The one thing that I can say is not to follow the crowd. People everyday are complaining about proxies dying and earnings going horribly down, but I am not seeing that. It’s because I experiment with new ways to get traffic, ways to advertise, and connect with my users (I actually run surveys occasionally that yield around 400 responses or so). Overall, I work hard on my proxies.
Toplists are not the way if you want to succeed. Toplists provide at most 100 visitors, and you’d be lucky to get a few cents from that. Stop wasting your time, and try doing some SEO. It’s a lot more permanent and gets you more visitors in the long run.
Also, don’t go for free templates on a long term proxy. They have been seen too many times, and users are blind to them. Learn some HTML, or get somebody else to make you a template. It’s not too tough.