My husband and I have been married for more than 13 years--and we knew each other and dated for six years before that--so I would hardly call myself an expert on dating since I've been off the market for almost 20 years now. However, I have a lot of single friends and hear plenty of stories about the trials and tribulations of their efforts trying to find the perfect mate. With Valentine's Day around the corner, the holiday of hearts has made me realize that business is a lot like dating. In fact, launching a new business and looking for clients is a lot like searching for a mate.

The First Date
When you're meeting a prospect for the first time, you spend a little extra effort to dress well, fix you hair and practice in front of the mirror. There's small talk about sports, the weather, weekend plans--anything to find some common ground. The less you care whether they hire you, the more likely they are to be interested in you.

Sound familiar?

I actually tried to talk a prospect out of hiring us one time, but the more I questioned him about whether we were the right group, the more he was convinced he had to work with us. Being too available or too desperate is unappealing in dating both personally and professionally, I guess.

The Courtship
After the meeting, you worry about whether you should drop them an e-mail or call first. Did I make a good impression? Do they think I'm smart? Funny? You send each other sweet nothings--jokes via e-mail, white papers addressing areas of concern. You go to lunch, meet to discuss the proposal. Isn't dating fun? The flirting is frustrating though, and we're ready for action.

The Honeymoon
Once they decide to work with you on a small project the honeymoon period begins. Everyone loves each other at this stage, but you just know the façade will crack eventually. The first "big fight" usually happens around billing time or when the client expects to see results before they had to pay for anything. Has the trust been broken? Can we still all work together?

The Old Couple
You get through the rough patches somehow and then it really is like a dysfunctional married couple--the evil that you know. You get to the point with some clients that you can see the issues coming and can finish each other's sentences without ever even having to get into an argument.

The Divorce
We actually had to fire a client once. He was like the abusive boyfriend who beat you up and then apologized after promising to pay up front next time. Really. He didn't appreciate any of the great work we did for his business so we decided to shake hands and part ways. Sometimes it really is much better to get a divorce.

Lessons Learned...
So what have I learned in this dating game we call business?

  • Mom was right: always say thank you and send a note. People appreciate good manners.
  • Whether it's for romance or business, people spend time with people they like to be with. Chemistry really matters.
  • The harder you chase them, the faster they run away.
  • When it's over, cut your losses and move on as fast as you can. The abusers never do change.
  • Enjoy the journey--if you're not having fun doing the day-to-day stuff, it's probably not a very good partner for you anyway.

I'm really glad my husband and I met when we did! This dating business is hard work. When you find the right partner, stick with that person. Good partners in business--and in life--are really hard to find, so treat them like gold.