Working in digital Accessibility as a Freelancer
Digital accessibility is an exciting field for freelancers. There is enough demand so that you should definitely be able to manage it once you have acquired your first orders.
Nevertheless, there are a few things you should consider before going this way. In general: In my opinion, there is nothing objectionable about wanting to earn money with a "good thing" like accessibility. The exception is when you sell persons useless things like a read-aloud function or an overlay, or give wrong advice because you don't know anything about accessibility.
- Have a solid foundation
- Gradually increase prices
- Niche or mainstream
- Accessibility Specialist and Consulting
What makes you to an accessibility specialist?.
I'm not going to go into all the trappings that are generally associated with freelancing, such as taxes, VAT ID's, accounting, professional liability and so on, as that would go too far here. Just this much: If you have the opportunity, let someone mentor you who already has experience with it and can support you. That will save you a lot of frustration. In general, freelancing in Germany is not that much of a challenge, unlike UG or GmbH, which can actually be difficult without the appropriate skills.
Have a solid foundation
Fresh out of college, you can't expect to hit the ground running as a freelancer. That's not so bad, after all, at this stage you don't usually have any major liabilities such as a high rent or a family to support. If you have such liabilities and no regular clients, I would advise against freelancing for that time.
In any case, it is important to have a solid basis on which to build. As a rule, this means having undergone technical training or a degree. It is true that you can also get in with other backgrounds - countless web developers prove it. On the other hand, most of these persons have gained experience through practical projects, so they have proven that they have the technical skills. This is more difficult for newbies. Without references or personal contacts, it is almost impossible to get jobs.
It took me a long time to get orders, despite having written a book and being known to a certain extent. I only received isolated enquiries from contacts. It was only when I offered training myself that I made the breakthrough.
My recommendation would be to first gain experience with a broader topic such as UX, software development or whatever you can already do, and only then move on to accessibility projects. You can then always offer accessibility to regular clients, which also allows you to gain your first practical experience and build up references. If you are a web developer, for example, you can simply make the client's website that you are already developing accessible free of charge - this should be possible without any extra effort for a content-heavy website - and use this as a reference project.
Another option would be to first gain experience as an employee of a company and later start out as a freelancer. You can get knowledge by taking one of the many free or paid courses and apply to a company with this knowledge. Since there are a lot of vacancies at the moment, you should have a good chance of getting a job if you have the right background. However, it would be important to have at least proven knowledge, for example through a certificate.
As is often the case, pure teaching is one thing, but practice is another. Of course you can design a form perfectly accessible according to the textbook. In practice, however, you will encounter complex, ready-made solutions that require a different approach. This is another reason why practical experience is so important.
Either way, one should be prepared for the fact that it will take a few years for the accessibility business to become self-sustaining. This is also why I recommend having accessibility as an additional service in the portfolio rather than focusing on it right from the start.
Networking is the be-all and end-all for freelancers. However, it is not about simply collecting as many contacts as possible. It is more important to get relevant contacts. You can do this both digitally and locally - both are recommended. Especially without practical experience, you will be more likely to win over customers if they already know you personally. In the case of digital accessibility, digital-related events are of course a good idea. They take place in every major city, even the provincial city of Bonn has some. With small and medium-sized agencies from the region, you can have good chances for a cooperation.
Locally, there are also good opportunities to become widerly known, for example with presentations at barcamps or meetups. Coworking spaces or IHK events are also good opportunities for networking.
What also works quite well are blog and professional contributions that you can spread in your own community. In the beginning, the number of hits is modest, but the first thing is to draw attention to yourself in the first place. In the last few years, I have built up a well-visited portal and also acquired orders through it, but that can take years and I would therefore not recommend it. Blog posts don't have to be highly specialised, that would only interest the professionals anyway.
Last but not least, it is really about building networks of competence. I.e. you join forces with other persons who can offer complementary services: You can offer accessibility, another person can do design, the next person can do web development and so on. Through websites like the German "Das Auge" you can find suitable persons quite quickly. For easier accounting, it is then a good idea to set up a GbR, but that doesn't have to be the case.
Gradually increase prices
The hottest topic among freelancers is prices. So here is my opinion on this: You shouldn't go too high in the beginning. The absolute professionals can take €1000 and more per day, but you probably won't be one of them at the beginning.
Of course, that doesn't mean that you should be satisfied with 300 € per day. I would look at what other freelancers in similar subject areas and with similar experience demands and estimate that amount. If you are much too low, it makes the client suspicious. If you are much more expensive than the competition, you won't get the job either. In my opinion, an amount between 400 and 600 € per day is realistic. Once you have gained some experience or can take on more complex projects, you can gradually increase the amount. As mentioned above, it depends on your field of expertise: software or app developers can take more, while editors are at the lower end of the spectrum. All prices are related to Germany.
As an individual company, you can't expect to get orders with more than 10 person-days. Clients are more likely to go to agencies or multi-person companies because there is greater certainty of failure. Exceptions prove the rule, I at least was able to get an order with a volume of 10,000 €, the largest order I have ever received and an absolute exception. The other orders were more in the range of 1500 to 3000 € and most were well under 1000 €. Small orders require more effort in relation to their size.
Niche or mainstream
The longer a professional field exists, the more niches emerge, as seen in the field of UX. This is not yet the case to the same extent with accessibility. Nevertheless, there are of course different ways of positioning oneself. As a self disabled person, one can position oneself as an expert for this group. In addition, there are special areas such as software or app development that are not yet as strongly occupied as PDF and the internet.
However, you have to be aware that the niches are often so small that they don't yield that much in income, that's why they are niches. In my opinion, you have better chances here if you start internationally right away. Then you should be able to speak and understand English fluently and, of course, be able to write. Internationally, there is nothing that is not in demand by someone.
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