There`s also a free on-line service (www.informe.com) that will host a portal (gathering place/web site) for you and they have the capability to run forums. You might want to try out your idea there before you invest any money.
Sorry, I can`t tell you much about it from personal experience (yet). I have an account set up there for an idea I`m working on, but haven`t used the service very much. It looks promising to me.
I regret having taken way too long to get back to this thread, and to get my idea going. But I have been doing some research, so not all this time has been lost.
It seems like starting with forums is the consensus and then building the rest of the site from there. However, is it better to have subdomains where I perceive that I will have more costs for each, or should I set up the site at the outset with subdirectories?
At the onset I also want to have: content pages-potentially hundreds of pages (a CMS will also be necessary); pages where customers can sign up for special offers- discount parts, insurance, ect (this will be a part of the 4 levels of members I intend to offer-free, silver, gold and platinum, so a merchant account will be necessary); a database for all of the registrant`s info-so it must have security; a calendar- so the user can add their own reminders to do maintenance, or important dates ect; a news page-with up to date information about what effects the customer`s business; classifieds; a blog; an e-commerce store; pre-built spreadsheets; customers can ship packages from my site at a group rate; as well as a few other products or services.
All of this does not need to happen at the onset of the site, but I do have some capitol available that I plan on spending in chunks such that we can add a few products or services every few months. I hope this explains my thoughts a little more.
While reading your posts, I have noticed that a majority of suggestions are for products or programs that are free or very low cost, which is great. But, could these types of coding help me in this case, or do I need to go the route of the completely customized site?
As you can see, I am almost completely clueless, so any help is greatly appreciated.