BIDDEFORD – The word “cara” means beloved companion in Gaelic. Noreen Rochester has been helping singles find those companions for more than two decades. Cara Matchmaking, in Biddeford, is Rochester’s newest venture.
“There’s nothing better in the world than matching people up and seeing them fall in love,” she says.
“A lot of people are tired of online matchmaking services. They’ve exhausted their efforts on dot com’s, spending hours reading through profiles,” Rochester says.
And because many of her clients are professionals, they don’t have that kind of time. Nor do they get the personal service Rochester offers.
“So I do the work for them,” she says.
That work involves a one-on-one meeting with each client, “a minimum of two hours.” Rochester also does a criminal background check on each client.
“I just want the person to talk to me about their life, their hopes and their expectations. Then I go through a checklist in my mind.” The result? It’s often: “I just know you need to meet this person.”
Rochester charges $199 for a year-long membership that includes unlimited introductions. If a client isn’t in love by the end of that year, she says, the next year is on her.
“I really, really want people to be happy,” she says.
Rochester says a previous career in a district attorney’s office exposed her to “a lot of bad stuff.”
“I feel a lot better about this.”
She’s even been known to match people who weren’t looking. In fact, she matched up a woman who came to a meeting simply to provide moral support to a friend. The woman was reluctant, indeed, “kicking and screaming,” about the process. She is now “head over heels in love” with another client Rochester had in mind.
“I didn’t charge her,” she laughs.
“I love what I do,” Rochester says. “I love people and there’s nothing better than getting a call from someone who says, ‘This is it. She’s the one.’ ”
Q What were your most important needs in getting started?
A I needed a client base. I didn’t charge my first 50 people. Now it’s growing every day. I haven’t advertised much and it’s growing like crazy. At first when people came in, I intended to charge them but I didn’t think I was giving them enough service. I didn’t have enough clients. They appreciated my honesty, and as it turns out, I’ve matched every one. I also needed a website and a Facebook page and I needed to network. Plus I needed an office and a desire to help make matches.
Q What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own?
A My parents were entrepreneurs. They had a family-run business. My brother has a business. We’ve done that our whole lives. My parents had a greenhouse and landscaping business, and we helped them my entire life. My father and I have started some businesses together and sold them, and my husband and I had a couple of other businesses. We’ve all done it our whole lives. It’s in my blood. I can’t imagine not being an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s tough; you don’t know if you’ll get paid. I’ll talk to people who have a decent paycheck or salary, and I don’t care. I’d rather starve doing what I love than going to a 9-to-5 job and cashing my check every Friday.
Q What do you think the advantages are of being a female entrepreneur?
A In my business there are definitely advantages. Absolutely. I think people are more likely to talk to me in this industry than if I happened to be a man. I’ve had really good luck, good success; I think it’s partly because I’m a woman. There are male entrepreneurs in my building, and I don’t know if they’re doing as well as I am. Ninety percent of the people who say they want to help are women. Men who are business owners and helpful as well, but primarily they are women. They’re more nurturing, more open.
Q What advice would you give to an aspiring woman entrepreneur?
A Get all the help you can. I’d have everything in order – like a business plan – and start completely prepped, with every advantage. And, I’d say, follow your dream and fight for it. Work. If you love what you are doing it’s worth it.
Q If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
A I have a hard time accepting money from people. I have a hard time with that. I feel bad when it’s time to accept money for my services. But you have to get over that unless you want to do volunteer work. You also have to have an office and know how to use marketing dollars and how to network. I’ve learned to be a lot tougher. Sometimes people felt like they could take advantage of me. That doesn’t happen now. I’ve also learned a lot about hiring people. I used to hire the first person I talked to. But if it’s a bad fit, it’s a bad fit, and that’s not good for anyone.
– Kristine Millard