In How I Started My Mediation Practice, Part 1, I promised I’d discuss what ADR practice startup decisions I’d repeat and what mistakes I’d try to avoid if I had a do-over. I guess it’s disclosure time!
I made some decisions I’d repeat…
- Choosing a narrow target market: By selecting a narrow target market in my startup phase, I was able to allocate my precious marketing dollars to a clear audience and purpose. I wish I could say I did that because I was a marketing wiz a decade ago! The truth is, I chose a narrow target market (higher education) because that’s the arena I knew best and who knew me best…I figured it would be easier to get work there first, and it was. But I learned a valuable, if inadvertent, message about the power of filling a narrow market and letting other mediators try to market to the rest of the world.
- Diving in whole hog: It suits my personality but it might not suit yours. When I set my mind on something, I want to do it and do it fully…I’m not a good incrementalist, generally speaking. If you’re more cautious by nature, then the traditional business wisdom applies: Build a practice over 2-3 years while keeping your day job.
- Writing a business plan: Much as I disliked doing it, I believe it’s the single action that gave me the most traction to build business early and strongly. I wouldn’t necessarily write an entire business plan again, though…I continue to update my plan annually and it’s the marketing and service niche components that have continued to make the difference.
- Investing in a professional graphic design: It was worth every penny and then some to create and convey a coherent professional image from day one of my business. While the logo and brand have evolved over the last 11 years, my business colors remain the same and the first designs carried me more than five years.
- Creating a professional online presence: Back then it was a traditional, static website, when few solo businesses had them yet. Today’s it a blog-based site and an online presence is more important than ever.
…and some mistakes that taught me a thing or two
- Going general when localizing my practice: When I founded my practice we lived in Vermont and, as I’ve said, my market was higher ed institutions on the eastern seaboard. When we moved to New Hampshire a few years later, I had gotten tired of the travel, so I decided to develop a local practice. Big mistake. I made a marketing assumption I now often caution other mediators to avoid: That a general practice, marketed to a general audience, would mean more opportunities in a localized region. The mistake cost me time, money, and a temporary slump in my practice until I got my target market wits back.
- Investing in print advertising: At the same time as the above mistake, I also decided to invest in print advertising for the first time. It ate a lot of money and I never saw the return. After a year of consistent, professionally designed ads in carefully chosen media, I just stopped and went back to what I’d been doing that had worked. What possessed me to stop doing what worked and try something totally different, I’ll never quite know. Thank goodness I gave myself a whack upside the head or I’d still be bleeding money from traditional ads.
- Renting office space in a business incubator building: For most of you, office space may be essential. It isn’t for me, as I go to almost all my clients (workplace, probate, etc.). Around the time as I was making the above mistakes (gee, what was wrong with me that year?), I decided to rent office space for use when my local practice increased. I chose a business incubator building which catered mostly to manufacturing and true start-ups, so most of the support services offered by the building’s management were of little use to me. And oh, yeah, the walls were as thin as paper so I had to run white noise machines any time I was in the office…it just wasn’t space meant for confidentiality and a seasoned professional service business.
If there’s something about ADR practice startup that I haven’t covered, let me know what it is and I’ll try to address it in a future post.