I want to start my own wedding and event planning business. My business will be very online based. I want to create a website where my clients can have their own log-in information on my site where they can upload photos/timelines/payment/contracts, etc. I am not an IT person and really know nothing about web development/design. All I know is that this will be the bulk of my business and thus the bulk of my initial investment.
"a site where my clients": what clients?How do you find them? what kind of clients? how much does it cost you to get a client? how much do they pay? what services do you/can you provide? at what cost? how much do you make per client? market size: how many weddings in your area last year? what kind of liabilities do you expose yourself to? how's the start-to-finish cash-flow for a typical client? who are you competing against? what drives customer decision? how many clients can you manage? how many clients do you need per month/quarter/year?... And I could think of several dozens of questions!
Most entrepreneurs assume that if they had all "this and that", clients will come flocking. I think that's a mistake: building a business is as much about distributing value as it is about creating value, and I think most people spend most of their time thinking about what they could create and not enough on how they're actually going to sell it. My advice: start by figuring out how you're going to get clients, go out and actually get initial customers, and then, once you're sure you can build your business, build a more complex IT solution. I'd recommend you start with a $1,000 budget max (that will mechanically limit the complexity of your initial site) build a really simple static website and then add functionalities to it as you build your business; that's my advice. That way, you'll understand what kind of functionalities will actually create value for you and your customers. More importantly, you'll have a higher level of understanding of how IT can help you market your service because you'll already have the experience of what it takes to get customers.
Take a look at this question before you get into a bad outsourcing deal Dilemma: to outsource the coding or do it yourself and good luck with starting your business.
Learn how a website, or web app comes together, by learning about these technologies. You don't need to learn them, just learn how they work together, how complicated each technology is, how long it takes to build certain things using each technology, and how much you should pay for the various skill sets.
Once you've figured out how all of these technologies work together, get yourself an odesk account and start outsourcing the project to various programmers. You should be able to stay under $1,000 on this. Keep it VERY simple. You're going to want to build a super complicated polished, fully functional site, but this is the WRONG way. Build an MVP, test your idea, and iterate.
I disagree with the advice of using Facebook (which doesn't fit your need at all) or trying to learn the technical aspect of all this before you start. You will learn that along the way as you need it, but would be more confusing than anything else to try to learn what you may think you would need to know ahead of time. I would suggest that you have two possible options here.
A) Look for a web application that already does this. What you are explaining seems to be way too common for too large of an industry to not already exist in some way or another. Most likely they have already built the core of what you need and you'll just need to brand it with whatever look/feel your company prefers.
B) Find a web development company that can build this for you. This would require an investment, but depending on your goals and plans for the company would be cheaper in the end. I would imagine this could be built up but a solid company for probably $10k-$20k tops (if they are in the midwest).
Why don't you try to team up with somebody who's good at web development? You can bring your expertise in event planning business and he/she can develop a website for you. You can compensate them with equity of your current business or set up a new legal entity where 2 of you will be co-founders.
Not being IT is perfectly fine. There is a lot of talent out there today. The main thing is being able to articulate your requirements in a way that any developer can understand. Then being able to hire a good developer.
Also, I strongly recommend that you consider starting out as a mobile app vs web-app. The reason is that mobile devices are really the first place users are going to these days. Considering that your requirements require uploading photos etc, you could take advantage of the fact that many people are now using camera phones etc. Starting as a mobile app may give you certain advantages. I can almost say with 100% certainty that you'd need to eventually build a mobile interface to your app anyways.
Every business should start as a service business. It's easy to jump to the point of creating a website because websites are a quick way to show tangible progress in starting your business. Same thing with logos and other things that you can touch and feel. They are also comfortable to build because they don't really require going out and asking people for money, which for most of us (including me!) is a hard thing to do.
In your case, I would start a wedding planning business without the website. Just a service. Or if you want a website, just do something simple like Wordpress or something (I'll help you with that if you really get stuck!).
Try and land three clients - brides - and get them to pay for your service. Through that process I guarantee you will find one or more areas of the wedding planning process that suck... suck for you as a planner or suck for the bride. THEN AND ONLY THEN should you develop a technical solution to address this problem.
I've made this mistake too many times. Please, start as a service business. A real live service business. Not a website.
Building your website is necessary, hire a good web development company and ask them to create a simple and well-structured one. Do not forget about the mobile version, lots of people browse with the mobile devices nowadays and your website should be mobile-friendly. Check mobile apps in Appstore for the inspiration iWedding App or look through this article Social media presence also means a lot, so create your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts, add information, photos & videos, and interact with your potential clients.