When long-time Coral Gables child psychologist Jerome Poliacoff’s plan for WeAgree2 won the Business Plan Challenge in 2009, his office neighbor Boo Zamek won second place. The irony, he said, is that while her newsletter, Just Ask Boo, has continued, his business fell victim to the Great Recession.
The service he proposed, WeAgree2, provided parenting plans for divorcing couples. The idea was spurred by a change in Florida law that removed terms like “custody” and “visitation” and instead called for more collaborative parenting plans.
“I had been approached by lawyers who weren’t comfortable writing the plans,” he said. He and business partner Michael Epstein, also a child psychologist, figured they could create the plans at a lower cost than lawyers’ fees, creating enough incentive for busy attorneys to outsource the work. “It occurred to me that this could be scaled to other cities,” he said.
Then the full effects of the economic meltdown began to take hold. “People’s homes no longer had the equity to pay lawyers,” he said, so many unhappy couples held off from divorcing. Lawyers, too, were feeling a pinch and kept the fees for creating the parenting plans in their own offices.
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While Poliacoff continued to do consultations privately, the opportunity for a broader business vanished. “It was the wrong product in the wrong time in the economic cycle,” he said. Epstein has since died.
Still, winning the Challenge brought him increased attention as an expert. He has since served as marketing committee chair for the Collaborative Family Law Institute, a professional group.
The experience also led him to think about marketing in a more proactive away. He now sends out a newsletter on collaborative law that has resulted in referrals as an expert witness.
His advice: If you have a passion for something, pursue it. Educate yourself about the business before you proceed. Write a business plan — and then, be prepared to be poor for a while.