The following concepts will explore why some forums become successful and how to turn the success into cash.
Forums are a place for people to exchange ideas. There are two key elements in that simple sentence, people and ideas. You need people in your forum and you need them to be talking about things that matter, things that will get others to join in the fun.
This gets you to the first problem, getting people and getting them to talk. People don’t like to join empty forums so you will need to get a few friends together and start posting topics others would be interested in talking about.
When your forum is small, you really need to target a niche and get a good core group of regularly posting members. With many huge forums out there you are not likely to succeed with a broad forum. You can always expand later when your users ask you to. Start small with quality content, or if you already have a forum scale it down and find a target group.
If you are good with code or graphically inclined, you should spend some time customizing the forum so people feel like they are part of something special. You need to invest some time into making your forum look professional and inviting to people in your target niche. If you already have a forum maybe it is time for a makeover. Our visual sense is our strongest sense so a redesign will make a big difference.
Traffic, traffic, and more traffic. Every website needs traffic and everybody talks about how to get traffic so we won’t dwell on it too much. We will look at how to make that traffic into cash instead.
Now that you have a core group of users and your forum is looking all pretty, let’s see if we can squeeze some ads in there. Affiliate banners such as Adsense probably won’t make you money unless you have massive amounts of traffic so you are better off finding your own sponsors.
Since you are targeting a specific niche of people you will have an easier time finding individual sponsors. You can use something like Adbrite where individual sponsors will sign up for your site, commission junction where you can lick niche-specific sponsors, or you can implement a custom PHP solution, whatever you think might work best.
An even better way to make money is if you can directly sell services or products to your members. For example, a forum talking about web hosts can offer web hosting directly, a forum talking about travel can offer downloadable wallpapers, and so on.
Also, a great idea is to have something like a gift shop where people can order T-shirts, coffee mugs, and so on with the forum logo on it. You could also look into maybe a good drop-shipping retailer deal for arts and crafts related forums.