Eric Cole, business matchmaker

Eric Cole is a joint-venture broker; his job is to bring together two separate parties so they can do business. He is paid for his connections and knowledge of who would be a good fit with whom.

Heidi Schiller
   Eric Cole calls himself a joint-venture broker, or more casually, a business matchmaker, and his job is similar to a dating service, but instead of stressed-out singles, his clients are busy businesses that want to connect with other companies and make a profit.
   When soft-spoken Cole describes his numerous past and present clients he becomes animated. He waxes tangentially about their successes, world travels and eclectic personalities like a proud uncle.
   There’s the Navy SEAL instructor who developed a weeklong civilian course based on his boot-camp experiences and needed a location to run it. Or the inventor of a special type of fishing-lure technology who needed marketing help.
   Cole has a vast arsenal of acquaintances all over the world filed away in his very retentive brain, and draws on them to make joint-venture connections — something he has always done informally for friends and acquaintances but just recently turned into a paying gig.
   After working as a flight instructor in Bellingham, then as a database programmer, Cole took time off to home-school his two daughters while his wife worked as a college counselor.
   In the last year, he began brainstorming his next move.
   He wanted a career that would excite and fulfill him, something that would benefit others as well as himself. A few months ago, a friend sent him an e-mail with a job description for a joint-venture broker and wrote, “This sounds like you.”
   Cole looked back on his life and realized he was perfect for this type of work.
   “I started realizing I know all of these really cool people. I find that everyone I meet has something really fascinating about them, and my brain just starts cataloguing,” he said. “My brain has somehow always tried to make connections whenever I meet and talk to people about ways that other people I know can help them.”
   The trait may be hereditary. Both his father and grandfather were pilots, and in addition to connecting people from place to place, they had a knack for connecting people to people. In fact, his 90-year-old grandfather only recently retired from his part-time job as a bartender for a pilots’ brotherhood venue where he continued his love of connecting people.
   As a joint-venture broker, Cole makes introductions. Simply put, he makes money by connecting a buyer and seller and getting paid a commission for all resulting ongoing business.
   This is not to be confused with a lawyer, real estate agent or broker, or any other licensed professional. He does not perform due diligence but recommends the parties he works with hire someone to do that.
   Here is an example of how it works: Business A might have a customer database. Business B might have a product that would be a good fit for business A’s customers. Business A meets Business B via a joint-venture broker. They agree to do a venture together and share the profits from that activity.
   “I get a commission if it works,” Cole said. “Everybody wins.”
   At first, Cole develops relationships and rapport with potential clients, half of whom he meets on an online joint-venture forum based in Canada.
   “The first thing I need to know is how can I be of service to you — what are you looking for? Is it something you’re willing to pay a commission for?” he said.
   He then finds that person a match, and takes a commission, usually around 20 percent of the resulting profit. But, not wanting to kill a deal, sometimes his commission is smaller, or sometimes it is only a one-time fee.
   “It’s a fun puzzle,” he said. “I love social puzzles.”
   Tom Dorr, director of Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center, is not aware of any other joint-venture brokers in Whatcom County.
   The concept sounds similar to a business broker or a consultant, he said, except that those professions usually assist with all of the paperwork and due diligence involved in buying and selling businesses or joint ventures. In Cole’s case, Dorr said, his clients are simply paying him for his relationships.
   Business owners may feel inclined to hire a joint-venture broker because they are uncomfortable with networking, Dorr said.
   Cole said that business owners are also busy, and don’t have the time or energy to find partners.
   “Kind of like single working professionals looking for life partners,” he said. “Networking is great, but this is taking it to the next step in being very intentional and having somebody who can focus on making those connections.”
   Another incentive is that so many business owners are averse to wading through the overabundance of information and advertising for services on the Web.
   “On the Internet, there is so much to filter,” he said. “And I’ve already got it in my head.”
   So far, Cole’s matches have included a high-end cement furniture and countertop craftsman looking for architects to work with, an exercise video producer looking for a distributor and an inventor of a special fishing lure looking for someone to market his product.
   Dave Sharpe, a marketer and copywriter based in Kelso, has hired Cole for several matches.
   On his Web site, Sharpe advertises that he only takes clients by referral.
   “That means referral from arrangements made through Eric,” he said. “Even though my specialty is in direct-response marketing, it is more effective for me to pay Eric’s fee than it is for me to try to contact prospective clients myself. I spend less time and money, and get better results.”
   For example, Cole is currently promoting Sharpe’s services to 500 business owners, all of whom have significant business networks. He could not afford to pay for exposure like that, and he only pays Cole when someone hires him.
   Sharpe decided to hire Cole for several reasons.
   “First, I want my marketing to be as efficient as possible, and there is no more efficient and powerful marketing tool than referrals. When Eric refers someone to me, I spend less than a third of the time it usually takes to close the sale. Since I abhor that part of the process, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it easier,” he said. “Second, Eric has connections that I don’t have — he seems to attract them without much effort.”
   For Cole, the experience of matchmaking has become a perfect fit.
   “It’s all about the service to others,” he said. “I get to help other people and we all make a living together.”


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