BSR Newsletter #5: Know When to Change Your Focus

Sometimes you can do everything right and yet the market simply won’t support your chosen focus. When this happens, it’s time to change focus. The following story about one of my clients, Dianne, llustrates this point well.

Dianne is a self-employed mediator. By background and education, she is an attorney, but she has always had a passion for conflict resolution and helping people solve problems without going to court. Diane is also fluent in Spanish, and as there were very few bi-lingual mediators practicing in her area, this seemed like a natural market on which to focus her efforts. She committed herself to being a bi-lingual mediator specializing in helping clients work through conflicts when the language barrier is a major obstacle to resolution.

She took many steps to secure her reputation and build her network. She joined several organizations that catered to Latino businesses. She spent many hours in face-to-face meetings with other professional mediators, letting them know of her background and her Spanish skills. When she came to me we spent many of our counseling sessions brainstorming on ways she could make contact with potential clients.

She highlighted her language capabilities on her web site. She optimized her site for search engines. She volunteered with the local mediation society. She made herself available as a volunteer to the local court systems. She stayed alive financially by bidding on mediation and conflict management engagements with the local government, who was hiring and contracting with large numbers of the growing Latino community.

She did all this to no avail. Nothing worked. For nearly a year she would come to meet with me and we would discuss the lack of results. We would analyze, do research, study other mediators’ web sites, and dissect conversations she had had with other mediators and try to figure out how to break the impasse. We had many theories, but theories are not paying consulting jobs. Finally it became time to cut losses and move on. Dianne had put a year into the effort. Now she needed to make money for her family. She needed to move on to something that would be successful. So, with regret, Dianne changed focus. She began looking around to find a field of specialization that would have the market potential she wanted and deserved. She is a very smart, capable, highly intelligent and compassionate person. The world really needs her skills in conflict resolution.

After much market research, Dianne decided to change her focus to water rights. She found it timely, complex and full of opportunities for resolving conflicts. We could recognize at once that water is going to be a major issue of the 21st century. Dianne went back to school and gained her credentials in the field of water-rights law. She has already connected with the groups who are facilitating agreements for the future uses of water in the vast regional water basin. She has already been hired as a paid mediator to work with some of the groups arguing over distribution of water to farms vs. factories vs. power plants.

Letting go of her dream of working with the Latino population while using her hard earned language skills as part of her daily work was wrenching for Dianne. She tried every way she could to make it work and to build a successful career in her field of choice. Yet it was simply not to be. The time was not right. The market was not there. Dianne was correct to change her focus.