Forums cost money to run and they take time to run (see a day in the life of a forum admin). If you are in it just for the passion or the money, there are a number of ways to recoup the expenses and cover your time involved in running the forum, and if you are lucky, make a surplus:
- Premium or paid membership. Members can pay to access some premium or additional content or some additional privileges such as less advertisements; bigger private message mailboxes; ability to change their user title, etc. This can work well if the forum has good content to attract members and even better content to attract and keep the premium or paid members.
- Donations. You can ask for donations. It is easy to insert a PayPal donate button. It is probably also helpful to have sticky thread somewhere explaining the nature of the donations and what the money will be used for (I like to make up a long list of the items that money needs to be spent on). Those who make a donation can be given special privileges similar to the above for paid membership. Asking for donations may not be such a good idea if the site carries a lot of advertisements.
- Sell advertising. Advertising banners and slots can be directly sold. You need to approach potential advertisers with proposals; keep an eye on your inventory to maintain it; chase payments; and upload banners. I use OpenX to serve up advertisements to all my sites (including here at Forum Doc) and manage them all from the one control panel. I use the RevMax add-on for OpenX for advertisers to sign up and manage their inventory. The real plus of OpenX, is that advertisements can be sold for specific geographic regions which is a significant selling point for advertisers from specific countries.
- Sponsors. Sponsors can be sought instead of advertisers (but offered the same banners as above). You could also have a sticky thread in each forum that says something like “This Forum Sponsored by…“. They could also be asked to pay for competition prizes or donate product as prizes. You could even sell “Advert” threads to spotlight and discuss a company’s product.
- Advertising Networks. Google’s Adsense is the obvious way to monetize a forum. The adverts can be placed in many locations. (see: Monetize Your Forum with Adsense). Alternatives to Adsense include the Yahoo! Publisher Network, Adbrite and Clicksor.
- Affiliate programs. Instead of selling advertsing (and all that entails), you could carry banner advertisements for affiliate programs releveant to the niche, such as Amazon. eBay products relevant to the forum can be worked into the forum in a number of ways (see: Monetize your forum with eBay). Some of the products related to the niche include books and DVD.
- Product sales. As an alternative to running affiliate programs or the direct selling of advertisements is to directly sell products via a shopping cart plug-in on your site. This may be suitable for some niches, but carries the disadvantages of carrying inventory, collecting money, shipping and product support.
- Merchandise. I am using the heading ‘merchandise‘ to mean something different to products, and to include things like t-shirts and other branded products for your forum that you can promote via places like Cafe Press.
- Link sales. You can sell links on your forum to other sites. This is best done by a broker such as Text Link Ads. This is somewhat passive, in that you do not have to do any work and the links are served up via some code inserted into your site. If you sold the links yourself, you then have to insert the link code and deal with payments etc.
- Classified advertisments. This can be an option in a large number of niches. If members have products (eg pets; motorcyle parts; tools; etc), you could use one of the classified advertisements plug-ins and charge members a token amount for the advertisment.
Some of these ways of making some money are passive (eg donations; Adsense; affiliates) and other are active, in that you have to work on them (eg selling advertising and products). Which way you decide to go will depend on your forum set-up, your niche, your own risk profile and how you want to work it.
Just how much you make will be dependent on the traffic and niche. But, its not always about money – you can choose to display more advertisements to non-members to encourage more registered members. This serves a useful purpose in forum growth. Cultivating and growing a community (and not monetizing) still has to be the priority or the monetizing will fail in the long term.