The other day, I was reading a post, where someone had wanted to make a forum, to make a lot of money. Now, I actually replied to the post with a very-very long reply, that taught them basically, some of the basics of starting a profitable forum.
But, now it's overflowing my brain with so many ideas, and now I don't have the time to take-action on them all. So I thought I would post, kinda a complete guide here for you all, since I know many of you, have a bit more time, to work on some new projects
Step #1 - Lay The Foundation
The first part in starting a profitable forum is to lay down the bricks (The foundation), what you're going to build the forum on. I'm someone that won't just buy out other forums, because in the end, it's easier if you start it, and run it from the beginning and just bring other forums in. The reason I say this, is because what ends up happening, is you take over a forum, with a admin/mod structure, and then it's very hard to change.
Whereas in the case (which I'm going to suggest below) where you buy and bring in a forum, you actually show them that you're taking over and bringing them into your forum.
Anyways, I got off topic there (as usual), so laying the foundation, is basically doing the following.
1) Domain Name - You need a domain name, where people will go to access your forum. I see this way too much, don't go with some .freedomain.. The domain name should have the keyword, that your forum is going to be targeting in it. So say your forum is about warrior forum fan club, it should be like "WFFanClub" or something that that effect.
The reason I say not to go with a free domain name, is that I am less likely to join a forum that is .ezboards.com or some long url then wffanclub.com. Do you see what I mean?
2) The Hosting - Before you can even decide which forum script you're actually going to run on the site, you need a web host for it. There are so many different web hosting companies out there, that I'm not going to suggest one. I just suggest that you research them all before going with one, so you don't choose the wrong one.
Here as well, I don't suggest going with free hosting, I've heard some really bad horror stories, and I'd rather not hear anymore about Free hosts!
3) The Forum Script - What exactly is going to power the forum system? Obviously your not going to have every member editing the page html, now that's not a forum. (but, that would be a bit funny). With forum scripts, there are so many many options, and some of them (free) are even good options.
For myself, I use vBulletin, the more-expensive paid one, however there are good free solutions like MyBB, SMF, and more. As well as another paid solution, IPB. There is also one that is going to be launched (I haven't checked lately) called Xenforo.
At this point, it's really up to you what forum script that you use. Just look around and see which kind you like. WF seems to be using vBulletin.
4) The Forum Sections - At this point, you need to finish laying down the foundation, with the sections where you want people to discuss. Adding these really depends on the forum software that you're using. Your forum sections, should divide discussions into easy-to-use categories.
Some suggestions to include are: Announcements, Suggestions & Feedback, General Discussion and then related sections to the topic of your forum. Of course, every forum is different, so be different:- change things up.
5) The Forum Rules - You don't need to be strict, but before I even get my forum going, I like to make sure there is a set of rules in place, I want the members to know them, so I don't have any problems, in case something ever comes up. Sure, it's possible to run an incident-free forum, but is it likely?
Now, that's really the foundation of your forum. At this point, please don't start trying to make money from it yet, because you will find that it won't make money. See, you need active members, and traffic to be able to do any monetization at all... So please, leave the monetization until you've finished the forum.
Part #2 - Building it Up!
1) I'm sure that you've heard of those people, that will hire Professional Forum Posting agencies, and those that will hire freelancers, and while at the end of the day, you're getting posts, it really isn't the best solution. Sure, you get some quick post counts, but, whats better... an interested member, whose going to stick around? Or a member, whose going to take the money, and then go? What do you think?
Obviously the interested member, and yes... I can here you all asking "I just started a forum, how am I supposed to get interested members?". Which is exactly the question that I ask myself. And that's why I came up with the perfect solution.
That's right, purchase out forums in your niche (look, there's tons for sale on webmaster forums, and flippa), and then to merge them into your forum, clean it up - and place them in all the proper sections. And... You know what makes this better then hiring forum posters etc?
a) You're bringing the members over - Dependent on how many members there were on the last forum, thats how many members you've now added to your new forum. Now, you can e-mail the members to tell them about the merge, and possibly get many of the active ones over to your forum.
b) You're merging in the posts - You're bringing in a basis of a large-amount of posts into many of your sections, when you hire a forum poster, you usually find out that having the same name on every post for a while, just doesn't look good. Think about this for a second, are you more likely to stay at a very active forum, or at a dead one?
c) You merge in the activity - When you forward the other domain over after the transfer, you've now brought over the activity from your forum to the new one, meaning that you've just made your forum active . And all it took was bringing in another forum, no having to spend hours working with forum posters or anything.
Now, obviously this only solves the one key problem which is getting members. The cool part about that last step, is that we can do it over and over, so that we keep bringing in more & more threads, and posts and making the forum much larger .
Part #3. The Traffic Issue!
Now, in the last part, you are bringing over some traffic, but you're not bringing over all-that-much to be able to start selling ad spaces on the forum, so at this point, I would do a little keyword research..
1) Go to the Google Adwords keyword tool, and type in the topic of your forum, plus the word forum, and see what kind of results you get. When you see a good keyword, check it out with Google.com, and see how many others are targeting it. If you find a nice one with a low amount of people targeting it, then you will be able to target that, with your new forum.
2) Start building backlinks to your website with that keyword. Whether it be with angela & paul style links, or w/e, read up on the different methods to building backlinks to your site. Some of them, are what we would call "grey" areas, and many warriors would disagree on my opinions on certain backlinking, so I won't get into all the details on that one.
3) Use Forum Promotion Sites - There are forums, out there; just for you to promote YOUR Forum on. How cool is that? Be sure to utilize these.
The Last Part: The Making Money
Probably your favorite part right? Well, it's mine as well; of course; as with all of you, I want to make money with my forum. so how exactly do you monetize your forum, after you've built up an active member base, and some traffic.
1) You could add ad spaces to the site, slowly. You can start to filter in advertisements for related things. Say its a sports site, you could put banners up for a ticket affiliate program, or merchandise affiliate program. Or for something else, you could promote as an affiliate.
2) Sticky threads - You could sell Sticky threads in certain sections to "sponsors" who want to get there brand out there, with a section on your forum. You can also throw affiliate links in sticky threads, like "Support Us when you get tickets to the game" or something to that effect.
3) Premium Membership - If there is something that you could offer to users for paying a monthly fee, then do it. Many sites make a ton.... of money off offering premium memberships, its just that you have to have the market to do them
Now, I really hope this post is helpful to someone, now - my hands need a break.