For many entrepreneurs, marrying their various passions into a business that makes sense takes time, and sometimes a few trials. Often called “serial entrepreneurs,” these are the people who start several businesses, one after the other.
Megan Oltman is one such entrepreneur. Familiar to many people in the area for her work with the Team Nimbus business coaching franchise, she is reintroducing herself to the community with a new business that combines her knowledge of helping people as a coach with her earliest passion and first career: law.
Oltman has opened a practice as a divorce mediator, Mercer Family Mediation, in Lawrenceville. As a mediator she specializes not only in divorce and child custody issues but also estate problems and business issues as well.
“Others may not see the similarities in coaching and mediation, but to me it’s been a gradual change,” she says. “I’m not moving from apples to oranges, but from one type of apple to another.”
Oltman first became interested in the law because she saw it as a way to “help people find practical solutions for their problems, to help them craft a positive future,” she says. She graduated from Antioch with a bachelor’s in political science and women’s studies in 1981. She received her J.D. from New York University in 1986.
She practiced law for 14 years in New York and New Jersey, beginning in commercial law, then moving to family law after several years “because I wanted to help real people with real life problems,” she says. What she soon learned was that “fighting a divorce out in a courtroom was never a positive experience for anyone involved. The process of litigating a divorce destroys more relationships than the divorce itself.”
Her quest to help others build better futures sparked her interest in the profession of coaching and in 2000 she switched careers and became certified as a life and business coach through Results Coaching Systems. She learned about Team Nimbus, a coaching franchise that focuses on small business, through her involvement with Business Network International and opened the first New Jersey franchise for the company in 2003.
Oltman still has a number of business coaching clients. “I enjoy working with small business owners to help them find new solutions,” she says. She plans to continue that part of her business along with her mediation work.
But while coaching helped satisfy her passion for assisting others in solving complex problems, it didn’t often involve the law. That chance to combine both areas of interest is what sparked her interest in mediation.
“Coaching is about listening to another person, getting all of the facts about a situation, and helping that other person create a positive plan of action,” she says. Mediation also uses those skills in the context of legal issues that are often quite complex. “I see it as putting all of my skills together, a reshaping of what I was already doing.”
This year she became certified with the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators. She is currently working toward accreditation that will allow her to become a court-appointed mediator.
During mediation, Oltman says, the two parties involved in a legal dispute sit down together with a trained, neutral third party “who can help them to focus away from their emotions and toward a solution; away from the past and toward a future.”
No losers. Working toward a result that has no losers is different than the cheery phrase, “win-win,” says Oltman. “I hate the term ‘win-win.’ Let’s face it, negotiating something, whether it is a divorce, a business deal, or a family issue, means that everyone has to compromise. It is not usually a win-win situation; rather a situation where no one has to lose.”
A divorce, for example, involves splitting one household into two, and it costs more money to run two households than it does to run one. “This is not a situation that will make anyone feel like a winner,” she adds.
Negotiate, don’t litigate. Whether the situation is a divorce, a dispute over a family will, or the break-up of a business partnership, the process of negotiation is almost always more positive than that of litigation. Statistics show that solutions imposed in court by a judge wind up back in court more often than negotiated settlements. In fact, 95 percent of all divorces are negotiated. Unfortunately, the five percent of divorces that go through the courts are the cases that return to the court again and again, says Oltman.
Most of the problems in divorce disputes involve either money or child custody. “If the problem is money, remember, it is always cheaper to negotiate rather than litigate,” she says.
Continue the relationships. No matter what the problem, if it involves your family you want to be able to resolve in such a way that you can preserve the relationships. “If you are getting a divorce and have children you are going to be dealing with your former spouse for the rest of your children’s lives,” says Oltman. From birthdays to holidays to weddings and funerals, you want to be able to sit in the same room with the other person without, at the least, hard feelings, or at worst, an emotional scene.
If the problem is an estate or family business issue, the emotions can run just as hot. “When the dust settles and you tell someone the story 10 years from now you don’t want it to end with, ‘and I never spoke to my brother or sister or aunt or uncle again,’” says Oltman. “Mediation is about preserving those relationships.”
In the end, she says, mediation is about finding a creative solution to a complex problem. “It is the process of sitting down with all of the parties involved and looking underneath the animosity to what’s most important to everyone. As a mediator I try to help people come up with creative solutions to preserve what is important.”