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Bandwidth costs? Ever get burnt on bandwidth overuse charges? How do you deal with bandwidth usage issues?
Anyone ever do an opportunity cost analysis, the old 'the value of my time'? I know: Forget it if that is how I am thinking....
Anyone incur legal costs? For what? How much?
Anyone pay for software or installation? Regrets? Did you get what you paid for or is free just as good?
Does AdSense really pay the bills?
What are the other 'hidden costs'? Unanticipated costs?
Is there a turn around point?
What do you consider to be the return on your investment?
Yo! Brett! Care to weigh in?
The turning point for us arrived about a year ago when the technology and procedures for mini-payments arrived (not quite micro payments as we charge €2.50 a month for enhanced membership).
With the demographic of our members, credit card payments were never a realistic solution, but with the advent of premium rate text messages (SMS) and Premium Rate IVR calls we can now collect the charge using a mechanism most of our members are very familiar and confortable with.
We've spent quite a lot on software/hosting over the years (including a $2000 upgrade to our chat/IM software yesterday) so it's not been a cheap hobby.
Our current revenue streams include:
Enhanced Membership Fees
Banner Advertising (Fastclick)
We're really hoping upgrading our chat platform (to include video chat) will add a fourth revenue stream to the list.
$100/month hosting * 4 years
$900/month hosting * 1 year (I must have been mad that year).
$1000 1st purchase of chat software
$2000 upgrade of chat software
$1000 web design (in the early days, we do it in house now)
$50/month payment processing
We're beginning to look at using some of the traditional advertising methods soon which will probably be our largest single investment yet, I guess thats a different post though.
PS don't forget there's much much more to an online community than just forums.
Anyone incur legal costs? For what? How much?
Yep. Errr..no. I was more or less sued...ended up being the 'webmaster/seo' for their website. Think 'average Joe' and add some money, say a million or so?
I just told the lawyers I'm just a stupid webmaster who is very good at getting top stuff in the SE's. That was practically the truth. They wanted to sue me...I told them I wasn't out to make money..which was the truth. They had me and I knew it. No need for more lawyers. I asked them what they wanted, they told me and I gave them an even better deal..and they loved it. Sometimes playing nice beats litigation.
I ended up losing money on the deal.
Reason? Over bandwidth.
Cost? $130 US.
Front page of the local paper for the whole deal?
People are still calling...(Priceless)
Legal is one of those things like medical expenses - you may have none, or you may get clobbered. I've had people threaten to sue because a forum thread was ranking higher than their own website. (They couldn't believe that we didn't specifically target their company name to siphon away their traffic.) I'm currently working a problem with hackers/spammers that may force ME to sue to get ISPs to disclose details ($5K to get the ball rolling). I guess having an attorney as the site owner/operator could help in this area. ;)
Software is your smallest expense. Powerful packages like phpBB are free, and even more powerful commercialware like vBulletin costs a couple of hundred bucks. Installation is quite simple, but hiring out shouldn't cost much either.
Allow for mod benefits. We've just ordered nice quality logoed polo shirts for one set of forum mods. Not a huge expense, but these people keep things running and shouldn't be forgotten.
TIME is the biggest cost, though it's hard to monetize.
I've had people threaten to sue because a forum thread was ranking higher than their own website.
Yeh been there too! Makes it worse that the thread wasnt exactly singing their praises. ;)
My bandwidth costs aren't too extreme - most of the traffic to the site via the content part and not the forum - so Adsense covers it nicely.
I would guess as well that click through rate on content pages is higher than forum ads, so creating a content site to host Ads and such could be a good way to go about financing a site (at least covering basic costs).
In terms of legal costs - mentioning any specifics about companies, etc is a minefield - I almost got burned for defending a users right to post their opinions on my forum. I ended up swallowing my pride and backing down and fortunately my hosts ate their own legal costs and didn't pass them on to me, which they were within their rights to do.
Unforeen legal costs can be crippling (for any business, not just forums) so it's best to go in prepared and outline exactly what you can and cannot allow on your forums.
When you run the forum how do you pay the bills?
My initial plan was to make money through user subscriptions and advertising.
Then, I started selling widgets.
That came in especially handy when the various forum software packages failed and I had no forums. Widget sales, plus other non-forum related services, keep things afloat.
Sometimes its hard to predict which approach will be most profitable. The rotation itself should help, since visitors will get fatigued and clicks will decrease if they keep seeing the same ads over and over.