Building a Successful Mediation Business

Elizabeth Rosa, Founder and Principal, Resolve at Work

I spend a lot of time in my roles, as a mediator, a trainer and a lecturer, speaking to other mediators or people who are thinking about training as a mediator. The one question I hear regularly, is "How do I get work as a mediator?"

Conversation then tends to focus on: Are there organisations that employ mediators, and if so, what areas of mediation are in demand? Is it better to run your own practice working with your own clients? The simple answer is that while there are some organisations that do hire mediators, particularly in the area of family dispute resolution, there are not many organisations that hire mediators in other areas of mediation. The reality is that many mediators find more work opportunities through setting up in private practice. Some are on panels and work as consultants and many build up a business through gaining clients.

A question then for many mediators is how to build a practice? Where to start? I think that the first place to begin is for the mediator to look at why they want to be a mediator. What motivates you about this area of work? Is it to help others? Is it the subject matter of the disputes – that you bring knowledge of this practice area from your previous work?

Secondly, what size of practice would you like to run? This depends on a number of factors. What kind of work/life balance are you looking for? Do you intend to maintain some part-time work from your previous profession? Do you have a source of referrals? When I first did my mediation training twelve years ago, one of the coaches told me that mediation is a part-time gig, not full-time. This was very helpful advice. Whilst some mediators may get full-time work through an organisation or through a particularly successful practice, many mediators work successfully in a part-time capacity.

The mediators who work part-time often continue part-time work in their previous profession eg a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner may have a background as a psychologist and work two days a week as a counselling psychologist. A mediator with a law background may continue to work a few days a week, or even full-time but fit mediations in when they arise. A mediator with an interest in education may work as a casual lecturer.

Recent data from the Effectiveness Survey NMAS Review 2020-2021, (part 1) by Resolution Resources Pty Ltd, supports this. An analysis of ‘Mediators – proportion of overall work,’ (page 24) provides the following findings:

[There is] a stark, all-or-nothing dichotomy between the 23% of mediators who report mediator practice as 91%–100% of their work, and the other 25% of mediators who report mediator practice making up a mere 10% or less. A substantial 38% of mediators indicated that mediator practice makes up 20% or less of their overall work, while 28% of respondents indicated that mediator practice makes up 81%–100% of their overall work. Given that the majority of mediators (56%) said mediator practice makes up 50% or less of their overall work, it seems likely that it tends to be a supplementary rather than primary type of work for a large number of survey respondents.

It is important, when you start work as a mediator, that you know what you would like to achieve from your business, in terms of hours of work, job satisfaction and work/life balance.

So, how should a new mediator begin setting up in business? As a small business owner there are a number of plates you will need to keep spinning. But initially it is important to master a few key areas to help your business along:

  • Create a business plan to consider goals for the business, including the service or multiple services to be offered to clients. The mediator can also consider what they need to earn from this work, as well as the expenses associated with the business.

  • Consider where the work will come from. Can you reach out for referrals from their previous work? What can you do to connect to potential sources of work?

  • Create a marketing plan to detail the marketing actions and channels based on the established target market. This is about letting a specific group of people know what you are doing and the service or services you offer.

  • Start actioning the marketing plan. In order to do this, the mediator will need to consider how much time in the week they can dedicate to this and for how long they will continue to do this.

  • Check compliance with the standards applicable to their area of mediation practice which, for many mediators, is the National Mediation Accreditation System Approval and Practice standards or for Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners, the Attorney General’s Department’s standards.

  • Obtain professional indemnity insurance

  • Create a library of all working documents: information documents for mediation participants and any other stakeholders (eg referring HR managers in workplace mediation), mediation agreements, terms of engagement for pricing and billing. This is to ensure that a clear process is followed for engaging with clients and for providing the mediation service.

  • Consider how long you will work on setting up and marketing the business before you need paid work coming in. And consider how long you may engage in part-time work in your other profession.

Business coach and principal at The Solopreneur Coach, Clare Harris says, ‘Starting your own practice and building your client base requires a new set of skills, both practical and mental. You will need to create new habits around the actions you will take but even more importantly you need to be aware of the entrepreneur journey that you are now on. Learning to manage your mindset is part of navigating that journey as much as learning how to acquire new clients.’

Creating a practice as a mediator is an exciting journey of entrepreneurship, as well as a discovery of the mediator’s learnings and insights into human nature, and how to assist people to resolve conflict.

If you would like to learn more about maximising your business potential as a mediator, take a look at the next workshop I am running, Friday 24 June, The Business of Being a Mediator.

Elizabeth Rosa is a Nationally Accredited Mediator, a Trainer and the Principal of Resolve at Work.