The number of self-employed is growing every year on our employment market and many of them are freelancers. Not everyone is in favour of this employment status, but it does have many positive aspects. More and more companies are recognising the advantages.
“Freelancers have fewer problems with working in the weekend or evening if it’s required for the project” Isabelle Callebaut, Manager at Randstad Professionals
share of freelancers is growing according to Randstad Professionals“
1,006,519: this is the number of self-employed workers in our country according to the most recent statistics of the National Institute for Social Security for the Self-Employed (RSVZ - figures from the 2014 annual report). Are they all freelancers? No, certainly not. Retailers are the largest group (329,323 persons in Belgium), followed by the liberal professions (284,027). The Union of Independent Entrepreneurs (Unizo) estimated the number of freelancers last year - which they define as self-employed workers without staff who mainly provide business-to-business service with temporary contracts, assignments or projects - in Flanders at 132,000. That number increases every year. The more than 52,000 consultants make up the largest group. Many freelancers are also active in ICT (12,509), creative activities, arts and entertainment (10,643), and photography, translators and interpreters (10,007). Isabelle Callebaut at Randstad Professionals is also seeing increasing numbers of freelancers. “There is an upward trend,” she confirms. “The number of freelancers at Randstad Professionals has doubled in five years. To give you an idea, in 2011-2012, 12% of our people did projects on a freelance basis. In 2014, that figure was 19% and now it’s even 25%. The numbers are not only increasing, but also accelerating. This is because there are more freelancers on the market and because we have expanded our domains. In the past, we mainly specialised in ICT; but today, our consultants also contribute to projects in finance, sales & marketing, HR, etc.”
In this group of freelancers, Isabelle Callebaut, who is a privileged witness of this aspect of the employment market, distinguishes three categories. Firstly, there are the freelancers pur sang, who have chosen consciously and enthusiastically for their self-employed status. Then we have a large group of people who have a second job as freelancer because they want to learn, they are passionate about their skill, etc. And last but not least, a substantial group of freelancers lost their salaried job for one reason or another and couldn’t find a new position. These are people who freelance out of necessity. Their ambition is to find a permanent job as an employee sometime in the future. Freelancers may also have other reasons for choosing this status besides economic reasons. “This has been the subject of many surveys, including some of ours, and it seems that the status is the main attraction. This is also apparent from the actual term ‘freelancer’, which goes back to the Middle Ages when mercenaries made their ‘free lance’ available for anyone who was willing to pay them.” Freelancers have freedom at many levels, emphasises the director of Randstad Professionals: they decide to accept or reject an assignment, they determine their rates, choose the company they want to work for, and decide when they want to work and take holidays. Some people combine it with another seasonal activity. At the end of the day, a freelancer is free to choose a field of expertise and to be active in a particular domain. Employees are often sent by their organisation to follow training programmes while a freelancer takes the initiative personally to learn more about a specific technology, or a certain aspect of his or her profession. Of course, this also has an impact on the kind of assignments the freelancer can get and the rates he or she can charge.”
And what about those piles of money that you earn when freelancing? Isabelle Callebaut is cautious: “Some freelancers earn more, or earn the same in a shorter time span, but this is not the case for everyone. It depends among others and to a great extent on your expertise.”
Why are companies employing more and more freelancers? Flexibility is an important factor according to Isabelle Callebaut. “There’s a good match with what freelancers have to offer. They are generally available very quickly, they don’t have long notice periods, and they can be hired when you need them and for as long as necessary. In addition, freelancers don’t seem to complain so much about weekend or evening work if it’s required for the project. In this respect, they also offer additional flexibility.” The expertise that freelancers bring to the job is another reason why companies use their services. And this is especially true for expertise that the company only needs occasionally, for a specific project, or for a certain period. Costs also play a role of course. With freelancers you know their fee per hour or per day in advance, so there are no surprises or supplementary costs. From an administrative point of view, it’s much easier to pay a freelancer’s invoice than doing the payroll for an employee.
What do freelancers struggle with? According to Isabel Callebaut, they often find it difficult to assess professional risks and related liability. “They maintain that professional liability insurance is not required for the type of assignments they perform. However, they forget that a silly event can have serious consequences: spilling a glass of water over your computer, which has crucial information stored on it, for example.” At Randstad Professionals, Isabelle Callebaut brings this kind of responsibility to the attention of freelancers. The organisation positions itself as a matchmaker between client and freelancer. While the freelancer is busy with his or her current client, they are already seeking the next one. Freelancers can concentrate on their profession and don’t need to advertise their activities or try to find potential customers. “We also guarantee quick and correct payment,” continues Isabelle Callebaut. “Our surveys and interviews reveal that these are the main reasons why freelancers work through us.”
- Freelancers have freedom: they work where and when they want, choose their clients, and reject projects that don’t fascinate them.
- Freelancers have variation: today they are in a small firm, tomorrow in a large corporation, and in a totally different industry the next.
- Freelancers dig deep: a freelancer selects his or her field of expertise and deepens his or her knowledge.
- Freelancers are successful: if you have the relevant expertise and ensure added value, then you can charge higher rates.
- Freelancers are popular: company requirements for flexibility are making it more and more attractive to hire freelancers.