You’ve always had a knack for matchmaking at dinner parties, so why not offer your talent to a wider market by launching an online dating site? When done right, these sites can be lucrative and require minimal effort to maintain.
Markus Frind, founder and CEO of PlentyOfFish, says he brings in more than $10 million a year (at least half is pure profit) working for just an hour a day. If you want to start your own moneymaking site for love connections, try these five strategies.
- Find the right niche. At this point, there are so many big players in online dating (PlentyOfFish, Match.com, and eHarmony among them) that it’s tough to gain traction in the general marketplace. To find your audience, focus on building and marketing a site that fits their needs, however quirky they may be. Trek Passions, for example, helps lonely Trekkies find love. Keep in mind that the narrower your focus is, the more limited your audience and income potential will be.
- Decide on a business model. Online dating sites can operate on either an advertising- or a subscription-based model — or a combination of the two. PlentyOfFish.com has attracted more than 30 million members primarily because it’s a free ad-supported site; however, it doesn’t make nearly as much money per member as a subscription-based site like Match.com, which has just 1.3 million paying subscribers, but brings in nearly $350 million in annual revenues. If you’re planning to launch a smaller-scale site, a subscription-based model will likely be more profitable. However, when customers pay to use a site, they expect more from it, so don’t skimp on tools and services.
- Perfect your algorithm. Online matchmaking services typically ask users to fill out questionnaires about their lifestyle, hobbies, work, and other interests. In some cases, these questionnaires are extremely comprehensive: eHarmony asks each user to fill out a 400-question psychological profile in order to receive matches. Think about what values will be the most important to your potential users — and how you should rank their matches. Once you’ve determined your algorithm priorities, hire a programmer to set up your search tool (unless you have the know-how to do it yourself).
- Lure in your customers. No one wants to join a dating site that very few people use, so you’ll want to wage a strong marketing campaign and provide added incentives to sign up initial members. Ask all of your single friends and acquaintances to join the site, and, if your business model is subscription-based, offer discounted memberships to the first several hundred people who sign up. Once your site is populated, you’ll be able to promote it more successfully through targeted advertising methods, such as Facebook and Google keyword ads.
- Maintain quality control. No, that doesn’t mean kicking out the ugly people (unless you’re BeautifulPeople.com). Online dating sites must be prepared to cope with sexual harassment and other forms of online abuse, as well as privacy concerns. Set up a system that allows users to flag others for bad behavior, and rescind the membership privileges of abusers. Of course, you can’t control what people do after they decide to go out on a date, so work with a lawyer to create a membership contract that will release you of any liability for the real-world results of your online matchmaking.