Be Neutral
A Publication of the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution


This is one in a series of marketing articles that will explain e-marketing in layman’s terms.  This information is provided to help you modify your online presence to get your practice noticed.

Marketing Tip: Do You Know Who You Are Marketing To ?       

Often  when I speak with people about marketing professional services, I discover that their idea of targeted marketing is to run an ad in their professional journal….not the journals for the professions that their prospective clients read…no, the journal of their own profession !  Worse are the people who just place ads willy nilly, deploying the well know “shotgun” marketing approach.  If either of these define your marketing plan, then read on.

What is your niche ?   
First, you need to determine what area of mediation you want to specialize in.  Many mediators rush to court-referred programs because they feel that all they need to do is stand in line for work to be handed to them.  They quickly find out that they can’t live on mediations that pay $75 - $250 per mediation.  But what if you are fluent in a foreign language or are a specialist in same-sex separations?  Could you guarantee yourself that segment of the market ?

Try this exercise for a moment.  Get out a piece of paper and in the center top of the page write down the type of mediation you practice.  Then underneath that word write down all the different iterations of that type of mediation that you’ve seen.  After you’ve done that, look at the different words and circle the ones that match something in your background.  For example, I recently spoke with an attorney who had worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until her husband’s job moved them to Atlanta.  She knew Atlanta law firms weren’t hiring, and hanging out her own shingle wasn’t a viable option.  I asked how she had come to work for the Ag department.  She said it was simple – she’d grown up on a family farm, so it was a natural to go to work there after law school.  Well, I said, why don’t you specialize in mediations between banks and farms in rural Georgia ?  Clearly there aren’t very many mediators and arbitrators in that market, and her knowledge of the agricultural environment made her someone both sides could trust.

There doesn’t need to be an excessive amount of business in a narrow market sector for you to make a living there.  You just need to find a niche that you can own exclusive of any meaningful competition.  Think how simple it would be if there weren’t 10 other mediators or arbitrators fighting for the same book of business.  Even if there were a couple of competitors vying for the same business, if something in your past makes you stand out (like our attorney who grew up on a farm), it will make it dramatically easier for you to capture a good portion of this niche.        

Who is your ideal client ?       
Now that you’ve narrowed your focus to a specific segment of a broader market, you need to understand your ideal client.  Much like building an online dating profile, you need to build a profile of your ideal client.  For some of you, that may be attorneys who practice in your niche because they are the ones who hire your.  For others, it may be the parties who hire you. 

Regardless of who hires you, in order to market to them effectively you need to understand what defines your ideal client.  To do that, think back over past mediations and try to answer some of these questions:      

What mediations were the easiest for you to bring to settlement?

Which mediations led to the most referrals?

Which clients assumed you understood their issues and spent less time trying to explain them to you prior to the mediation?

What calls to engage you started with “we know you’re the best”?

Which mediations ended with your wanting to do more business with the parties or their attorneys?

While you can probably come up with other similar questions, you can probably understand where we are going.  You want to identify the common traits in their answers because they help you define your ideal client.  If an attorney specializes in divorces for Spanish-speaking clients, the fact that you grew up in South or Central America and speak fluent Spanish probably takes you to the top of the attorney’s list of prospective mediators.  If you continually walk out of mediations where a specific attorney represents one of the parties and those mediations are among your easiest, then you need to identify what it is about that attorney or his clients that is unique.  Those characteristics are part of what constitutes your ideal client.

Perhaps you haven’t met your ideal client yet.  That may be because you haven’t identified one.  Stand back and assess your past mediations.  Pick out as many details as possible that define what made certain mediations easier, faster, or smoother.  Build a list of those details and combine with it the things from your past that make you unique.  Together they help you build a profile of your ideal client.

But you shouldn’t be marketing solely to prospective client   
If you market only to prospective clients, then you are missing a large part of the equation.  Much of your business as a mediator or arbitrator will come from referrals, and referrers come in three different categories.  First, there is the category you would expect – the satisfied clients.  If you do a good job for people, they’re going to refer their friends and family to you when the need arises.  You need to remember that every mediation or arbitration is a job interview – the more you perform satisfactorily, the more business will come your way.

The second category is also one that most people think of – the professional referral.  If you do domestic work, perhaps you get referrals from the clergy, financial advisors, behavioral health professionals and others.  If you mediate business issues, perhaps the referrals come from CPAs, trade associations, or attorneys in that specific area of practice.  Regardless of your area of mediation, you need to understand who those professional referral sources are and cultivate them.  Remember that referring business to them will keep you at the front of their minds when it is time for them to refer a client to a mediator or arbitrator  !

The third category is one that most people don’t understand – one we call “carriers.”  Remember when your children came home from school with the stomach flu because one of their classmates carried the bug to school and spread it to everyone else in the classroom ?  That person who spread the bug is a carrier.  We also have carriers in business, but instead of carrying bad bugs, they carry good news.  They’re the people in your contact list who know everyone, communicate frequently, and don’t know how to keep their mouths shut.  While they might not be people who directly refer business to you, they’re the kind of people who derive great joy in knowing exactly who to refer others to, and you need to make sure that you’re on their horizon so you can be the beneficiary of this largesse. 

Failing to plan is planning to fail        
If you can identify your niche market, your ideal client, and your best referrers, you now know who to market to.  Many of you waste your time marketing in shotgun fashion to a broad spectrum.  In doing so, you’re not uniquely identified as the “go to” person in any specific area of mediation.  In fact, most people in what should be your target audience might never have heard of you because you are wasting all your buckshot marketing to people who will never be able to use your services.

Marketing is expensive and time consuming.  Bad or ineffective marketing can be deadly to your career.  You need to take the time to build a plan, and that requires more than an evening or two.   Think carefully about the specifics of your market and your ideal client.  Spend time soft marketing to referral sources.  Remember to say “thank you” for every referral.  These simple efforts will help you build a practice where you stand out as the first choice of anyone needing a mediator or arbitrator in your chosen market.


Michele Gibson is a Georgia-registered neutral and a certified emerging media consultant.  She is the president of Digital Smart Tool, LLC – an e-marketing firm offering website design, SEO, electronic newsletters, social media coaching, and marketing training seminars.


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