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Cupid on overtime: LI matchmaker looks to expand business

The owner wants to open another office and have some time off, but she struggles to find an employee to meet her standards for skills that can’t always be taught.

Maureen Tara Nelson, founder and owner of MTN

Maureen Tara Nelson, founder and owner of MTN Matchmaking, on Jan. 26, 2018. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Valentine’s Day is this week, but Cupid works year-round on Long Island. Just ask Maureen Tara Nelson, the founder and owner of MTN Matchmaking Inc. in Melville.

“Everyone always needs love,” said Nelson, whose revenue last year exceeded $1 million — a 50 percent jump over 2013’s results. Each year, she matches more than 1,000 singles — as in widowed, divorced, legally separated and never-married individuals; her clients are 21 to 87 years old.

Nelson said she has facilitated more than 1,000 long-term relationships, including marriages, since starting the company in 2006. Her efforts range from screening prospective clients in her office to serving as couples’ dating coach. She also has a satellite office in Manhattan.

But as the only matchmaker at MTN, which employs four people on Long Island and relies on consultants for marketing and social media, Nelson, 51, works round-the-clock, including emailing clients at 3 a.m., and said she hasn’t taken a vacation in five years.

While passionate about turning singles into couples, Nelson laments about not having the time to pursue her goal of opening an office in Florida, where she would like to become a snowbird — or even to date herself.

“I need a second-in-command” for Long Island, Manhattan and Florida, said Nelson, although she vividly remembers a bad experience with such an employee.

A single mother with two grown sons, Nelson was recovering at home from surgery four years ago when the employee, who earned a commission for each client, accepted people that Nelson said she would have rejected.

“You can’t accept everyone,” she said. “There were way too many unhappy people as a result.”

According to experts, Nelson can unlock her handcuffs to the business with a variety of steps, including making sure employees share her values and strengthening their weaknesses through training.

As Nelson tells it, she pivoted toward a career in the happily-ever-after space after working as a pharmaceutical rep for the antidepressant Prozac. The product training covered human behavior, which opened Nelson’s eyes to her marital problems and led her to get a divorce and make positive relationships her livelihood, she said. Over a five-year period, Nelson worked at dating and matchmaking companies before launching her own firm.

MTN targets financially stable individuals who want a committed relationship, with prices starting at “under $1,000” for six months or five matches, Nelson said. It costs more for a longer membership or more matches.

In addition, MTN offers an Elite Program — Nelson declined to disclose its fees but said she attends charity and business events to recruit matches for its “high caliber” members — and a Celebrity Program, which runs $6,500 for two-year memberships and represents the firm’s highest-priced service, pairing boldfaced names with those who aren’t necessarily well-known.

Nelson said MTN’s fees accomplish “half of the screening” by driving away the gold diggers and one-night-stand seekers who may patronize internet dating sites.

Still, her fees are lower than prices elsewhere. Six-month to one-year matchmaking contracts in the United States typically start between $5,000 and $15,000, but can go much higher, according to Lisa Clampitt, founder and president of the Manhattan-based Matchmaking Institute, a school that trains and certifies matchmakers. Nelson is an executive matchmaker certified by the institute.

As part of her methodology, Nelson offers a free consultation to prospective clients to assess their emotional stability and compatibility and learn what they consider their best qualities and their must-haves in a partner. She accepts about 11 of the 15 candidates she screens each week.

Among those she has rejected: a man who bragged about scoring free meals from women he met on the internet. Pretending to be a doctor and showing up in a lab coat for his dates, he would tell the women that they had to prove they weren’t fortune hunters by paying for his lunch or dinner, Nelson recalled.

To Roslyn resident Tina O’Connell, 56, Nelson is “an instrument of God’s hand.” She said Nelson not only advised her to disregard one match’s talkativeness on their first date but shared O’Connell’s concerns with him.

They’re now engaged. O’Connell, who has worked as a physical therapy aide and personal chef, and Jim Rowland, 51, a Smithtown resident and U.S. Postal Service supervisor, are set to marry in May — 13 months after they met. Nelson will officiate at their wedding; she’s been ordained by Saint Valentine Ministry, an online nondenominational ministry.

In order for Nelson to step away from her firm, whether to expand it or take a vacation, Ellen Cooperperson, CEO at Corporate Performance Consultants in Smithtown, suggested she “document her systems,” including what she looks for in interviews, so that she doesn’t need to be involved in “every touch point.”

But giving commissions to employees left in charge incentivizes them “to do the wrong thing” and is “a recipe for disaster,” Cooperperson said.

Clampitt, also the owner of a New York matchmaking firm that bears her name, recommended that Nelson use Matchmaking Institute’s job board and training, which she could tweak to suit her needs.

In response, Nelson said she would never again give commissions to a second-in-command, having learned that lesson the hard way. While Nelson has trained employees at MTN and elsewhere, she noted the sensitivity, integrity and insight that matchmaking requires cannot be taught.

“To do the interviewing,” Nelson said, “you have to be very intuitive, loving and nurturing, because it’s very emotional coming to a matchmaker — but in a good way.”

At a glance

Company: MTN Matchmaking Inc., Melville

Owner: Maureen Tara Nelson

Founded: 2006

2017 revenue: $1 million-plus

Employees: 4

Annual matches: 1,000-plus

Do’s & don’ts of first dates

Since first impressions can make or break the possibility of a long-term, committed relationship, here are some tips from Maureen Tara Nelson of MTN Matchmaking for starting out on the right foot:

  • Limit the first phone call to setting up the date.
  • First dates should be lunch, brunch or drinks — not just coffee, which sets a pessimistic tone.
  • Don’t talk about religion, sex or politics.
  • Go on three dates before deciding not to see the individual again.
  • During the three dates, find five qualities you like about the person and, afterward, focus on them, not the negatives.

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