Beliefnet

  I've been reading all the stories about entrepreneurs and their successful start-ups; I thought it was time to share my story of doing business online.

Thanksgiving 2009
I’ve typed in the entire a.m. service to the note sections of my brand new iPhone. I tossed aside the Xeroxed pages from my prayer book and patted myself on the back for finding a new use for technology through prayer. How to share? I figure it’d be easy to develop an app for women like me to pray with. I figured wrong.

December 2009

• Catchy company/url name
• Business plan
• Prayer writers
• Application developer
• Website
• Start-up money
Everyone loved the idea, including my husband who was getting antsy when looking at the infinitesimal return from our investments. I threw up a few ads on Craig’s List and in three months Prayables was born. The mission was simple: add more pray to a women’s day. I had umpteen ways to do it, and just as many ways to make it profitable. I figured I would help millions of women find personal peace through prayer and my hubby figured investors would be knocking at the door with fists full of dollars.

March 2010
I have a great team in place. 12 prayer writers, an eager young editor, advertising and customer acquisition expert, and my business soul mate, disguised as a Webmaster. The business plan is tweaked, a new build of the website is launched, and we release an e-newsletter called the Daily Prayable. Our community grows. Everybody loves Prayables; I figure it’s just a matter of time until we explode.

July 2010
We focus on one thing, making sure our community has the best possible user experience. We add features, publish a book, and start a Prayables radio channel. We’re engaging with our fans in all the social media spaces and just to be safe, we add our own social community to prayables.com. We do extensive market research, make calculations based on data we collect from industry experts, and create a spreadsheet to end all spreadsheets. It’s a bazillion columns across and covers 20 weeks. At the rate we’re growing, we figure we’ll be profitable by week 16.

November 2010
The numbers suck. Despite repeated warnings from my SCORE counselor, I was sure that we could rely on advertising as our major source of revenue. I would not listen when she said, “you have to sell something.”  I followed the advice of many who say affiliate advertising networks will bring in the most money. Every week is a different story: It’s revenue roulette. Pick a good offer and watch your CPA rise to $22, bet your impressions on the wrong offer and you bust out. I figured there must be a more reliable way to fund my mission.

March 2011
Every single advisor and expert I’ve talked to suggest a different method to monetize Prayables: Ask for donations, charge for prayer, sell user data, put the prayers in picture frames, sell my ad space directly to select advertisers. I go with ad sales, the other options make my skin crawl.
1.    Reach the right advertisers.
2.    Find their pain
3.    Make a compelling offer
This isn’t easy. I talk to 6 different online sales experts, I offer them $$$ to advise me, none will take my money. Everyone tells me I don’t have enough traffic to sell. I plunge on, because I have no other alternative.

April 2011
I throw a Hail Mary, seconds before the final whistle. While googling for advertiser contact info, I find Patrick Wilcox from NetProspex. He sells me a B2B email lists and coaches me on crafting a good message that will get opens from marketing directors. He turns me on to PinPointe. They’ll send the 7500 messages. It works. I get a 4% open rate and I’m talking directly to advertisers. A kind and gracious media buyer from CVS drugstores explains; buys are done in the tens of millions. I feel like a fool. I walk off the field.

August 2011
Can’t keep me down for long. The staff is gone, the monthly burn is negligible and a new approach is working for me: lean and mean. Wait, can I say that a prayer website is ‘mean’? Not in a cruel way, but I’m operating in a 'mean-ingful' way. I'm working diligently to improve content and acquire new subscribers organically.
Next steps:
1. Offer paid micro-memberships
2. Publish and sell a killer e-book
3. Find two perfect advertisers
I will bring in just enough revenue for modest operations expense, subscriber acquisition and pay down of investment capital. The saga continues!

  By My Side

My heart is open to Your radiance.
I feel the beauty of the universe around me.
I smile knowing it is Your glorious creation.
When others tear me down,
You lift my spirits.
When all hope is lost,
You are the anchor which keeps me grounded.

My beliefs, dreams, hopes, and wishes are inspired by You.
I yearn to be as You are,
so tender, loving, and caring of all things in this world.
Enveloped in Your everlasting embrace,
I can achieve anything.

-Carmen Varner

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