One in four relationships start online in the UK today. For the gay community it’s closer to 80%. Yet most people are still dissatisfied with the quality and targeting of the online dating sites out there. With the online dating business market continuing to grow year on year, the industry seems to have considerable scope for more targeted and localised approaches.
And it doesn’t need to be about romance. With social isolation a growing issue, there’s increasing scope too to utilise online dating technology to build community connections and friendships.
So whether you’re thinking of setting up a site harnessing online dating chat as a way of bringing singles together, or if you want to use the technology to combat loneliness in your community, here are 5 basic steps to get started.
1. Find your niche
You’re unlikely to be able to compete with the industry giants, like match.com or PlentyOfFish. Better to tap into the growing demand for niche dating.
If you’re already part of a hobby or interest community, could that be a starting place? There are dating sites out there for niche interests such as dog lovers, heavy metal fans, gamers and My Little Pony fans.
Stage and attitude to life situation approaches are other factors where people may want to focus their search. Sites focused on sexuality, age, even educational level abound. The list is pretty endless!
Undertake some preliminary research to identify gaps, or choose an existing niche you could spin differently.
2.Work on a business plan
Your plan doesn’t need to be extensive. Unless you need investment, in which case you may want to download our business plan template and guide . For a low-cost or lean start-up, it boils down to the following questions.
- Who are your target customers?
- How will you stand out to them?
- What kind of technology with you use and how will you set it up?
- How will the business make money?
- What are your start-up costs and when will the business become profitable?
3. Create an attractive platform
First decide on the technology. Does it need to be a website an app or both? Ask your potential customers what they would prefer. If they are an older age group they may prefer a website, but for anyone aged under 30 an app-based approach is essential.
If you’re concept depends on an entirely new way to put connections together, like an algorithm-based questionnaire, then you’ll need to hire a developer. But if you’re just connecting new types of people with a standard or slightly tweaked approach, then there are white-label or plug-in options available.
Once you’ve identified the right technology, then invest in branding and design that reflects the image and values you want your platform to be known for. You probably want people to feel that you are trusted and a positive, aspirational place. Beyond that reflect what’s unique and unifying about your target group.
4. Consider your monetising options
The standard business models for dating sites are membership subscriptions and/or advertising. It’s worth offering free membership while you are building traction – nobody wants to hang around a site that has few members. Initially you’ll need to focus on getting as many members signed up as possible.
Other options for income generation are upgrades for more features, like being able to message people or see more photos. If you’re building around a community there could also be scope for added-value opportunities like meetup events, and a blog and newsletter with an affiliate marketing element (offering relevant services or products on behalf of a retailer in exchange for a commission.)
5. Customer service
Your clients aren’t just looking for great relationships with each other, in the niche-dating industry their relationship with you is just as important. Your platform will live or die on its reputation and where there is an existing community of any sort, news travels fast. So make sure that you have systems in place to protect your members from the frauds and harassers who can be a plague on those sites.
There are no regulations or checks on running a dating site, but you may want to think about what you could do to reassure potential members, like doing background checks on new applicants. In addition, make sure that you have clear terms and conditions so that you are covered legally in case anything goes wrong.
6. Spread the word
The great thing about targeting a community is that there will already be places where they hang-out on or offline and that’s where you can start to promote your venture. Lure people in with a free trial to start with. Perhaps you could invite them to be a beta-group to give you feedback and help to shape the platform?
After the beta period, you can focus on your launch PR. Do make sure the site is well populated before that moment. Send out press releases to niche press, blogs and websites. Try to engage online influencers. Test out Google ads and Facebook ads to see if they work for you.
In the longer term, your success will be down to reputation. Ask happy users for testimonials and case studies that you can write up in a blog. At the end of the day, you are in the business of love and your members’ joy is without doubt the best indicator of your business success.