is it still worthwhile to operate a Forum ?


Well-known member
I am new to Forums and thinking of starting a Forum with XF-technology (starting from scratch) and thought I might dare to ask a few business-related questions to this community of experienced and professional Forum-webmasters.

Considering the many thousands of forums in existence for several years now, most of them enjoy a huge "first-mover-advantage". Which leads me to the following questions:

- is there still a chance to compete with established Forums ?
- does it make business-sense to operate a Forum ?
- what is the best niche to be in, to operate a profitable Forum ?
- is it possible to make a living off from running a Forum ?
- what are the key-ingredients ? Is it just "passion" or are there any "secrets" ?

If you are not comfy to answer here, would be nice to receive a PM from you guys.


XenForo moderator
Staff member
No doubt about it, it's a long, slow, hard job building a forum up.

Mine's been running for 2 years and in that time we only had about 250 members.
In the last few months that has increased to 600 but only because I restricted access to one of the forums so people now have to register to access it.

Subsequently some of them have also participated in the forum so general usage is increasing.

It helps that we have content that people really want to see otherwise I expect we would still be struggling with a handful of active members.

Of course the forum content will have a big impact on it's uptake and growth.


XenForo moderator
Staff member
I think so. If you are not really interested in something, it is difficult to stay interested and put in the work.

My forum takes up a lot of my free time and if I wasn't interested in the subject matter then I would have canned it a long time ago.


Well-known member

But if you want to have a chance to succeed you need to follow certain basic rules:
- You need good content, or something interesting to offer
- You need 'early members' to get the forum started. By this I mean friends, family, acquaintances... that start posting at least daily, and make it look like it's a place that 'lives'
- You need to see it as an important mission for yourself to make it succeed, so put all your effort in it
- You need a logo and domain name that anyone can remember

There are other things, but this is the essential stuff (except of course for good software, but XF can provide that).


Well-known member
In early stages watch new members closely and make sure they get a response to any posts either by you or by your close assocxiates. So if no response after 24hrs max - YOU answer it.

Don't get too seduced by techno - the forum software is important but what really makes it hum is person to0 person relationships.

Keep lists of key topics you can feed in as stimuli at any time.
Questions rather than statements stimulate a response.
Try quizzes - most love them.

In any new business be prepared to work 7 days a week and every waking hour in the first 2 years. Sleep is a luxury.
Put up with whatever crap you get as clients, and nurture them - you can be choosier later.
After that if you've survived 2 years you can start taking a bit of time off. Like half a day a week.

The first year is fun and exhausting. The second year is just exhausting - and often dips down a bit.
You get pioneer types who hook into you during the first year. Many don't stay because this is their nature - to open things up. After these comes a slightly more conventional, stable type. A bit less zizzy but more loyal - but numbers may well go down.
Then the third stage is when you're getting known and you get respect and draw more clients.
It's the third stage/ year that says you're making it.

By the 4th stage you're either sick of it or a success.


Well-known member
Let me start out by saying that anything is possible - never let anyone tell you otherwise. Running a forum can be profitable; some make a few dollars a day while others make a few thousands per day. It's your vision, patience, and determination that can make a difference.

If and when you decide to start a forum it should be from the gut - something that you REALLY want. If you really have to ask then you shouldn't start a forum.

It should be something that YOU love to do.

To succeed you need the following:
  • Attitude - keep a positive attitude with everything you do; you will find yourself struggling if you don't
  • Passion - you need passion in what you do and your niche
  • Patience - success doesn't happen overnight
  • People - surround yourself with loyal/dedicated people
  • Vision - think long term; your actions today will have an impact tomorrow
  • Brand - your brand is the most important thing; it should be memorable and easily recognizable
  • Knowledge - learn everything you can about your target audience ... about your niche ... how people behave? ... how people interact with your website? the changes in ad display (the future in advertisement) ... I can go on and on but you get the message ...
  • Content - add fresh content frequently - content with meat in it! Great content will increase traffic and participation
  • Analytics - get good analytics - learn how to interpret the numbers - it can help you take the necessary steps to succeed
there's more but this is all I can think of right now ... watching anime and typing is hard to do ;)

Anthony Parsons

Well-known member
- is there still a chance to compete with established Forums ?
Absolutely. Many big sites lose touch with their users, and unless you are giving them things that keep them their, then there is always room to change.
- does it make business-sense to operate a Forum ?
Running a forum for money is completely different. You don't make money from contextual advertising... not vs. paid advertisement. You need to understand and know marketing to really leverage the financial profitability of an online site. One way to make indirectly from contextual advertising, is that you use it and then sell the ability to upgrade the users account for a low annual fee, ie. $10 to remove ads. You can do this for a lot of forum aspects.
- what is the best niche to be in, to operate a profitable Forum ?
As stated above, if your not passionate about what you do, then its useless doing it. You will often make the most money from something you are passionate about.
- is it possible to make a living off from running a Forum ?
It can be done, though you need to establish the user and post base before you will see any real profit.
- what are the key-ingredients ? Is it just "passion" or are there any "secrets" ?
I would say... passionate about the topic + keen marketing sense. The ability to leverage an idea for a worth is what delivers money.

Example. I run non-profit sites, though do ask for donations to aid in the annual running costs, as they are several thousand per annum. Putting a donation link on your site is pretty useless, because people look at it and think others may donate. So you set a limit and use something like ranks to isolate who has donated, who has not. The small inclusion of an image beside a users name on every post saying they have made a donation representing a worth changes every others users opinion on that site about making a donation. Some will simply not want to be different and donate to get the icon, the recognition so they don't feel different. Using different levels, you will get others who then compete in donations total to obtain the highest icon they can get, so they stand out and feel more important than another. Think auction strategy... to leverage $$$ to play humans against one another... marketing 101.

Think of it like reputation or post count. People really do strive to compete with those free things. Understanding human psychology and behaviours is very much encompassed within marketing itself... with such understanding you will be surprised just how much money you can leverage over time if you put your mind to it. The big supermarket chains and such use it constantly. From the colour of something to grab the attention of the eye to the position or location, having to walk around something vs. past it, etc. All good marketing. There are billions online trying to make $$$... the majority failing. Do it smart and you will succeed.


Lets not forget innovation.

The days of just installing a bulletin board system on your host and expect it to take off are over. You need something no other forums have :)

Anthony Parsons

Well-known member
Brandon's excellent point brings me to use this very software as an example. There are already 30+ forum players established in the market, with only a few big guns. This software has taken the innovative position to do it better than the rest. Success or failure is yet to be measured, but already its putting thoughts in the back of their mind to pickup their game. Its all been done pretty much within the forum field, whether directly by a developer or a mod has pretty much covered it to fill the gap. So really, this very software answers many of your questions. It all exists already, but doing it slightly different can give you that edge to squeeze into existing markets to obtain that foot in the door. Once you have that foot in the door, its all about what you do with it.

Sometimes only time will tell with some decisions.


Well-known member
'Build it and they will come!'...ok, I wish it was that easy.

The rest of the guys here have pretty much said everything you need to know. Are you going to make instant money? Probably not. Are you going to make a shed pile of money over a long term, well it's possible - but like anything you make in life you have to work hard at it in order to succeed. I can build a factory and make t-shirts but unless I am proactive about marketing them, I won't sell any and I will lose my house and my wife will leave me and the dog. lol

As you said forums are now ten-a-penny, so what will make yours different to someone else? I have site based on video games - I compete with about a million other sites that post the same things, the only difference is to keep it a unique experience for the end user.

Blood, sweat and tears will be spilled over the site in the first couple of years, users will complain, people will leave, rival sites get *****y and you'll probably get hacked at some point and it all feels like hell. But then, you realize that you didn't check your user numbers in a while and there is a sudden jump, you check for dodgy signups - there are none - then you realize that a bunch of new people are making great conversations in forums and then it all feels worthwhile.

As posted above, sometimes on a new forum you have to answer every post just to make the site look active - there is no way out, it's just what you have to do. There will be slow times and busy times for your users - for you though - it will mainly be busy.

One thing I will add though as a guy that learned the hard way - get your site right before you start marketing it, people don't like constant change - so if you are still building the site keep it hands off to users until you are ready because once they are used to one little thing and maybe you have to take it away - it effects a lot of things.
Good luck!


Well-known member
About the money... You can't even think about that when starting up a discussion forum (unless you're going to sell it). It never crossed my mind that I would ever make any money out of it. Only after a full year a member said something about sponsoring and how that would help me pay the bills. I still didn't look for sponsors, the first one came to me, because I created enough traffic to attract him.

The point I'm trying to make is... start a forum because you love the topic/niche. Try to fill a gap on the web. Never start a forum (or any site for that matter) because you want to get money out of it, let alone get rich from it. That may or may not come to you, but it can't be your incentive :)


Well-known member
The point I'm trying to make is... start a forum because you love the topic/niche. Try to fill a gap on the web. Never start a forum (or any site for that matter) because you want to get money out of it, let alone get rich from it. That may or may not come to you, but it can't be your incentive :)
So true, and I think that applies to a whole lot of things besides forums. Don't choose a job to make money, chose a job because you love what you get to do... don't choose a boyfriend because he's rich, choose him because you love him, and so on.

Basically, don't let the only joy you get out of a forum be the money, because there are much easier ways to earn a paycheck.


Well-known member
You don't make money from contextual advertising... not vs. paid advertisement.
contextual advertising can make you lots of money ... I'm talking thousands per day.

with paid advertisement - you need to consider the time it takes to communicate with direct sponsors ... the back and fourth banter ... and the final implementation

with a contextual advertising network (ie. Google Adsense), all the work is done for you ... yes, they get a cut from it but their pool of "sponsors" compared to your sponsors list is bigger; hence, your return will most likely be equal to or greater than what you would have received from your direct paid sponsors

If you want to maximize your potential - do a little of everything.
contextual advertising, paid advertising, and charging for perks

if you want to make money you need to think long term - your actions today will have an impact on revenue tomorrow

think as a sponsor/advertiser and ask yourself the following...
Do I want to spend my money advertising on this site?
Will it hurt my brand?
Will I get a good ROI?

if you answered NO to any of the above then you need to change the site so that it is favorable for sponsors as well as your readers


Well-known member
If you put time and effort into promoting it, you can get some very positive results.


New member
People are talking like running a forum is all they do, and that it does not often make much money.

For me those two things do not add up. I need to earn money. That is why I have a full time job. A forum on the other hand would need to be something that I would do in my time outside of work.

Anthony Parsons

Well-known member
Yes, I should have worded that more carefully... whilst PPC, etc, can make you money, it is rare that your going to make a living from the revenue unless you have established some seriously good sites that are providing return... it is rare more than common to really make decent money from PPC, as everyone is doing it. Google have clamped right down nowadays as well, their own algorithms have improved immensely for what they pay vs. no longer pay as irrelevant click throughs.

If you want to make livable, wealth creation, money from a forum, then you're better off with paid advertising vs. contextual models. I would even say... your better off with other methods that have nothing to do with ads... ie. create tools, account upgrades, etc. You can make a living from a popular forum via account upgrades... as once again, human behaviour kicks into gear and people want it just so they aren't different.


Well-known member
If you put time and effort into promoting it, you can get some very positive results.
It also depends on what genre the forum is. The smaller the niche, the easier it is to take on the competition and end up on top or at least close to it.