Building a Successful Mediation Business - Andrew Goodman

In 2006 I commenced researching my doctorate in mediation dynamics by interviewing Karl Mackie and Richard Schiffer about how commercial mediation started up in the UK. At that time they were the figureheads for the two principal industry training bodies, CEDR and ADR Group, both of which had started operations in around 1990. I learned that by 2006 there were an estimated 15,000+ trained mediators here, and the numbers have grown substantially larger ever since.

We all know that from the earliest time, the provision of mediator training has generated a greater income stream for mediation service providers than actual service provision for mediators.  I cannot remember having been to one mediator forum over the last 25 years when anewly qualified mediator hasn’t asked where the work was to come from, or how to access the market. Many long standing mediators still ask the same question.

With no organised means of distributing work, the profession created a pyramid structure in which those in work at the top were few, often coming in the early entries, or were members of training faculties, and those at the bottom were either underemployed or unemployed, and many.  Like most professions it was anticipated that as the market grew, the spare work at the top would trickle down the sides of the pyramid. That hasn’t happened. The distribution of work in the market is uneven, erratic and difficult to analyse. It has led to many disappointed practitioners who blame the industry itself, particularly when training organisations continue to produce newly qualified mediators with unreasonable expectation, and which swells competition.

Yet the market has always been there, and is growing. It is possible to start from scratch and develop a good practice. I have seen entrants into the profession from 2008, 2009, 2010 develop good businesses even as others fell by the wayside and went back to their ‘day job’. If that is possible, members of this new profession need to understand a number of core things:  first, a 40-hour basic training course is just the start of learning what being a mediation professional is all about; much comes with experience, but a hunger for continuing learning is essential. Second, being a good mediator does not make you an entrepreneur, or a businessman,  or an expert in marketing. These are not skills taught on the basic 40-hour course. They need to be learned separately, but in the context of what successful mediators have come to know.  And third, that being a mediator is a solitary occupation. You need mentorship, even coaching, and your success needs to be honed, measured and developed with the assistance of those more experienced in order to progress.

Finally, you cannot expect to sit back and wait for work to come to you. You need to invest both time and money in developing a business, otherwise your practice in mediation will always be a homespun sideshow.

These ideas may be simple, but it has taken me 25 years to understand their force. Now Stephen Walker and I want to pass our learning to others. I work in up to 14 jurisdictions, from BVI to Hong Kong, and I see the same mistakes in organising a new profession that we made here. There is learning needed everywhere, almost all of it generic. But at least it is available. Stephen is a successful and busy mediator, as well as being a recognised author in the field.  Workshops, mentoring and coaching in the business of mediation is now available to YMG members.

Contact info@goodmanwalker.com  Next workshops Leeds 25 May, London 1 July.

Andrew Goodman