Singles Hire Coaches to Improve Their Dating Game

Looking for a good opening line?

When polishing an online personal ad, certainly you can enlist friends to critique your photo and jazz up your self-description -- but those who know you best may not be the best candidate for the job. Who else but a paid professional will truly give you an honest opinion and even tell you what you might not want to hear?

"I'm going to tell you the truth. I am not going to tell you something sounds good when there's nothing there," said author and dating coach Liz Kelly.

"There are so many disastrous profiles that misrepresent or don't bring out the best in someone online. So what I try to do is interview people and survey them to get their best and then put it in a short, concise profile," said Kelly.

She jokingly compares her work to the dating guidance offered by Will Smith in the movie "Hitch." Kelly says she is approached regularly by single people who are either re-entering the dating world or are repeatedly not getting the results they had hoped for when posting a profile online. Her clients e-mail her a copy of their online profile for review, and they are often surprised to learn she is not impressed with their pitch.

The California-based author describes one gentleman whose profile had "no meat in it."

"If there's nothing specific in it, there's nothing to grab onto and engage the reader," said Kelly. "He came back and said, 'Yeah, but I showed it to the women at the office and they told me it was great.'"

What was missing, according to Kelly, were the examples of his interests that would have generated an inspired response. She tells her clients to go out and get professional photographs, dressed in the manner they would choose for a first date, while she uses her marketing background to liven up the text for the profile as in this example:

Before: I'm not your regular type of guy. I am a very honest, considerate, and jovial man. I have a dry, witty sense of humour which comes from living in England and Ireland most of my life.

After: Are you ready for a man with an English Beat? I grew up in the UK, play guitar, and actually had my 15 minutes of fame playing at the Grammys. I will be happy to take your requests and play your favorite song.

Once a profile is out there, the dating process can get even more complicated, so Kelly is launching a full-time business offering a range of services for daters -- from profile makeovers to in-person dating coaching.

"One guy paid me $500 a month to help find him a wife," said Kelly. "I went to a bar and observed his behavior in the bar … Then I had another college student who was baffled by dating in Los Angeles and wanted to do role plays and go through different scenarios of how to talk to attractive women."

Vague Profiles Won't Cut It

Kelly is just one former marketing exec looking to make her mark on the world of online dating. She's part of a growing cottage industry of cupids, quietly editing and polishing personal ads to help singles make their match.

While she works independently, there are Web sites such as e-cyrano.com and Lookbetteronline.com, intended to help singles with their online profiles, in addition to dating seminars sponsored by organizations like The Learning Annex and New York's 92nd Street Y.

"My goal is to help people communicate who they are by themselves," said Christan Marashio, a 36-year-old New Yorker who has been working in the dating world since 2001. She now runs her own workshops in several cities and offers tips online through the Web site Moxie in the City.

Marashio asks those attending her flirting and dating workshops to bring a copy of their online ad and they'll quickly learn where they may be selling themselves short as the profiles are read aloud anonymously. "There are a lot of clichés that people use, 'I'm looking for a partner in a crime,' 'a woman who is as comfortable in a pair of jeans as a cocktail dress,'" said Marashio.

Like Kelly, she thinks these vague profiles are preventing people from conveying their personalities and engaging other people online, and in the worst cases they just confuse potential suitors. She relies on her communications degree to remind singles they are marketing themselves online, and need to strike the right tone. "They are looking for someone serious but don't want to appear too eager. So there's a mixed message," said Marashio.

Worth the Expense?

Many online daters are already shelling out $30 or more each month in the hopes of getting "winked" at via the Internet, so the idea of spending more on their social life may not appeal to them.

What makes more sense, according to some in the industry, would be for these kinds of services to be bundled into the online dating sites. "I don't think the online dating sites have pushed it very hard and I don't think that users perceive that they need help. But sitting on the other side of the table … I'm here to tell them yes -- you jolly well do," said Mark Brooks, who is single himself and edits the industry Web site Onlinepersonalswatch.com.

"There's a dire need for people to improve their photographs. People, especially guys, are so visual," said Brooks. "It behooves the online dating sites to help the users improve their profiles. The better the profiles look, the better their product looks," said Brooks.

But if those profiles are too polished, they may stray from the personality of the person attached to the image.

Kelly said she always has users do their final edits after she has worked on their profile to be sure the language resembles how they would speak. But Marashio thinks that while she hopes her seminars help online daters have reasonable expectations for the experience and gain an appreciation for how to approach their profile, in the end each person should write their own descriptions.

"No one's going to know you better than you, and what you want to comes across in that profile is you," said Marashio. "You don't want to be sold like a sponge."