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Passion for Work

Title: Chief executive and founder Company: Elite Connections International Born: Albuquerque, N.M.; 1955. Education: Online business courses at Moorpark College Career Turning Point: “Probably when I was invited to my first wedding (from a successful match). That’s when I knew that I really loved my job.” Most Influential People: “My daughter, Tammi, because she’s always made me feel like I am capable of accomplishing anything. Pam Lontos, a successful motivational speaker and friend. She told me that with the energy and imagination I had I could do anything.” Personal: Husband, Bill; married for 18 years, together have four children. Hobbies: Tennis, skiing, traveling, hiking, kayaking. Dating in Los Angeles can be heartbreaking – which is where matchmaker Sherri Murphy steps in. The founder of Elite Connections International, a Westlake Village matchmaking service, has built her career on helping busy business professionals find love. Celebrities, doctors and top executives pay up to six figures for her services. Once you’re a client, Murphy and her team work to find appropriate matches. It’s all about gut instinct, Murphy says, who takes careful notes of clients’ likes and dislikes and averages at least two matches a month. Elite Connections has nearly a dozen offices nationwide, including outposts in Beverly Hills, New York and Miami. Murphy took time out from a photo shoot at her Beverly Hills office to talk to the Business Journal about how she got into the business, her favorite real-life love stories and how she found her own match. Question: How did you get into the business of matchmaking? Answer: I was a single mother of two working in real estate, and a matchmaker called me and I (used her services). My first date ended up being the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life so I left that date thinking, What a great way for people to meet each other. I started my own company a while later. This was around 1994. How would you describe the local dating scene in Los Angeles? It’s very fast-paced, fast and furious. With the Internet there are so many options and people just get an overload. The Internet has made everything so speedy and quick; everyone has a cellphone now and expects you to call them back within a second. Like if a man calls a lady and she doesn’t answer his call in a short period of time, he just moves on to the next person. There are so many single people in L.A., it’s hectic. That would be my No. 1 word for dating in L.A. – hectic. That’s why we’re in business, because people are frustrated with it all. What does a typical Elite Connections International customer look like? It’s going to be more of a successful business-type person, either a business owner or a top person in a company. We work with a lot of professionals – doctors and attorneys, business owners. When someone reaches out to you, what’s the first step? I feel like there is somebody out there for everyone and our job is to search until we find them for our client. Sometimes we already have that person in the database and sometimes we have to go out and look. What’s the process? We ask a few basic questions over the phone about what the person is like and what they’re looking for. We have to meet everyone in person; you can’t get to know people on the telephone. We require an in-person consultation. Are there any long surveys involved where clients answer personality questions? We ask a lot of questions when we’re sitting with people, and we get to know them as time goes along. You know, when you’re just sitting with someone for a couple of hours, you can’t get to know someone like that. As time goes on, you get to know them better. Why do people call you rather than using an online dating service? I guess it would just be that we work really hard for every client that comes in. We are hands on. I’ve got a great team of matchmakers; I’ve hired the best in my business and trained them myself. We work really hard for the client and the client is the focus. Do you create a profile for your clients? We do create profiles, but our clients can’t be accessed online. We have very few clients’ pictures on our website. Most people are really private, that’s why they’re hiring us. They don’t want to be online, so we keep things discreet. They don’t want the people they work with to see their pictures online. So they meet with us and hire us so we can keep things private. How many matches or dates does the average customer get before they find “the one”? Everybody is different. I have matched people who got married after their first match, and some people who take 45 matches. Their first match would probably be within a week of joining. Sometimes it might take two. How do you make matches? We have all of our clients in a database and we will search based on the things we think will be best for a person – maybe it’s religion, maybe they don’t want to have children, maybe they have a height issue. We search by a ton of different things, pull up a list and will go through that based on the notes we’ve taken on each client. Based on personality, maybe they’re kind of high-strung or super easy-going, don’t like to party, etc. What about that first date? We look through that list and pick out one person at a time. It’s not like we have to send them 20 people at once – we set them up with one person, they meet that person and they’ll let us know, “I didn’t get along with that person because they’re too shy,” or whatever. That’ll let us know they need a more outgoing person. We add that in the mix when we’re looking for the next match. How many employees do you have? I’ve got a whole team of matchmakers that help me. I have a girl in San Diego, two people in Orange County, three girls in Westlake Village, a few girls in L.A. and New York and Miami. How do you attract clients? We get a lot of referrals because we’ve been in business 21 years. I do my fundraiser every Christmas and a lot of people find us through that. And a lot of people just find us online. (The Party for a Purpose Fundraiser takes place every November to raise funds to help needy children in Los Angeles.) How do the memberships work? People join for a certain amount of time depending on the membership. Six months to a year or an international membership is 18 months. Depending on which membership you take, you can freeze your membership. What do you mean by “freeze”? If you meet someone you like, or you’re busy working or traveling or you have guests coming over – you’re just busy for a while – you can freeze your membership so your time doesn’t get wasted. How much do you charge? Our international membership is $100,000 for 18 months. Just to be added into the database would be $3,000. Our basic and premium memberships are $15,000 and $25,000. Clients normally pay in one lump sum. What’s the difference between being added to the database and being a client? If they pay $3,000 to be added to the database, they’re not a client. We will show them to potential clients. Whereas, if they are a client, we are working for them full time. Still, we won’t take someone’s money and add them to the database if we don’t think they’ll match with someone. Do you work with celebrities? We work with a lot of celebrities and a lot of people in the entertainment business, but that’s because we keep things private and discreet. How do you know when a couple will make a great match? It’s sometimes a gut instinct. You’ll have a feeling that two people will match up, and sometimes I’ll have to really push for those two people to meet because maybe they just didn’t think they’d make a good match on paper. But you push, they meet and then they end up married within a year. It’s just a feeling that you have, but you’ve got to have the gumption to push the people to go out and make it happen. Why “Elite” Connections? What is the meaning behind the name? I picked it because I felt like we have great clients. When I joined with my matchmaker, my husband owned a car dealership. At the time and I thought, Well, that’s great, I get to meet a guy that at least has a job. My last two boyfriends, one wanted to be a multibillionaire, which was never going to happen. And I thought, Isn’t it better if you join a company and they have elite connections for you to meet? You know, doctors, attorneys – it’s fun to be able to have those connections – especially if you’ve never dated people of that caliber before. How many customers do you serve on average in a year? There are hundreds of people that we’re working with all of the time. How many new accounts do you get on average in a year? Hundreds. A lot of those people we’re bringing in to meet our clients. What is your success rate? I tell everybody it’s 100 percent. Everybody meets someone that they really like. Not everybody gets married, of course, but everybody meets people that they like and they want to go out with more than one time. We’ve had hundreds of marriages and have probably 10 engaged couples right now. We’ve been in business a long time – 21 years in the dating industry. What are some of your favorite anecdotes from matches you’ve made? One of my favorite matches is me. I had joined a matchmaker when I met my husband, Bill. At first I thought he’s not really my type. But one of my girlfriends said, “Are you kidding me? That’s why you’re divorced, your type is terrible.” I hear that all the time. People come in here and they’re like – “Do you want to see a picture of my ex? This is my type.” And I say I don’t want to look at it. So I gave him a chance, went out with him four or five times and he kept growing on me. Sometimes people don’t give people a chance when they first meet and that’s the frustration in my business. How about other people? I once had a couple and both their memberships were over. I think he had been seeing somebody and she was traveling, so both their memberships were up. One day I met him for cocktails; his birthday was one day after mine, and we’d kind of become friends. I was trying to get him to re-sign but he said he wasn’t interested at the moment. I told him I had this girl he should meet anyway, and they were married a couple of years later. That was a good one. I love for people to be happy, that’s really why I ended up getting into this business. Do you offer other services besides matchmaking? We have counselors that’ll talk with our clients for free, and we have a stylist that will take people out and get them date ready. And you have a lot of different matchmakers that will work with you as well. Sometimes people will decide they just want to work with me, or they just want to work with one of the other girls. But usually most of the clients are more open to having three of four different matchmakers helping them. Do you coach people on how to dress? We had one couple that we introduced – he was our client for two years and her brother had bought her membership as a present and asked us to take her shopping. So we got her to pick up a beautiful sundress and some high heels – she always walked around in flip-flops and shorts. Her brother said, “You gotta sex her up a little bit.” So we dressed her up and the guy that met her said, “She walked in with that red dress and I thought “Oh, my God, this is the girl I’m going to marry.” But if she would have walked in in those funky clothes she had before and her flip-flops, I don’t know that he would have been that taken with her, you know? They have adopted about three kids together and have a great family. So that’s an awesome one, too. What are some challenges you’ve experienced in business? Sabotage. The Internet is like the Wild West – it’s this crazy thing where people can sabotage your business pretty easily. A couple of years ago somebody attached 31,000 bad links to our website and we lost all that organic traffic. Google cut us loose and wouldn’t recognize us anymore. So it took us a long time to get that back again. Also, companies taking part of my company’s name is a problem. It’s very frustrating and it gets people confused. What advice do you give to clients who are struggling to find a match? I’d encourage them to have more of an open mind, to not have such a small window regarding the type of people they want to meet. It’s L.A., we’ve got the movies and all the movie stars and models here so people have this thing about perfection. But there is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist. You can look your entire lifetime and never find that. So ease up on everybody. How do you stay relevant amid ample online dating competition? With online dating, you don’t know who you’re meeting. I was attacked before, so I never ever would have dated online. Once your safety has been threatened, you’re a little more leery and a little smarter. I got away and I helped catch this guy who ended up being a serial murderer. But that’s why people come to us. They want to meet people who really are who they say they are. What was the turning point of your career? Probably when I was invited to my first wedding (from a successful match). That’s when I knew that I really loved my job. I was hardly making any money but it didn’t matter because I loved what I did and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living. How would you describe your management style? I’m friends with everyone that works with me. We become family and have a lot of fun together. They understand I expect them to work hard, though. What qualities in your personality make you good at this job? I’m a really high-energy, outgoing person and I have kind of an artistic side to me. I like meeting people and bringing them in. There are about 10 aspects that a good matchmaker needs to have – it’s not just about meeting people and taking their money. You have to actually like helping people and helping them find somebody, even when they get frustrated. You have to have good instincts and a good imagination. You can’t be timid, that’s for sure. Looking back, was there anything in your childhood that prepared you for this job? I can remember matching friends in high school. This guy came up to me when I was 16 and he noticed I didn’t have my Mustang anymore because my dad had taken it away. And he said, “Your friends are all so cute, if you introduce me to your friends, I’ll give you a ride every day.” So I introduced him to one girl and they dated all year, and he picked me up for school every day. What advice would you give to people trying to decide between online dating or a matchmaker? Do your homework. Don’t go and join somebody because of their high-pressure sales tactic or because they talk you into it or give you a deal. Do your homework, look around, read reviews and check them out.

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