Busy singles looking for love need to look no further than their very own personal matchmaker.
Though the idea of matchmaking has been around for centuries, these modern-day cupids say it is beginning to gain momentum as a viable career option.
"It's becoming a lot more publicized, a lot sexier of a career," said Lisa Clampitt, a matchmaker since 2000 and executive director of the Matchmaking Institute, a matchmaking-training school she co-founded in 2003. "I think that people will start to more and more use a matchmaker."
With more than 1,200 professional matchmakers across the country, the matchmaking industry raked in about $236 million in 2005, according to Forbes.com. Matchmakers often charge clients anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 or more a year — not including"marriage bonuses" that can reach six figures.
Mrs. Clampitt's matchmaking business, VIP Life in New York, has led to more than 30 marriages and caters to an elite crowd. Six months of unlimited introductions cost a client $10,000, while a year costs $20,000.
On the highend, some matchmakers receive up to $100,000 or more from clients, said Kailen Rosenberg, a matchmaker in Minnesota who works with both national and international clients. She charges from $5,000 to $25,000 per client, depending on travel requirements and the extent of her services.
Despite an often high price tag, matchmakers say there is an immense demand for their services, especially in metropolitan areas, where singles work long hours and say they just don't have the time or energy to search on their own.
Mrs. Clampitt partly attributed the recent popularity of the matchmaking industry to a growing number of singles who are fed up with Internet dating but still want help. She and several matchmakers cited class-action lawsuits against various Internet dating Web sites as helping to shift attention back to individual matchmakers.
"The beautiful thing about online dating is that it introduced a third party as a very acceptable way to meet someone. Over half of the singles population has been online," she said. "But the rise of the whole world of matchmaking is really about people wanting a more personalized, private, confidential way of screening people."
Contrary to its name, matchmaking is about more than matching two singles up, matchmakers say. Matchmakers often act as coaches or consultants, helping their clients in many different areas of their life.
Mrs. Rosenberg, president and founder of Minnesota matchmaking firm Global Love Mergers, also emphasized the counseling aspect of the job.
"People have to know that in order to work with me that they have to get deep and heavy," said Mrs. Rosenberg, who works with up to 25 national and international clients a year.
Mrs. Rosenberg shies away from the title "matchmaker." She prefers "love coach" or "love-life designer." In some cases, she helps clients in many aspects of their lives, functioning as a life coach, stylist or personal trainer.
"I redesign people's lives inside and out," she said.
But the intensive coaching is not for all matchmakers.
To D.C. matchmaker Ann Woods, who has been in the matchmaking business for 21 years, the recent emphasis on telling clients how to act or what to wear is not for her and her clients in the Washington area.
"The big difference here is people want information," she said. "They don't want to be told what to do."
Mrs. Woods charges $1,000 for a year of her services. While many matchmakers maintain huge databases of potential "matches" for their clients, she only pairs clients with other clients.
"What I try to do is basically what family and friends used to do for people, tell each other all about each other and let them get in touch with each other," she said.
Mrs. Woods said she had noticed an increase in national attention to the industry. But while there were a handful of matchmakers in the D.C. area when she started, she said in the past few years she has been the only one.
Leandra Ollie hopes to change that.
Miss Ollie, a lawyer and D.C. resident, hopes to moonlight as a matchmaker with her new company, the Talented Tenth Connection. Miss Ollie's own frustration in finding a partner motivated her to help others in a similar situation — specifically, black singles.
Matchmakers say while niche-focused matchmaking companies like Miss Ollie's exist, such as those geared toward Jewish clients, the focus is still mainly on elite professionals of any race or denomination.
In January, Miss Ollie, who is in her mid-30s, attended a weekend matchmaker training and certification program at the Matchmaking Institute in New York.
The institute aims to train matchmakers by instructing them in various topics such as psychology and the chemistry of love, said Mrs. Clampitt, who runs the institute. The class also helps would-be matchmakers create a business plan.
While it is a female-dominated profession, Mrs. Clampitt said that every class of about 10 people usually has at least one and usually two or three men. The institute has trained and certified more than 200 matchmakers since it started four years ago.
Mrs. Clampitt predicted a growing number of matchmakers in the future.
"The sweeping knowledge of matchmaking is intriguing enough that people are like, 'Wow, this is an actual career option,' " she said. "We're actually thinking matchmaking will become year after year an interesting career on par with life coaches."