>>>>What did you wish you knew starting out?
1) that optimising my pages and overall site design for search engines is the most important thing (if looking for SE traffic) - i thought the SE's just found and spidered my site and traffic would then follow with no special effort or thought from me.
2) that teachers in adult learning centres are great at teaching html but clueless (please forgive the generalisation, i'm sure there are exceptions) about website development
>>>>What are the four or five basic skills/areas of knowledge every webmaster should know starting out?
i've taken a slightly different approach to this question ...
1) Planning ... learn how to plan projects and schedule the work, no matter how big/small the task write down a list of "things to be done" and write down when you will do them.
2) Records/Organising/Accounting ... keep good records keep the business end of things very tight, setting up a good system will save huge headaches later on.
3) basic but good solid html with an awareness of how things look different on different OS and browsers is all you need to get started.
4) knowing your product or subject is of equal importance to having web skills.
5) repeat this mantra... webpages are not magazine pages!!! learn that a web page is fluid and design accordingly.
also this ... webpages are not the cartoon network!!! if you are a great animator why waste time webmastering?? if you are not a great animator don't let it drag your websites down.
>>>What basic info do you want to know now to expand your skills?
i'll change this question to ...
What next after the first stage??
1) don't be shy about web hosting fees, you can get good quality hosting with all you need at the pocket money levels of a 12 year old.
2) log files ... find out what they are and what to do with them, miss out this step and you may as well give up (after a year of no sales, i discovered this step)
3) software ... learn to use it!!! see other threads for heated debate on different types, but all worthwhile software has depth to it; library items; page templates; code snippets; auto-complete macros; etc etc; learn to use these features.
4) learn about server side includes and external css.
5) set up a webserver locally - use the webserver that your host uses, its not that hard to set up.
>>>Any other topics that would be useful for a beginner.
learn a bit about how the internet works.
Less is often more, separate work from play - if you love playing around with cool web things like mouse trails and other funkie stuff, then great!!! but save self indulgence to personal fun projects and keep your commercial work mean and lean!!!
Acceptance - i can't be great at all things- graphics, scripting, layout, optimisation and so on. BUT there are always other people starting out who's skills are different to mine and who want work/experience as much as money don't be shy pay someone to do stuff you are weak at (and that you're not planning to be strong at) - there is a spinoff, they will have contacts and may return the favour at some point by putting work your way.