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<xTITLE>Part 1: 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing a Successful Practice</xTITLE>

Part 1: 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing a Successful Practice

by Diana Mercer, James Michael Davis
February 2012

You know you need a marketing plan—and plan of action--for your Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practice but how do you get started?  It’s tempting to just do something now, and worry about planning later.  On the other hand, you know you’ll ultimately need a well thought-out plan, both for the long term and for the short term.  A good marketing program includes both parts, so start with the part which excites you most. Just don’t forget to go back to the other part at some point.  Ultimately, action without planning is unfocused and unproductive, and planning without action is worse.  But when used together, you’ll develop your unique, efficient, and solution-focused marketing program.  The most important thing to do is to start.

Define Your Business: Focus on ‘Why’ Rather than ‘What’ and ‘How’

As a mediator, if you just talk about how you do what you do and what it is that you do, you are going to be a commodity.  In the consumers’ mind you are going to be interchangeable with every other mediator in the entire world. 

You’re unique, though, when you talk about your why:  why you do what you do.

It’s the why which is compelling.

That’s great news for mediators, arbitrators and all alternative dispute resolution professionals because most of us got into this line of work because of our why.  Something about this work moved us so much that we were willing to define our careers by it, and so speaking about what we do from our why should be second nature.  And your why is why people will want to hire you.

Your why is what makes you the must-have solution to someone’s problem. Your why is what keeps you from being a commodity.

The truth about professional services is that consumers assume that if you have a license for what you are doing or if you have a title, then you are qualified to do what you are doing.  As such, talking about the fact that you went to Harvard or that you have a special credential or that you have written a book is of little consequence.  In general, consumers are already convinced that you were going to be good at what you are doing or they would not have walked into your office or called you in the first place.  So mediators can get into trouble when they focus on marketing their what and how instead of their why.

For most mediators, your why is powerful.  Mediators and arbitrators and ADR professionals really believe in what they are doing and why they are doing it. They often have a compelling reason behind why they switched to mediation or ADR from their previous profession or studied it in school.  This will make it easier for you to market your why.  What consumers are really looking for is a connection.  Remember, they already assume you are competent.  The missing component is that they want to like you and feel connected with you.  This is how they can feel confident in your ability to handle their case. 

When people come to Peace Talks Mediation Services I tell them a little bit about our how and what, but as part of our orientation process I always talk about our why.  When people understand why I do this kind of work we have a much deeper connection than we would if I just told them that mediation is a self directed process and that the mediator acts as a neutral.  When I stick with the what and the how I am giving the same talk to prospective clients that every other mediator has given them.  When I talk about why I do what I do, I become unique in the marketplace. 

Here’s our why: I tell clients that as much as Peace Talks is a for profit venture that the vision behind creating Peace Talks was to take everything that people hated about the family law system and do the opposite. As a practicing family lawyer I saw how the Court system failed families and how the litigation system made things worse and not better.  I tell them that all of the complaints I got about “the system” as a family lawyer are things that we have addressed in our operating procedures, so that they will not have to struggle with a system that expects them to get divorced as a business deal, because, after all, they did not get married as a business deal.

People get it.  They connect with that message.

So what will your message be?  What is your why?


Diana Mercer, Esq. is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services in Los Angeles, California ( ). A veteran litigator, she now devotes her practice solely to mediation. Outgoing and down-to-earth, she makes clients and attorneys feel at ease in solving family law disputes, divorces, custody, premarital agreements and estate planning conflicts. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work She is the co-author of Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Fireside 2001). She's an Advanced Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) and is admitted to practice law in California, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and before the Supreme Court of the United States.

James Michael Davis offers marketing and legal consulting services worldwide to Fortune 500 corporations, mid-size businesses, and start-ups, as well as law firms, and professional services companies   James holds B.M.E., M.B.A., and J.D. degrees, has held senior executive positions with major international corporations, founded two successful companies, and leads a marketing consulting practice, J.D. Consulting, based in Laguna Beach, California.   He is co-author of Surviving in the Jungle - A Marketing Guide for the Start-up Business and also offers marketing and brand building seminars.