The rise and rise of online dating has created a surge of businesses that offer support services, with the trend spreading across the globe.
Psychologist and dating coach Melanie Schilling founded Dating Crusade a year ago to help women in their search for love. Schilling has recently been accredited by the International Dating Coach Association, and sees significant growth potential in this arm of her business, judging by overseas trends.
The reason online dating is enjoying a surge in popularity, Schilling says, is because it has become more socially acceptable.
“The stigma has started to diminish over the last five years. People are more comfortable saying, ‘I met my partner online’, ‘I’m currently online dating’, ‘I used Tinder and met this guy on the tram’. Those conversations are becoming more normal and there’s less of the shame and embarrassment.”
Most people know at least two or three established couples who met online, she says.
Schilling had the idea of become a dating coach after creating metaphors between dating and job searching for the professional coaching arm of her business.
“I started doing it to lighten the mood and get a bit of a laugh, saying ‘Imagine you’re on your first date’ when talking about the job interview. Then I started taking a look at my own life – I had been single for my entire 30s. For me, my 30s was all about my career and I had this lack of balance and I started seeing that in a lot of my clients as well,” says Schilling, who went on to meet her fiancé through online dating website eHarmony.
The range of services Schilling offers through Dating Crusade, include an online training program and one-on-one coaching, and she’s continually evolving her services to meet market demand.
“The most effective is the one-to-one coaching, because it’s such a personal topic and there’s so much vulnerability around it. That’s where the most shifts can take place and people can really take an honest look at themselves.”
While the date coaching arm of her business now accounts for 20 per cent of her income, she sees great potential, in the wake of large professional firms established in New York.
“I see it as a growth area. In the States and the UK it’s a much bigger industry than it is in Australia.”
New York based-Hunt Etheridge of the International Dating Coach Association, has worked in the industry for the past seven years and been at the forefront of wanting to legitimise the industry with accreditation processes.
Etheridge says there are multiple types of businesses that support online dating, such as services to help write a glowing profile or take a glamorous profile photograph, however he calls many of these services “Band-Aid solutions” for those seeking success in online dating.
“No matter how good that profile or that photograph is, you’re still the same person, you’ll still have the same issues when you meet people.”
Etheridge says dating coaching is the most substantial business type that’s grown in popularity on the back of online dating, because it helps fill the gap in skills for people shifting from cyber space into the real world.
“Men are losing many face-to-face skills because of online dating,” he says.
“Dating is a skill set. We have many C-Level executives and they see this is just another area of their life they want to get better at.”
It is a large-scale global business and three times a year Etheridge attends the online dating conference, iDate, which is usually held in Las Vegas, bringing together an average 500 industry folk for talks, workshops and business masterclasses.
Participants are predominantly from within online dating businesses, or the date-coaching industry. About a third of the audience is international, with a solid representation from Germans, and others travelling from Russia and the Ukraine.
Etheridge, who has a background as an actor and an MBA in marketing, says the reason the International Dating Coach Association was created was to bring credibility and accountability to this growing industry.
“There are a lot of dating coaches in the States. I equate it to being a stylist. People can wake up in the morning and go, ‘Yay, I’m a stylist today’, because there’s no board, no accreditation process.”
In particular, Etheridge says it is vital for legitimate dating coaches to differentiate themselves from pick-up artists, a field that he says was popular a decade ago.
“We’re trying to get out of the negativity, misogyny, manipulation and short-term results of pick-up artists.” By contrast, he says, date coaching is about helping people improve their prospects of finding a long-term compatible partner.
As part of its global accreditation process, coaches receive eight hours of face-to-face and eight hours of follow-up coaching on a diverse range of dating topics.
“We have a night time coach, day time coach, a flirting coach, ‘improv’, style coach and mock dates,” Etheridge says.
“Because no one can be an expert at everything.”