Leora Hoffman doesn’t consider occupation important in bringing two people together, focusing instead on their physical, intellectual and spiritual connections. What she finds most difficult in today’s speed-dating culture: “People want instant results and it doesn’t work that way,” said Hoffman of Bethesda. Cultivating a relationship takes time and energy.
So does running a matchmaking business, which, though it trades in love, connections and marriage, also must use marketing and promotion as well as good pricing plans to succeed. Though they receive training, no licensing or certification is required for professional matchmakers. Accountability mainly comes from clients, who refer business to or away from them based on their results.
Hoffman, who calls her business as a “personal introduction/relationship service,” and Wood draw from a market of clients who yearn for personal attention and discretion rather than the intrusiveness of online dating sites.
Wood says she’s busier during the holidays and when Congress is not in session — that’s when people with all-consuming careers take time to pop in for an initial interview. Hoffman gives talks on relationships to legal associations and, after sparking at least 65 weddings over 23 years, gets a lot of referrals, too.
Clients seek their help because they are pressed for time or are particular about finding someone with the same educational or professional achievements — or the same security clearance. Some want advice or coaching; others seek introductions.
Not all of them want a ring on their finger. “A lot of people date a long time. They don’t marry,” Wood said matter-of-factly. A former journalist who wrote for the Washington Evening Star, she says her reporter training is useful in her matchmaking career, which started in 1986. “I listen to them and try to help them find out what they’re looking for,” she says.
Relationship/soul mate coach Crystal Sylvester worked as a hairdresser for 20 years, and still does hair two days a week. Her hairstyling clients “have been getting it for free for so long” that they don’t cross over to become relationship or life coach clients, she said. But they give her insights on divorce and the single life, and refer other women to her.
She works mostly with professional African American women, targeting singles — especially those who are ready for Mr. Right. She helps people understand themselves and their expectations and trust themselves.
“I love relationships,” Sylvester said, noting she was married for 16 years when her husband died in an accident. She’s now remarried. “I want every woman to have a fulfilling, wonderful relationship, to have more people happily, happily married.”
Hoffman started her service as a married woman. “When I got divorced, I was afraid I would kill my business. The opposite happened. My business blossomed,” as she could understand more clearly the challenges of dating and developing relationships.
She’s a practicing lawyer who works as a civil prosecutor on child protection cases for the D.C. attorney general’s office. She finds relationship clients by giving presentations to legal groups, by joining business and professional associations and through word of mouth. Many clients are attorneys, but she works with other professionals, too.
For a few clients who pay top price, Hoffman acts like an executive recruiter, conducting exhaustive searches to find the right mate.
The tough economy hasn’t really slowed the flow of professionals looking for love.
For instance, Hoffman has not seen a decline in her annual memberships, which range from $750 to $7,500 depending on how much of her time and attention a client wants. “Even in bad times people want to be together,” she said, and they may in fact feel it’s more important to find a partner when the economy looks shaky.