When I was a consultant (2003-2006), I billed at $60/hour. Three years ago, I launched a website that I had built in my free time to make some extra bucks. When it started eating up my time (and making more money per month than I had ever made consulting), I had to increased my rates to $90/hr. I informed them of why the increase, and they didn't even flinch (I was expecting them to negotiate), and all was well until (several months later) I simply didn't have time and went full-time to my "side project", which was now generating double what I was bringing it for consulting, and sucking up all my time.
Maybe once or twice a year I get a call from some of my former clients asking if I'm looking for work, and I always have to turn them down. Since quitting consulting, I've had a few meetings where I would possibly do some side-work for a potential new client, but they all wanted long-term commitments, and I simply couldn't commit to a long-term thing.
That's my consulting story. I don't actually know what it's like to be a consultant in "today's economy" and I'm sure that was the point of the question, but I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
For the answer to these and other exciting questions, you can click on peoples' usernames to see their profile. Often they handily include links to, e.g., the MMORPG guild hosting website they manage.
[Edit for clarification: I'm getting modded down so I assume someone read the above as snarky. That was not my intention. It was intended to directly answer the question and provide him and other readers self-help via a non-obvious feature of this website that is only discoverable through verbal lore.]
I do some custom projects for cash flow. Business is up dramatically over what I was doing in 2007 and 2008. However, the kind of business has changed. In 2007 and 2008 I kept running into potential customers, who usually had a marketing day job and an idea, with no way to execute it. They typically wanted to spend a couple of their salary pay cheques building some niche social network that would take the better part of 6 months for a single developer to get up and running. So, it kind of sucked. This year, my typical client is a large company or government-backed organization that is cash rich and ready to spend on actual quality projects instead of some bebo clone. It's a nice change of pace.
Depending on what I'm working on, I charge different rates for consulting, so this is hard for me. I also do project-based and risk-based pricing on some projects. I did vote, however. Demand is about normal or up slightly, however time-to-collect has gone up slightly too, which can create cashflow issues occasionally.
This is meaningless unless people also list how many hours they work per month. I once made something crazy like $5000 for a job I finished in like 18 hours. I now have a steady consulting job(that may become a fulltime job soon), but I don't get paid anywhere near 250+ an hour.
I think I'd have to charge around half that to actually get enough business to make a living doing only freelance.
Or you'd have to take it seriously enough to do the legwork you need to have enough clients at your current rate. I found that the more contract work I did, the more demand I had for my time. This, of course, assumes doing really good work for people that interact with other people that would need my particular skills.
Half that may not be enough. Don't that you'll be in charge of all business expenses and more tax (if in the US, you'll have to pay an extra ~7 percent right off the bat to cover the half of social security your employer pays on your behalf).
Also, a lot more of your time will be taken up by non-billable hours.
I charge what I need to cover paying for a family in Silicon Valley. So my rates now start at $175/hour for version control (Subversion, CVS, Mercurial), build systems (SCons mainly), bug trackers (JIRA) and anything else by Atlassian.
Business ranges from steady to brisk. And it's certainly varied.
I'm in school right now so I'm artificially cutting back my demand, but I've spoken to people in Pittsburgh who says that they've seen a significant rise in demand for dev (not sure exactly which, I suspect webdev). Not really sure why, but they've all been swamped.
Strange, I fall on the lower quartile of the scale here. That said, I live in Florida where taxes are low and cost of living is low as well (not near what it is in SF). I charge based on what sort of work and who/what the work is for. If the client is exceptionally patient, straightforward, and easy to work with then their rate is lower. If the work is a royal pain, I'll ask for more. I guess the difference is that I don't do what I do primarily for the money, but rather because I just enjoy it. My day job takes care of the bills as it is.
If I went 100% freelance consulting I'd probably charge between 50 and 75, as that appears to be a sweet spot at the moment. Maybe higher as demand increased.
I have a friend who does upwards of $100-$200 and he is constantly in demand. He's really good. One of the best coders and best designers I've ever worked with (in my limited career, which is only 2 funded startups).
I run a small service business, providing custom db programming/minor website design on the side. Expanded the service business a little too far back in early 2000's, which means my slow times are still thankfully good and the busy times get hairy.
Slowing a little, now keeping one guy busy part-time, and I and my wife work part-time (work together). Feeling VERY lucky.
If it slows more, I may finally get back to my last web-app idea I haven't finished :)
ATG (www.atg.com). It's very expensive eCommerce software, J2EE based, with their own IOC container, data access layer, etc... At the moment the demand for good ATG devs and architects far exceeds the supply.
I am a Java programmer in Chicago. I do corp-to-corp contracts. I am currently getting $58/hr for subcontracting with a Chicago consulting firm for a six-month gig. I was getting $67/hr at my previous gig. I wish I were making much, much more like some of the folks here. I have been programming professionally since 2002.
If you're subcontracting and getting paid corp-to-corp they shouldn't be skimming much off the top. I'm just pretty sure that the market rate for a senior Java dev or team lead with 7+ years of experience is a lot higher than the pre-tax corp-to-corp numbers mentioned, even in Chicago. I have front end dev friends who make much more than that, just doing CSS/HTML work.
I guess they are skimming. I have negotiated, and they don't accept my desired rate. My current contract used the recession as an excuse to lower my rate. And, I was out of work in Jan and Feb due to hardly any contracts in Chicago and no one accepting my rate. May I send you my resume for you to quickly glance at it?