A couple of weeks ago I introduced readers to a new forum EarnersForum.com (a forum for people making money online). It’s headed up by a guy named Lee Dodd (who writes a blog called Forum Trends (sort of like ProBlogger for Forum owners). Lee recently posted a screen capture of his latest payment from YPN for a whopping $222,718.36 (that’s for three months). Obviously he knows a thing or two about making money from forums (something that I’ve heard time and time again is difficult).
I’m often asked about using forums alongside blogs and as I’ve never run one I thought Lee would be a good candidate to interview. I hope you find his answers to my questions helpful..
Darren – Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Lee. For those ProBlogger readers who are unfamiliar with you could you gives us a brief introduction to who you are and what you do?
Lee – My name is Lee Dodd and I am live / work just outside of Dallas, TX. I have been in business online since the summer of 2000. I am 27 years old, married for almost 10 years, and the father of two beautiful girls (ages 4 and 6).
Darren – How did you get into making a living online?
Lee – It all began in 2000 when I got started with my telecom business. I decided to build my first website to use it as a lead gen source. I soon expanded to have a total of 3 sites generating leads for my salesmen to work with on the telephone. After I sold that company in
2004 along with another offline business in later that year, I began to dive more heavily in to content sites and forum building.
Darren – You seem to focus most of your energies on forums – why is that? What are the forums that you work on (have worked on previously).
Lee – Ever since early 2002, I have been a proponent of online communities. At that point, I knew it was something powerful, but didn’t tap into that power until late 2004 / early 2005. I have owned and/or sold numerous forums like sprintusers.com, zeldauniverse.net, cruiselineforums.com, guitars101.com, adminfusion.com, and several others. My most recent forum start up is EarnersForum.com which in about a month and a half has grown to nearly 3,000 members and 40,000 posts.
Over the last couple of years I’ve heard a number of forum owners talk about how difficult they are to monetize. Do you know something others don’t? What is it?
The whole concept with onlin communities including forums and social networking sites is that traffic, specifically viral traffic, is the key to success. Statistically CTRs are CPM rates are lower, but I am definitely seeing an upward trend on the CPM as more and more large online advertisers are seeing a true benefit of buying ad space on these community sites.
Darren – I know of a number of ProBlogger readers who are considering adding a forum to their blog. Do you think forums and blogs could work well side by side on the same domain? Have you seen any good examples?
Lee – I am not so sure this is the best idea. I considered with Forum Trends, but rather than go that route I ended up deciding to use the blog as a main source of cross-promotion with the forum. You can see how I do some of this to my forum for forum administrators, adminfusion.com. I know SERoundtable.com has a forum along side their blog, but the blog is definitely the main focus.
Darren – You have a blog at Forum Trends – why did you start it? What’s the strategy behind it? How’s it going?
Lee – I started it with the simple intention of giving back to the forum admin community. I had and still have no intentions of monetizing the blog, but did decide early on I would use it to promote some of my other related internet ventures. I believe that due to the success I have been blessed with, I should only help others to achieve some success on their part. We currently get between 1,000-1,500 unique visits daily. I have since started a podcast (we are in week 9 of the show), the Won Li Do Sho, which has also contributed to the success of the blog.
Darren – What mistakes do you commonly see forum owners making?
Lee – Primarily it has to do with planning and preparation. It appears that 99% of the new forums coming online are completely lacking in inspiration, originality, creativity, and planning.
Darren – What Forum Software do you recommend? Why?
I am an avid supporter of vBulletin software as I have used it successfully since 2004. I haven’t had security issues (which are common to other softwares), it is reasonably priced, and the support/modifications (free) are amazing.
Darren – What would be your main tips for first time forum owners?
1. Do your research before you decide on your niche.
2. Pick a specific niche, not a broad topic.
3. Be creative and use the power of viral marketing.
4. Be different or be better. Come at the online world with an angle you can sell.
5. Start off on the right foot. Get a custom design, solid forum software, and a team in place to aid you in your launch effort.
6. Contests, creative contests, really work.
Darren – sounds a lot like the advice I give about starting a new blog….
Darren – What are the best ways to monetize a forum?
Lee – I have the philosophy of having my eggs in numerous baskets. I don’t feel you can fully monetize a forum with less than 3-5 different sources of income. I am a big fan of contextual ads like Adsense and the Yahoo Publisher Network, but you need something more. So incorporate along side of your contextual ads some CPM ads, some affiliate programs, link sales, a premium membership program, email newsletter sponsorships, forum sponsorships, and so on. Use the fact that you can display certain ads to “guests” only to your advantage.
Darren – Tell us about EarnersForum.com – why did you start it? Who is it for? How’s it going? Why should ProBlogger readers join? Is there a blogging section? (if not – why not?)
Lee – I started EarnersForum.com because it was something I wanted to participate in really. I wanted a place unlike most other webmaster forums that concentrated on helping folks to achieve their income goals and that reached out to a broader section of webmasters, etailers, bloggers, and so on.
I think it is going great, much better than hoped for. In less than 50 days, we have almost 3,000 members and 40,000 posts. The quality is definitely there and people are already earning more. We have had numerous “promotions” on the forum already where a user that was earning $100-$999 a month is now able to say he is earnings $1,000-$5,000 a month.
We offer a private application that our members can choose to fill out that will give them priveledges and access to private areas on the forum depending on their monthly income. It has been a great way to promote networking with other like-earning web entreprenuers and facilitate partnerships and JV opportunities. I think any ProBlogger reader should be participating at EarnersForum if they have a desire to make more money. There is much to be learned, I learn daily.
We DO have a blogging section as well in our Earning Arenas section of the forum.
Darren – Thanks Lee for giving your time. I think I’d better go dig a little deeper in EarnersForum and find that blogging area.