The costs to run a forum can vary substantially. What the actual costs of running a forum will depend on how much you do yourself; how much you want done; and how much you pay for other services. The costs include:
- Hosting: It could be free forum hosting or a paid host. As for paid hosting, I prefer URLJet as they do nothing but host vBulletin forums. They have an entry level package at $20/month up to a package for a virtual private servers at $145 a month.
- Software: vBulletin is the most popular forum software and costs $195 (or $495 if you want the publishing suite). There is no longer any annual license fee for upgrades like there was for earlier versions. phpBB and SMF are free. Invision Power is $150.
- Customization of software: These can be done yourself or paid for. Extensive customization can cost a few $1000. You can get some free themes or you can get some paid themes (eg Transverse Styles, have skins for vBulletin and Invision for around $25 ).
- Design and Banner: Again, you can pay a lot for a real custom feel, or pay a little for a good banner to install yourself.
- Modifications & Hacks Installation: A lot of these are free, but if you do not know how to install them, then you can pay $10 to $25 for hack (sites hosted with URLJet, get this for free).
- Paid News Services: I subscribe to a couple of paid (and a lot of free) news alerts to get ideas for new threads (eg alerts on new patents related to the niche).
- Promotion: There are free ways to promote a forum, but there are also paid ways (eg Google Adwords). The budget to launch a forum, especially if in a competitive niche could be substantial.
- Link Building and Directory Listing. You can do this yourself or outsource it. Some of the key directories, like the Yahoo! Directory charge $299, but may be worth it. There are directory submission services that can be used to build backlinks. Link building is so important for search engine optimization and getting all your threads indexed.
- Paid forum posting: In the early days some forums may use a forum posting service to get the forum off to a start to generate the initial content.
- Competition Prizes: Many forums run competitions to encourage posting. The prizes either have to be donated or purchased.
- Consultants: For example, I use OpenX to serve up all advertisements across my forums and other sites. To save time, I use a paid consultant to deal with technical issues.
- Books: There are a few things that those starting out will probably benefit from reading about BEFORE starting (see these recommendations).
- Lawyers: I have had 3 defamation attempts against my forums. None of them went anywhere, but you still need to consult a lawyer to check your butt is safe and make it go away (see legal).
- Your time, your staff time, your return on investment, etc; or are you in this for the fun of it?
All this can, of course, be offset with monetization.