So, you have just completed a training programme and gained mediation certification, but are uncertain what your next move should be. Chances are, you were attracted to the proposition of well paid, flexible career transition into an emerging new field. Alternatively, qualifying as a mediator and enhancing your conflict resolution skills was simply a necessary by-product of your current role. Either way, your training provider likely focused much on how you were going to gain a mediation certification, but not nearly enough on what you should do with it later. At Phoenix, we call this the “Mediator’s chasm”. In this two part blog series, we will shed some light on how you can go about crossing this chasm. This includes setting up your practice, gaining initial experience and marketing yourself to become an established mediator.
Setting up your practice
Whether you are looking for a career change or want to use mediation as part of your current role, in either case, you will be setting up a part-time mediation practice. For the former, because there is no way you are immediately going to get enough work to leave your day-job. And for the latter, because it always helps to have a side vocation that you can develop in your own time, especially since it will be fertilised by your day-job.
So, what’s the first thing you do when you start a new business? You give it a name. Once you have a name, you have a brand. You must now find ways to cultivate your brand’s goodwill and reputation.
Every brand needs clarity of purpose. Your branding will only bear fruit if it is grounded in a mission statement that resonates with your audience. To do this, there are two steps. First, you must select a specialism. New mediators often fall into the trap of thinking that the more they do, the more clients they are bound to get. However, the market is too large for you to try to appeal to everyone. Having a niche allows you to stand out from your competitors and focus on your strengths. You can provide more value to your clients because you have honed your expertise in an area relevant to them. Without this, your brand and mission statement will appear generic and uninspiring.
There are dozens of areas you can specialize in as a mediator, the broad ones being:
Within civil/commercial, there are several sub-areas you may choose. Selecting the right specialism depends on your personal preferences, personality and previous career experience. Mediators from certain backgrounds will be suitable to particular types of mediations. For example, a family barrister will naturally specialize in family mediation, rather than shipping in which they have no prior experience. Surveyors and engineers would be suited to mediating construction disputes. Persons with a HR background may choose to build their careers as workplace mediators.
Eventually, as your practice grows, you will have the foundation on which you can expand into mediating a more diverse range of disputes.
Now that you have decided your specialism, devise a mission statement. Or a “vision” or “core values” pitch. This will be inspired by your chosen specialism. Touch upon why conflict resolution outside the court system is important to you and how your experience and mediation style helps you achieve that.
The cornerstone of your branding will be your website. This is vital to establish credibility in any field. As a mediator, your website does not have to be the most technologically advanced, but it does need to be attractive. Fortunately, we now have several online based website creation tools which allow you to create a basic yet sleek and professional looking website free of cost. You may try wix.com, and shop around for similar solutions before deciding.
Building your experience
The hardest thing in your journey toward becoming a successful mediator will be to gain experience. Successful mediators remain focused and patient during this formative phase, as there are no structured pupillages or training contracts on offer. In order to gain initial experience, you will need to rely on co-mediations, voluntary and community mediations and your existing network. You may join your local council and volunteer to conduct mediations for free.
For most mediators who specialize in the same field as their existing careers, looking towards established networks for initial opportunities is a good way to start. You can ask your colleagues for referrals or look for mediations through organizations that employ or work with you.
In order to build experience, you may also register with organizations that provide a marketing platform. Registering as a mediator with the CMC will allow you access to contacts and opportunities through them. In order to register, you must observe or participate in three mediations. Other organizations may or may not have similar experiential requirements.
Find mentors within the mediation community, if you can, to help you grow and to find opportunities, but recognize that some may see you as competition.
In order to gain initial mediation opportunities and to build your practice in the long-term, you must become an active member of the community. To determine where to focus your efforts, make a list of all the organizations and people you are going to target. For example:
• Law societies
• Community and religious organizations
• In-house lawyers
• Law firms
• Educational networks, specially mediation training providers
• Trade organizations related to your area of expertise
Networking is habitual. A good networker is constantly cultivating contacts in and out of work. They are also not afraid to invest time into doing it more structurally. To broaden your horizons, arrange public speaking opportunities for yourself at the local chambers of commerce, community organizations or any other event that gives you exposure. Become involved in social affairs of your community and use that to build a local standing. Attend charity events attended or arranged by wealthy companies or individuals. Members of such gatherings can be well placed to send your referrals. This may not get you the most financially lucrative mediations but will ensure that you are able to build your profile. You can also:
• Attend law society events
• Host a business open house
• Serve on committees, boards and liaison positions
• Publish articles
You should also have a quick 30-second introduction statement, or a slightly longer pitch. Use this to explain who you are, your area of specialism, your vision, and why you would make a good mediator.
If you do this for long enough and remain patient, you will get some initial mediations under your belt. You can then build upon this and focus on more sophisticated forms of digital marketing, which we will discuss in the next part of this series.