Most people who start a forum do it because they are driven by passion yet still need to earn decent money to keep it active. In this guide, I will show you 12 proven ways to monetize a forum in 2021.
I will also help you decide which monetization method should work great for your discussion forum.
Some of these monetization methods don’t require too much traffic for making a decent profit. With a pretty new forum, you can make a couple of hundred dollars by selling advertising or offering paid memberships. In contrast, you can make thousands with an established one by providing online courses or affiliate marketing.
Oh, You don’t have a forum yet?
Here I show you step by step in a complete guide and start a successful forum. Read that guide before proceeding any further with this one. Or you can also try some of these monetization methods like writing and selling an ebook or offer paid consultations with a Facebook group or a Youtube channel.
Let’s start finding how to monetize a forum. Here are 12 methods that can increase your profits this year and beyond. Choose more than one and see which combination makes you the most profit.
- 1. Add a shop to your forum
- 2. Affiliate Marketing
- 3. Create an online course
- 4. Write and Sell an Ebook
- 5. Join an advertising network
- 6. Sell advertising directly
- 7. Add a business/links directory
- 8. Ask for donations
- 9. Offering paid consultations
- 10. Offer paid access to Forum sections
- 11. CPA Marketing
- 12. Sell your forum
- Top 3 Blog Monetization Mistakes
- Conclusion on How to Monetize Your Forum
1. Add a shop to your forum
As your community is built on people that share a common passion or interest, you may set up a shop and sell some merchandise.
An online shop might be something you never even considered. But, it’s a great place to put the products your readers might need; right next to the content, they love.
The most common community software (like Invision Community) lets you set up shops inside the platform. If yours doesn’t, you can easily set up a shop using Shopify or WordPress and Woocommerce on a subdomain.
- Get higher rates than through affiliate marketing.
- You can easily change the products.
- Have total control of the orders.
- You should deal with packing, selling, refunds, etc.
- You need to take care of the inventory.
- Should invest in advertising and marketing to generate orders.
There are many items you can sell, starting with digital items (checklists, templates, training materials), promotional materials (t-shirts, hats, pencils) with your community brand, and products related to your industry, niche (You can find a partner that will take care of shipping and handling).
2. Affiliate Marketing
Generating income through affiliate marketing is when you earn a commission by promoting someone else’s products on your site. It’s similar to advertising because it’s a passive income stream, and you don’t have to produce goods or services, but unlike advertising, you only get the income if your affiliate makes a sale.
Affiliate marketing is a lucrative way to monetize your audience. If you don’t know yet much about affiliate marketing, you should check our affiliate marketing for beginners’ complete guide.
Also, here is a list of 65+ affiliate marketing high-paying programs that can inspire you. Now you should know enough about affiliate marketing, so check the best 21 affiliate marketing networks you can signup for.
In a nutshell, all you have to do is find the best affiliate programs for your audience, review them, and show them to your audience.
Affiliate Marketing Monetization PROs
- High revenue if you do it right.
- You can outsource most of the work.
- Low upfront investment needed.
- It can be used along with other monetization methods.
Affiliate Marketing Monetization CONs
- You need to spend much time researching the right affiliate programs.
- There is much work involved.
- You don’t have control of the products.
- There are no guaranteed returns.
How much can I make with affiliate marketing?
This depends a lot on the traffic and the readers’ trust you get. Also, the niche and the way you promote the products have a significant impact on your earnings. Approximately 15 percent of the digital media industry’s revenue comes from affiliate marketing. A discussion forum with 10K monthly visitors can make between $500 to $1500 without advertising.
How to start monetizing your forum with affiliate marketing?
First of all, you should analyze your audience well to understand their purchasing behavior, their problems, and what products can solve them. Then join an affiliate program or, better, an affiliate network like Amazon Associates, ShareASale, or Impact.
Look at the products, the affiliate commission, payment terms, how well it performs, and choose the best for your audience. You can post the link directly and the banner on your blog or write a blog post or a review to introduce them to your readers. Don’t forget to read the FTC rules regarding affiliate marketing.
Further readings to monetize your forum through affiliate marketing:
3. Create an online course
More people are taking online courses than ever before. The e-learning industry is expected to grow to about $325 billion by 2025. Online courses can take many forms for a forum owner. The easiest way to make a course is to write it as a series of PDF documents that your reader purchases and studies on their own—very much like an eBook, but with exercises and extra resources explicitly designed to educate the reader.
Recording media to accompany the course can make it feel more personal and gives the course more value. Whether you do it as an audio file or a video, people who buy the class will benefit from hearing you explain the concepts aloud. Video can be beneficial for physical or visual niches, like fitness or design, where demonstrating the idea can be easier than explaining it.
The most time-intensive course style is to meet with the students in real-time through a chat room or online education portal. The disadvantage of this class style is that it requires people to be available at a specific time to attend, limiting interest and attendance.
PROs of Monetization through Online Courses
- Video online courses are selling like hotcakes now.
- You can add more content like quizzes, tests, checklists, etc.
CONs of Monetization through Online Courses
- For video courses, you need professional equipment to record.
- Also, your spoken English should be good enough.
- Requires discipline.
How much can I make by creating and selling an online course?
As I said, the e-learning industry is expected to grow to about $325 billion by 2025. There are people like Joseph Michael, who made $40k as a newbie teaching writers how to use Scrivener’s popular writing software. As you can see, the possibilities of selling online courses are endless.
How to start making money by creating and selling an online course on my forum?
Selling online courses isn’t restricted to a particular niche. There are online courses on blogging, photography, fitness, and anything you can think of. You don’t need to be a certified chef to create a course that teaches people how to cook. If you can cook better than most people, make your course material in a way that can truly teach people how to cook, then there’s nothing holding you back from creating your course.
Come up with a great course idea, ask for feedback, create the course, ask for feedback again :), do the final touches and then host it on a 3rd party platform like Teachable or Udemi.
4. Write and Sell an Ebook
The most successful eBooks come from forum owners whose brand is based on expertise. You can either release the eBook as a PDF directly from your site or through a retailer like Amazon for almost no financial investment.
You want to make sure it contains new material that’s not just a re-hash of the information readers can get on your blog for free. A compelling eBook topic might be an in-depth analysis of a trend in your field or a comprehensive how-to solution to a common problem.
PROs of Monetization through Selling Ebooks
- Make money almost on autopilot (create once sell for years to come).
- You establish yourself as an expert in your niche.
- Make more money than selling ads.
CONs of Monetization through Selling Ebooks
- I need to spend time researching and writing the book.
- You will need to respond to customer questions.
Income from an eBook tends to reach its highest levels shortly after its initial release. Referencing the book in your future posts or running a promotion could cause spikes in sales, but if you’re marketing the book, right the bulk of your subscribers will buy it right off the bat if they’re going to. Subsequent spikes in sales tend to be from new readers who have come to you since the initial release.
How much can I make by writing and selling an ebook?
According to WiseBread.com, of about 200,000 authors selling ebooks on Amazon, only about 5,000 — less than 3% — consistently earn $10,000 a year or better. So if you don’t write like George R.R. Martin and have a strong publisher, you will not get reach by writing a book. Yet you can still make a decent income, like $300 – $1000 each month.
How to start making money by writing and selling ebooks on my forum?
Selling ebooks isn’t restricted to a particular niche. There are ebooks on blogging, photography, fitness, and anything you can think of. For example, if you had a blog that taught gardening, you can sell an ebook that led your audience in more detail on how to grow their gardens or a particular plant.
You can then choose to sell your ebook directly on your blog or through platforms like Gumroad or Podia. Selling your ebook on your site can be advantageous, as you get to keep 100% of the profits. You can easily do this with WooCommerce or the Easy Digital Downloads WordPress plugin.
5. Join an advertising network
If you have more than 40K page views monthly, you can join advertising networks. There are many advertising networks available for form owners. Some are highly selective.
You should also do this if you’re not getting enough advertising requests or don’t have time to approach potential customers. The downside is that these advertising networks get around 25-45% of the money the advertisers are paying.
Advertising networks PROs
- Most of them offer higher paying rates than Adsense.
- They will work with you to improve your site and rankings.
- The support is better.
Advertising networks CONs
- Some of them have more demanding acceptance conditions (traffic, content quality).
- Some ads may be intrusive or have low quality.
- There are advertising networks that want the exclusivity of your advertising spaces.
Do some research before signing up with a new ad network. Check out sites that use it to see how it shows up on their pages, and if you can talk to other bloggers about their experience with the site, that’s even better.
Keep in mind that the more exclusive ad networks have limited access for a reason. Their advertisers are likely to pay more money in exchange for a guarantee of higher viewership. As your traffic grows, considering better ad networks could be an excellent way to increase your profit.
How much can I make with Advertising networks?
Like Google Adsense, the exact amount you can make using advertising networks varies depending on what size and style of ad you use, what niche your blog is in, and how much traffic you get. You can generally make at least 2-3 times more than with Google Adsense with the same traffic amount.
How to start making money with advertising networks on my blog?
Check our advertising networks guide for bloggers and seek the network that fits your requirements best. Signup, add your website, and then place the ads on your site. Monitor the earnings and visitors’ experience for some weeks and decide if you’re happy with the results and keep it or switch to a new one.
Further readings to monetize your blog through selling advertising:
- Best 21 Advertising Networks For Publishers in 2021
- Native Advertising Guide [Complete 2021 Version]
- Advertise with us [Advertising Page Example]
6. Sell advertising directly
You may also sell ad space in certain sections after the forum has become more popular. Some advertisers are willing to pay no less than $3,000 per year, depending on your community’s popularity. If you want, don’t like how much you should charge, check the BuySellAds marketplace. There, you can get a pretty good idea of how much a forum with similar traffic to yours is making.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of the advertising prices, you should ask them may signup for an account with them or sell advertising on your own. Just create one advertising page like this and let your members know they can purchase an ad on your site. You may also check Monetize.info’s Advertise with us page.
Sell advertising directly PROs
- Charge more as you cut the middleman.
- You have the final decision of what ads appear on your website.
- Have the flexibility to choose the ad sizes and ad types you take.
- You can place the banners in ways that are not suppressed by adblockers.
Sell advertising directly CONs
- You have to search for clients for your ad space actively.
- Need technical knowledge to install an ad management plugin.
How much can I make by selling advertising directly?
The exact amount you can make by selling advertising varies depending on what size and style of ad you use, what niche your blog is in, and how much traffic you get. You can generally make at least 2-3 times more than with Google Adsense with the same traffic amount.
How to start making money by selling advertising on my forum?
The first step is to analyze your audience (traffic figures, demographics, etc.) and create a media kit for your forum. Here is a media kit creation guide. Alternatively, you may create an advertising page that your readers can easily find. Check ours here. The next step is to install an ad management solution on your forum and configure everything. If you don’t have any orders, you may place affiliate banners. The final step is to outreach to potential customers for your ad space.
If you just started your forum and the traffic figures are pretty low and don’t get any advertising requests, you can still make a couple of bucks by placing Adsense ads or Amazon ads. Just make sure you follow their guidelines to get your site approved.
Your community is enriched by people interested in a topic, and as long as there are services/products available for selling, your members will buy them.
If your community is about digital marketing, charge people to add their agency in the directory. If you talk about auto parts, invite auto repair shops to list in the directory, etc.
You can charge anywhere between $25 – $100 for a listing, depending on your traffic.
8. Ask for donations
Your members should know how much time you spend running the forum and what the expenses are. It’s nothing wrong with asking for donations. Just tell them how much you need and show a report on what money will be spent and the donations will come. This is a 100% foolproof method, and it doesn’t matter what niche you are in.
Accepting Donations PROs
- Supplement your income and cover your forum expenses.
- Allow you to be totally independent and don’t have to push people to purchase something.
Accepting Donation CONs.
- You can’t mix donations with high rewarding monetization methods.
- Doesn’t work for some niches. You can’t teach people to make money online and ask for donations.
9. Offering paid consultations
Remember when I said that you should create a forum in a niche you know and passionate about? Well, monetization is one of the reasons. When you administrate a forum, your member knows that you’re very knowledgeable about the matter and can pay you for this knowledge (this tool might help you create it). Set up a page with your services. You may check ours.
You can offer paid consultations or sell reports if you’re in the SEO business, you may do SEO consulting, or if you started a forum on web design, they might hire you to design their website. The bottom line is that your knowledge grows with your community, and you have an open market at your fingertips. Email your members and let them know about your services.
Offering paid consultations PROs
- Easy money for forum owners.
- You will bank on your reputation and expertise.
- It can be used along with other monetization methods.
Offering paid consultations CONs.
- It would help if you spent time creating the offer, adding case studies, etc.
- You’ll not make much if you don’t have substantial expertise.
- It’s not easy to scale up as you sell your time.
Here is an article where we show you how to turn free consultations into paying customers. Whether you set yourself up as a life coach, career coach, or business development coach, you can earn a significant income through just a handful of clients.
How much can I make offering paid consultations?
Again it isn’t easy to estimate how much you can make by offering paid consultations. It depends a lot on the expertise, reputation, audience, and services you are offering. Tim Schmoyer, a certified Youtube growing consultant, asks for $597 per coaching session.
How to start offering paid consultations on my forum?
Make sure you’re good at what you’re doing first. Decide on several packages, and do your best to ensure that you address any objections upfront. Create a paid consultation page where you explain what you’re doing, your past customers, and your achievements. Outline the benefits for the customer and then start to advertise the page to your audience.
10. Offer paid access to Forum sections
Can you provide other benefits besides the usual? How about exclusive access to other tutorials in your niche? I should also mention that setting up a recurring payment model may not be ideal. Remember, forum members come and go in cycles, which means they are less likely to sign up in the first place unless your offer is insanely valuable.
Many communities offer a premium paid membership with more benefits than free members have. Check our article on Top Affiliate Marketing forums to see how admins of several communities are charging anywhere between $20 to $99 for a paid membership.
Here are several benefits you can offer to your premium members:
- Access to a special sub-forum where you can share exclusive information.
- Remove advertising for premium members.
- Special badge and mentions (different text color, member group, etc.).
- Discounts on other purchases.
- Member’s signature may contain adverts/links.
- More private messages storage space.
Note: Most of the information you provide should be free of charge and generally helpful. Leave only the most essential/crucial bits as a premium option.
Please keep in mind that most of your revenue should come from the value you provide, which turns your members into loyal fans.
Paid Memberships PROs
- It works even for smaller readerships.
- Leverage your content and earn even more.
- Recurring payments increase your income.
- Membership sites can be automated.
Paid Memberships CONs
- You need to create content always; otherwise, the members will stop paying.
- Technical knowledge is required to set up everything.
- You have to create content even better than the one you’re offering for free.
How much can I make by adding a paid membership to my forum?
You should take into consideration many things. Your expertise, the niche you’re in, the traffic figures are just some of them. For example, Jeff Goins’s Tribe Writers is a membership site that only opens three or four times a year. He charges upwards of $100 per month membership; it only lets 150-200 students on average.
How to start making money by adding a paid membership section?
Decide first on the content you are going to offer for the monthly fee. It can be digital courses, exclusive forum access, ebooks, reports, the ones that I’ve told you about before, but now you pack them in a monthly membership.
11. CPA Marketing
One of the most lucrative ways to monetize a community is via CPA marketing. That’s because, in CPA marketing, you can get paid for users that don’t spend money purchasing a product. Instead, they can fill a form, try an offer, download a product, etc.
That’s different than in affiliate marketing, where you get paid a commission of what spend the members you bring in.
We have written a step by step CPA marketing for beginners guide where I show you: what is CPA marketing, how it works, what’s the difference between CPA marketing and affiliate marketing, what are the top CPA networks you should work with, how to get approved and how to promote CPA offers and cash in the earnings.
If you want to learn more about CPA marketing, I recommend you take a CPA marketing course to give you a complete road map on monetizing your community.
12. Sell your forum
If you decided to sell your forum, there are several places where you can do it. Besides the usual marketplaces, I suggest you first contact companies or competitors from your niche, especially if your niche is not so popular as digital marketing or forex.
That’s because these companies know your community’s value and how to monetize it properly, so they will usually pay more.
Where you can sell your forum:
- Flippa.com is one of the busiest marketplaces covering buying and selling: websites, domains, and mobile apps. If you check the auctions, you can get a pretty good picture of how much your community can be sold for.
- DigitalPoint Marketplace – Another quite popular marketplace for websites but with fewer offers than Flippa. I found that the quality of websites for sale listed on DP is usually lower than on Flippa.
- FE International – FE International offers comprehensive exit planning services and direct access to an established network of pre-qualified international investors to drive your business’s demand and maximize value for your company. Thomas Smale participated in our SEO Expert Roundup.
- TopGold Forum Marketplace – It is not so busy, but you can still list your website there and get offers.
- eBay Websites for sale – On eBay, you can sell everything, including websites.
Check also our article on how to sell your blog. Many tips will help you with selling your forum.
Top 3 Blog Monetization Mistakes
Here are the top 3 blog monetization mistakes we encounter:
- You should not expect any quick returns. It can take up to several months before you see any significant response from your visitors. Be patient!
- If you are an affiliate, don’t hide that. Put a disclaimer of some sort somewhere for the sake of transparency with your readership. Google has explicitly said this is necessary if you’re going to sell via affiliate marketing. They’ll reward you with higher rankings if you do.
- Don’t put your faith in one method. For instance, you need a lot of traffic to make money from Google Ads. You need to be more creative than that! Test and combine to find the best monetization methods for your blog.
Conclusion on How to Monetize Your Forum
So you made it till the end. Congrats on that. Now you know how to monetize your forum with 12 proven methods. Some of them are easy to implement (selling advertising, joining an advertising network). In contrast, others require more work (offering paid consultations, creating ebooks, creating online courses) but are way more lucrative.