road!
Speak at area networking events.
Present at business and mediation conferences around the country.
Take a turn at directing a community mediation organization.
5. Revise your marketing plan
There are three ways that experienced mediators can revise and expand their marketing plan.
Tighten your focus. Not everyone enjoys marketing, and oftentimes mediators just copy what other mediators have done. Sure, mediation is great for solving conflicts because it’s “quick, inexpensive, and driven by the parties” but what does that mean, really? What is the real value?
A good mediator will figure out what values are driving the parties’ positions to determine what they really want, just as a good marketer will sell not the obvious benefits of a service but the values behind the benefit. So… what are the values behind the benefits of mediation? Choose one to focus on, and make that the centerpiece of your revised marketing plan.
Add new target markets. As you diversify your professional life with new association memberships, new areas of practice, and new visibility activities, you may find yourself working with several new target markets and buyer personas – don’t forget to add them to your marketing plan!
Focus on referral sources. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve clearly figured out how to reach potential clients – what about potential referral sources?
Mediators do not often have cases involving repeat hiring parties, so referral sources are invaluable. Invest time thinking about referral sources in your area of practice, and revise your marketing plan to include this target market.
Organizations like American Arbitration Association offer referral services to their members, in addition to other benefits like marketing, office space, and discounted liability insurance. If you are not already a member of a closed panel like this, consider pursuing membership.
Previous clients can be tapped for their personal and professional networks by asking for a small amount of space in their own industry newsletters and other distributed materials.
6. Reduce your risk
The challenges of a new business are much different than the challenges of an established business; with an established business, you have more to lose if something should go wrong. If you haven’t acquired business insurance already, now is the time to consider it.
Ask your professional associations about mediator liability insurance.
Thoughtful planning is key
Expansion is a critical time for any established business. With the proper investment of time and money to thoughtfully plan ahead and mitigate risks, your business will continue to nourish both your soul and your wallet for a long time to come.
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