Announcing our plan for developing the Freelancers in Belgium community
With this article, we want to share the story of why we are developing the Freelancers in Belgium community and how we will build a platform and business around the active Facebook group(s) and conference.
We debated whether or not to publicly share our plan with this level of details (this article is 3000+ words long). But because sharing is the biggest factor behind the success of the Freelancers in Belgium community, we decided to go for it.
We also want to raise awareness around freelancing and inspire people to join the movement.
And it’s a nice memory for us to have to look back on in the future.
A bonus is that you as a reader can discover how we approached and what we learned from customer research, strategy, defining a vision and a mission.
These factors contributed to me and Jessie wanting to explore if and how we could together develop the Freelancers in Belgium community into our dream business.
Freelancers in Belgium, a fast-growing and active community
In only 2 years the Facebook group has grown from 250 members to 3500+.
What I’m most touched by is the activity, a constant 80% of the members are viewing the group on a regular basis. 50% is already considered a good score, so 80 is really exceptional.
And it’s a valuable activity. Freelancers asking for and sharing knowledge and advice, giving recommendations, posting job offers and making introductions.
A successful conference
During Freelancers in Belgium Day 2020, 250 freelancers and champions in Belgium got together for one day. A day I felt like I had colleagues, and freelancing was something to be very proud of.
I met Jessie
Jessie managed the partnerships for the Freelancers in Belgium Day 2020 and with her, I felt so many puzzle pieces falling into place.
© David Legrève
Our common ambition for improving the lives of freelancers, and seeing the benefits and opportunities with building and belonging to a community. And our complementary skills. Together we make each other better. And Jessie is awesome to work with. We laugh a lot when we are together.
Requests for collaboration
We started getting requests from partners and freelancers for collaboration ideas, speaking engagements and interviews about freelancing which made us sense a need to act now.
A pandemic crisis
Corona made the need to belong even stronger, and also led to our training events and HR assignments being postponed, giving us time to research the opportunities and act upon them.
All these factors led to us deciding to develop the Freelancers in Belgium community further.
The Freelance Advisory Board
The first thing we did was assemble the Freelance Advisory Board consisting of 25 contributing community members in various freelance roles. We arranged an online meeting to share ideas, challenges and get feedback for how we should build the community.
Before the call, the freelancers met in small groups of three to brainstorm. And they shared their input in the big meeting.
What I loved most about it was that everyone spoke in “we” terms. This created a true team spirit and told us again that we are creating something special, together. It also shows the true strength of this group and community.
The Freelance Advisory Board meeting resulted in these 5 themes:
Organisation and impact
It got apparent that to have an impact we would need to professionalise ourselves and become some kind of organisation. Right now we are operating just as two freelancers. We also got requested to create more impact on companies and government by becoming a voice for freelancing in Belgium.
The good vibes, the belonging to a community of like-minded is our absolute biggest asset and something that should be cherished. The Facebook group facilitates this well, but there could be an opportunity to know more about the members to facilitate matchmaking, referrals and sharing expertise. And mentoring. It was nice to see the Dino Club suggested, of experienced freelancers just wanting to share and help new freelancers, but also learn from them.
Again, the Freelancers in Belgium Facebook group is great for sharing knowledge, but it’s not easy to find back information. And many questions get asked again and again.
We have access to lots of talents. And needs to advance professionally and stand out.
Access to assignments
Without assignments, a freelancer dies. How can we provide more access to good assignments?
Thank you Freelance Advisory Board members for contributing with your ideas:
Christophe David , Judith Escalier, Davy De Regge, Kristof Maddelein, Mic Adam, Qing Chen, Bisera Savoska, Diana Chitchiyan, Linda A. Thompson, Sebastiaan Schillebeeckx, Jan Lagast, Veerle Van Hoecke , Elke Haemelynck, Marina Lynch, Heidi Van den Bergh, Adrien Willems, Diedrik De Mits, Sam Vloeberghs, Hans van Gent, Anthony Stabourlos, Geraldine Huybrechts , Mike Louagie, David Legreve, Katrina Sichel & Nina Jere
After the Freelance Advisory Board meeting, we contacted people in our networks, partners who had shown interest in working together, domain experts and freelancers for collaborative think tanks in each theme to help us move from the Facebook group(s) and conference to building our dream business.
We hosted five two-hour-long meetings in one week, where we asked the participants for further input and advice.
I’m glad I contacted meeting specialist Marina Lynch to give us training in how to conduct these meetings effectively, to get the most useful outcomes in the shortest amount of time. One day I’ll write another article on what I’ve learned from the evolution between the first Think Tank and the last one. I can already reveal that I grew a lot professionally during this time.
We collected the information gathered in these meetings and selected the most relevant ideas to work on them further.
Thank you Think Tank participants for sharing your ideas and input: Philippe Van der Linden (Innovation Partner, Securex), Sibylle Greindl (Content & Community Senior Officer, Accountable), Thomas Snoeck (Business Developer, Creative Shelter), Marleen Deleu (Director, Nextconomy), Dries Hendrickx (Chief Handshaking Officer, Conversation Starter), Alexander Hoogewijs (Co-founder &CEO, SiteManager), Marina Lynch (Freelancer, Participatory Leadership, Online Facilitation), Hans van Gent (Chief Strategist, User Growth), Judith Escalier Revollo (Freelancer, Executive and Entrepreneur Coach Arteveldehogeschool, Tutor Online MBA Vlerick Business School), Guy Gelaude (Chief Strategy Officer, NedWorks), Thierry Vermeiren (COO, Workero), Mathias Schelfhout (Community Builder & Client Engagement Specialist, Workero), Jorn Vanysacker (CMO, Intuo), Peter De Buck (Co-Founder Connecting-Expertise & Lancr), Bruno Koninckx (Co-Founder KnowledgeFlow), Elke Haemelynck (Creator Happy Humans), Franky Anciaux (CEO Radahr), Jelche Lievens (Customer Success Lead NedWorks), Karolien Denoo (Hr Freelancer & Coach Inside Out HR), Maïte Gardedieu (Recruitment consultant Ausy), Mark Willems (CEO Jellow), Marlies Thomasson (Business Development Mgr Lancr), Wouter Van der Stricht (HR Freelancer - Recruitment Manager), Myranda Dyck (Country Manager HeadFirst), Anneke Van Laara (HR Freelancer - Recruiter), Jan Lagast (Vision Architect), Adrien Willems (Freelance ICT Consultant), Anthony Stabourlos (Digital Strategy & Innovation Consultant), Yvoon Dekens (Business Director Ausy), Bo Zenner (HR & Operations Officient)
Then we organised a strategy meeting, just the two of us, Jessie and me. The goal was to create an inspiring vision and an action plan for the upcoming month.
The first thing we needed to map out was our why and how we want to work, what kind of business do we want to build, how do we want to work together?
When I changed from employee to social media/event freelancer it was such a huge improvement in my life. I’m excited about getting up to meet interesting people, learn and do all kinds of things (how I want, with whom I want and whenever I want). With Freelancers in Belgium, I want to empower more people to dare to take the step(s) required and to run that freelance-rollercoaster a bit smoother.
Having access to a community and getting more visibility online has made freelancing much easier and much more enjoyable for me, so it is these things I want to continue doing, but in a larger, more structured way. And involving more people (and exciting new things to learn for me!).
I want to work closely with freelancers. Connect and share resources that help them grow.
Jessie, in turn, is looking to start a movement to evangelise freelancing. Raise awareness about the benefits, improve the image around it and ultimately help more companies run more effectively and improve their services to their customers. This will also feed into the goal of making the lives of freelancers easier.
She is passionate about this because she has experienced during freelance assignments that her competencies were not used optimally, she was just an operational “cog in the wheel”. She could have contributed to company growth much more if she had been been given the chance. In her opinion freelancers have the potential to become an indispensable asset in rebuilding our economy due to their flexibility and agility.
We also believe in the innovative force that freelancers can bring thanks to the experience they have both from seeing the insides in multiple companies, but also from the experience of building, budgeting, marketing and selling their own businesses.
How do we work together, what type of business do we want to build?
We both agreed we need to keep this work fun, to be open about issues. Give each other freedom. We want to work with other freelancers, and with partners. We want to collaborate and co-create.
We want to empower and unlock potential and create a safe space where we and the ones we work with can experiment with things, learn and grow.
Together we have the potential to create a better future for freelancers.
Who do we want to serve?
Next thing we did was to map out who our ideal members are.
During almost all think tank meetings the definition and identity of a freelancer came up.
On the one hand, we want to gather all freelancers in Belgium. Then meaning by Unizo’s inspired definition of a freelancer: “a self-employed person or company without fixed employees, usually providing services, sometimes products to companies”.
We need to be a large group to get credibility and substance so that we can create a voice and have an impact.
We looked at what traits and values the freelancers in the Facebook group and the ones who attended the Freelancers in Belgium Day 2020 conference have in common, despite the large diversity in our member’s activities, industries, genders, ages, experience and nationalities.
Positive and forward-thinking. I heard a member saying he left one group because of the collective negativity and complaints and found better vibes with us.
Open-minded and values diversity
Entrepreneurial, creative and agile
Sees the benefit of belonging to a community.
Super curious and hungry to learn and develop.
Kind, generous and willing to share
The ideal state
Our success as freelancers ourselves are when:
We can make a difference and somehow contributing to improving the world, and get respect and recognition for the work we do
Interesting assignments come to us, instead of us chasing them
We do things a bit differently
We continuously develop and grow
We get to inspire and empower freelancers to take action and help them do the same for more freelancers
We have the power to move on
Our ideal state is to do everything we can to achieve this for as many freelancers who aspire for the same success as possible.
How will we make the lives of Freelancers in Belgium easier?
Continue to provide access to a supportive and uplifting community of fellow professionals.
We’ll organise events and a place where freelancers can connect and network.
Help freelancers find and get assignments:
Offer an education programme focusing on sales & marketing, particularly branding, strategy, positioning, pricing and online visibility.
Improved access to assignments via our platform and matchmaking partners
Raise awareness to companies about sourcing and onboarding freelancers, especially SMEs in Belgium.
Provide content and statistics about the right skills at the right time
We’ll aim to provide work to freelancers in our network to realise our ambitions
Support for financial, administrative and legal obligations:
We will create an information bank with structured and easy to find content.
We’ll organise events online and offline where relevant expertise and best practices can be shared
Improved rights and more security for freelancers:
We will use our neutral, freelance focused position to support other advocates lobbying for better rights for freelancers.
We research what is happening around freelancing in Europe and globally to get inspiration for doing things better.
Enter Freelancers PRO - where freelancers in Belgium share to grow
Next to continuing running the Facebook groups, we will create a new space, a platform, where driven freelancers help each other to go from contractors to become sought after advisors and one-person army’s. We see a huge potential in bringing the expertise and network of all of these different freelancers together which will enhance growth and innovation.
Freelancers PRO (name pending) will be a platform where we focus on next level freelancers who want to build sustainable, impactful, exciting careers surrounded by like-minded people.
A big focus will be on sharing. Co-creation, crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer knowledge transfers and sharing best practices, masterminds and mentoring.
The Freelancers PRO platform will also be the host of the information bank, the education programme and the assignments.
The platform will be by freelancers for freelancers, and it will be powered by a curated partner network and ecosystem of organisations working with freelancers.
We have the Why, we have the What. Next up is How. And to create an action plan for steps to take.
My focus will be on researching freelancer needs and how to set up an education programme and information bank.
Jessie will look at funding, how to raise awareness about better freelancing in the most effective way and build the partner network.
Want to support us & get involved?
Follow our future journeys here:
Sign up on the email list to get the latest updates: www.freelancersinbelgium.be
Engage with us on social media
Join the Freelancers in Belgium FB groups:
All freelancers and freelancers-to-be https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelancersinbelgium
For HR professionals: HR Freelancers in Belgium https://www.facebook.com/groups/2512495335660413
For IT people: IT Freelancers in Belgium
And for the creatives: Creative Freelancers in Belgium
Connect with us on LinkedIn:
Want to support us? Want to get involved with this movement? Send us an email with your idea at firstname.lastname@example.org