I'm currently freelancing under my own LLC. I've decided that for now, I want to move to a firm job to get some more experience before I really start working on building my own freelance company. I'm posting here as part of my effort to do some research before I start my job search.
Here's a little about my background:
Although I am a web developer, I got my Bachelors in web design at the Art Institute of Colorado. I took to the web development classes a lot more strongly than the design classes, but as a result I am a web developer who understands and can implement design conventions. I am also able to relate well with web designers because my background involved so much interaction with them.
I have about 14 months of firm experience from an internship that became a part time job in a successful Denver web firm. I have 3 months of internship experience at a small web company. I also have about a year to a year and a half of freelance experience from working under my own LLC.
I am familiar with a number of CMS/shopping carts including wordpress, interspire, bigcommerce, zen cart, mambo and older versions of joomla. Additionally, I am good at learning the coding and customization of new CMS rather quickly.
Finally, I have a decent awareness of SEO and am experienced at adding and tracking Google Analytics accounts.
As I start looking for jobs, I'm already being asked what I would expect to get paid. As job seekers know, this question is really more of a subtle negotiation and being informed is important.
So, What should someone with my experience be able to ask to get paid hourly or per year reasonably?
You seem to have good base web technology in hand. For the CMS, you won't get much money out of this... PHP is good but Java or .NET is much much better! From your experience, I can see that you'll continue to work for small companies or being a freelancer. It also depends on location since it factors into salary. I'm going to assume you're in a location where IT demand is high.. like san francisco, d.c., n.y. My guess is that you'll get maybe~~~ $40~50k. Your salary will most likely be capped because of PHP. If I were you, I jump into Java or .NET as their web salary could be as high as $150k a year. Of course, it's a lot more complex world than PHP.
From my experience it's hard to get paid a decent wage in development as a generalist - especially with skills like xhtml, css, and open source technologies like PHP/MySQL. There are so many people who claim to have these skills that it's difficult to differentiate what makes you more valuable than the next candidate and, by extension, why you should earn $xxx per hour vs. $x per hour.
With the skills you mention, I would agree with sg707 that you're looking in the $30k to $50k range depending on your location. Going the .NET or Java route is always an option but, if you're looking to be more of a web developer than a pure programmer, you might not have the motivation to learn and perfect that skill set. Entry to mid level .NET and Java jobs are typically more corporate and menial as well so that may not fit in with your eclectic interests and entrepreneurial tendencies.
My advice is to specialize in a couple of the CMS/shopping carts you mention. Take a look at freelance sites to get an idea of what kind of functionality people are looking for, learn how to do it, then market yourself as an expert in that. You'll cut down on the number of potential employers but your perceived value (and therefore pay scale) will go up more than enough to compensate.
It's worth having a wide base of generalist skills if you can demonstrate the gravitas & experience to become a good head of development/web director
That's not to say that your shouldn't seek out specialist skills of course - the trick is to become good at managing other people to do the general work whilst at the same time learning how to do advanced level specifics
I agree with the above, though I would say that the industry is short of specialists in specific fields so if you dedicated your skillset to a particular area you could possibly make more money and be more likely to gain employment than if you simply became a master of none. It really depends as to what kind of firm you work for, what job your applying for and what the role undertakes as to how much you can expect to be paid. With a general skillset and (I'm guessing a portfolio of work) you are likely to get (at an average job) $30 - 50K a year (depending on experience). People who usually earn over 50K a year tend to either be specialists, experts in their field or as has been mentioned those who dabble in archaic enterprise languages that are still required to duct tape networks together </sarcasm>.
PS: sg707, I have no idea why they get paid more (unless it's corporate perks) for writing Java (the red haired "special needs" stepchild of C++) or ASP.NET (the rather obese and sociopathic cousin of a genetically deformed language that had the crazy idea of snuggling with VBScript).
I think it's a combination of the higher barrier to entry (.NET and Java jobs typically require a computer science or similar degree) and the type of employers (corporate/large vs. freelance/small) that typically hire for those skillsets.
I've worked with teams in both .NET and PHP and you certainly can't equate work product with what language someone uses. There are just as many bad .NET programmers as there are bad PHP programmers...
Generalists are good, if they show adaptability and proven project experience. The ability to come in an adjust to requirements and perform well is a strong plus.
Coding maturity also involves knowing code repositories. CVS, SVN or GIT are your three picks. SVN - subversion - is a good one to get familiar with. Do that now, so your employer doesn't freak out over any lack of familiarity with code repositories.
PHP / MySQL is generic. Saying you've done a few web apps is also generic. So it's more to say what you've worked with IN PHP / MySQL. Play with Wordpress and Drupal. Learn one or both really well. Wordpress is easy, Drupal is tougher. And get familiar with the frameworks. CakePHP and Code Igniter are good PHP frameworks for making custom applications. Getting those on your resume round you out more as a developer.
Starting off now, depending on your area, a good starting salary for a web developer with strong potential can range between $40K and $60K. It depends on the company hiring and local area. Smaller places will have tighter budgets, larger firms can afford a little more (but can be pretty stingy). Either way, consider it a platform for your next step. Expect to grow $15K in the first three years if your perform well and move positions / companies smartly.