Struggling to Hire In Belgium? Consider Using Freelancers Instead

In September 2021, the number of open vacancies in Belgium reached 196,277 — the highest number since Eurostat started tracking this data in 2012. As of the first quarter of 2021, Belgium has the second-highest per-capita vacancy rate in Europe.

Like many of their European neighbours, companies in Belgium are struggling to fill roles like never before. If you’re looking to hire in Belgium, you need to find innovative ways of attracting (and retaining) top talent. 

However, there is another way. Forget the permanent hire, and engage a freelancer instead. 

Many business leaders are wary of hiring freelancers in place of full-time staff, citing worries about inefficient vetting processes, expensive rates and just not knowing how it works. But, with more than a million self-employed workers in Belgium, there’s a huge talent pool you could be tapping into. 

And there are plenty of advantages to engaging a freelancer instead of going with a permanent hire. Read on for some of the top benefits of embracing the freelance revolution, and our tips for working effectively with freelancers for a productive and profitable 2022.

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Freelancers in Belgium: Legal Distinctions

Freelancers in Belgium can take various legal forms, which can be confusing if you’ve never worked with freelancers before. If you engage a freelancer in Belgium, they could be either:

A sole proprietor (entreprise individuelle/eenmanszaak): A sole proprietorship is the simplest way for freelancers to do business in Belgium. The status enables them to provide services to clients in exchange for remuneration. Under this structure, there is no legal separation between the physical person and the company. 

Working through a company: Many freelancers eventually choose to ‘incorporate’, or set up a limited company through which to do their business. This means that the company is legally distinct from them as an individual. However, in practical terms, working with a freelancer who operates as a company is not very different from working with a sole proprietor.

Acting through an umbrella company (portage salariale/loonoverdracht):  Another option for freelancers is to work through an umbrella company, which allows them to effectively retain their status as employees (and the security and benefits this comes with). Companies that employ freelancers in this way pay the umbrella company an agreed fee in order to retain the freelancer’s services. The freelancer then receives a ‘salary’ from the company in exchange for the work they do for their clients.

5 reasons Belgian companies should consider engaging freelancers

Many company leaders are nervous about working with freelancers for the first time. But embracing this way of working can bring great flexibility, give you access to extensive industry knowledge, and ultimately deliver great results for your company. By opening your mind to using freelancers instead of going straight to a full-time hire, you can tap into top talent which is simply not available on the traditional job market — often at a fraction of the cost.

Here are five benefits of hiring freelancers in Belgium:

1. Greater flexibility

Working with freelancers is a great option when you don’t know exactly how much work you’ll need over the year and don’t want to commit to hiring a full-time employee. Employers who are nervous about hiring freelancers for the first time can start with a small project, and then prolong it if things go well for both sides. 

It’s also possible to pause (or end) your relationship with a freelancer if you have a lighter month in terms of workload. This makes hiring freelancers a much more cost-efficient option — even if their rates may seem high compared to full-time employees at first glance.

2. Extensive knowledge and experience

Freelancers are, by definition, experts in their field. They are also experts in quickly learning the ins and outs of a business, since they’re used to jumping from one company to another. This means that you won’t need to invest time and money in training (aside from familiarising them with your internal processes). Again, this can make hiring freelancers much more cost-efficient than recruiting and onboarding permanent hires.

3. Less of an administrative headache

The processes, procedures and paperwork involved in hiring an employee take time — and money. When you start working with a freelancer, on the other hand, you can simply negotiate your terms, sign a basic contract, and have them start working pretty much straight away. This means that opting for freelance support is a great solution if you need someone to start working immediately.

4. Simplified accounting

Freelancers are responsible for paying their own costs including social security, health insurance and pensions. This means that when you hire a freelancer, you simply pay them an agreed fee for their services, without the various extra costs associated with hiring an employee.

This does mean that freelancers’ rates can sometimes seem higher than expected at first glance. However, when you take into account the fact that you won’t have to pay these extra costs as an employer — and that you can stop and start their services according to your needs — it can end up being much cheaper to hire a freelancer than a full-time employee. 

Our tips for working with freelancers

If you’ve only ever hired permanent employees, it’s important to remember that the processes involved with engaging and working with freelancers are different. Here are a few tips for those considering engaging freelancers for the first time.

Always sign a contract

The relationship between a freelancer and their client is often more informal than an employer-employee relationship. However, it’s still important that both parties understand exactly what is expected of them. The easiest way to ensure this is to sign a contract together that clearly lays out the work the freelancer will do and the amount of remuneration they’ll receive. It should also detail any other important terms and conditions, such as the circumstances when either party can break the agreement. 

The exact clauses that the contract includes depend on the industry you’re operating in and the nature of the work. Here are some common clauses that you might want to consider: 

  • A non-compete clause: This details any direct competitors that the freelancer agrees not to work for at the same time as they’re working for your company. 
  • A confidentiality clause: This is an important clause when freelancers might be given sensitive information (such as financial details), and ensures their agreement not to share this with any third parties. 
  • An IP clause: This specifies the circumstances under which the freelancer assigns their rights for any work produced by them. For example, a copywriter may specify that the rights for their work transfer to the client upon payment of their invoice.

Check for profession-specific requirements

In Belgium, certain professional activities are regulated, either at a national or regional level. This means that a freelancer must meet specific requirements in order to work in their field. If you’re considering engaging a freelancer in a regulated profession, it’s a good idea to check that they have met the necessary requirements before signing a contract.

Ask for reviews and testimonials

When you engage a freelancer, you need to be sure that they’ll be able to complete the work you need, to the standard you expect. The easiest way to determine this is to begin by assigning them a small project to check they’re able to work to your requirements. However, you can also do extra due diligence beforehand if you’re worried. 

If you hire a freelancer through a platform or agency, you can usually find reviews of their work, which can give you insight into what it’s like to work with them. Otherwise, you could ask the freelancers to provide testimonials or recommendations from past clients.

Working with freelancers: the mindset shift

Engaging freelancers is a great way to fill the gaps left by the ‘war for talent’, and has the potential to generate great results for your company. However, working with freelancers is a completely different experience from managing employees, and requires a mindset shift. 

This is partly a legal issue, as under Belgian law there can be no ‘relationship of subordination’ between a freelancer and their client. This means that while you can of course dictate the work the freelancer does for you, you cannot set requirements on how it’s done — for example by saying the freelancer has to work between certain hours. 

More importantly though, employing freelancers requires businesses to trust that they know best how to do their work. Freelancers usually require less management and direction than permanent employees, which can be difficult for some employers to get used to. However, by carefully selecting freelancers who are highly skilled in their field, you can have full confidence that they’ll deliver great work. 

By embracing the flexibility that the freelance model provides, you can expect increased productivity, efficiency, and even innovation.