How can freelancers in Belgium contribute to wellbeing?
During the pandemic it has become clear for many that wellbeing is an important factor to take into account in society. This goes for individuals, but also for families, organizations and companies. As a one-person business it might be difficult to see how we can play a part and have an impact and contribute to wellbeing - our own wellbeing, but also that of our surroundings and of society as a whole. This article aims to give some ideas and inspiration.
McKinsey’s report Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy states: “Independent work could have benefits for the economy, cushioning unemployment, improving labor force participation, stimulating demand, and raising productivity. ...” McKinsey (2016).
At Freelancers in Belgium, we use the term ‘freelancing’ to describe the same thing: ‘an independent self-employed person who offers services to other businesses on a project and/or time-specific basis.’
So as you can see, freelancers apparently have an important role to play in the economy, in the labour market, and in society - they are relevant.
Now we’ll examine how freelancers can contribute to their own wellbeing as well as impacting the wellbeing in their surroundings.
We use the dimensions in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Well-being Framework (OECD, 2020).
Income and Wealth
Work and Job Quality
Knowledge and Skills,
The dimensions Environmental Quality, Safety, Housing we see freelancers can impact as individuals but not directly as professionals, which is why we left out these factors in this article. We authors realise that freelancers can further impact on wellbeing as private individuals, but this is outside the scope of this article. Some of these categories are overlapping. We mention actions which could be mentioned in multiple categories only once to avoid duplication.
Income and Wealth
Even though freelancers can work on a variety of for-profit and pro bono jobs, depending on their situation and personal preference, the basis of what they do is to run a one person business. For any company to operate sustainably, it’s vital to have a healthy and sustainable income and to build a certain amount of wealth (held in the company or privately) to cope in adverse times, such as what we’ve been facing over the past year.
How can you improve your income and wealth as a freelancer?
- Have a sound business plan including your vision and mission, service offering, target market, promotion, budget and expenses. Check e.g. Business Model Canvas.
- Charge a high enough price based on value provided. Pricing is a whole unique world, but hugely influential with respect to the success of your business. Check Pricing Pact for workshops about pricing.
- Find ways to cross-sell and upsell to increase your income. Pricing or finding new customers is not the only thing that brings success - selling more to existing customers helps, too! You do need to have the offering, though.
- Operate and use your resources optimally. How? Learn to work in a productive and focused way. Find ways to automate tasks, e.g use templates for proposals and contracts, use workflows for marketing, administration and accounting. Or outsource non-core tasks that are time consuming and or energy draining. You can ask questions about outsourcing and find Admin freelancers in the Freelancers in Belgium Facebook group.
- Reduce and optimise your expenses. Check e.g. Accountable’s blog post Everything you need to know about professional expenses and consult an accountant and fiscal advisor. The members of Freelancers in Belgium recommend these accountants.
- Save and invest, check e.g. FIRE (Financial Independence and Early Retirement) Belgium. Ideally, once you have a bit of many saved up, you let it work for you, investing it in a way that is both safe/diversified, brings you enough return on investment (ROI) and doesn’t destroy the planet in the process, hopefully. In the end, your investments might contribute to your pension, which is not always organized as well for freelancers as for employees, and/or buy you some freedom.
How freelancers are impacting the wealth of their immediate surroundings and society as a whole
- Freelancers make employers scalable in a flexible way as it makes it possible for them to plug in resources when needed.
- A big advantage of working with freelancers: an objective view, experience from other places which leads to cross-pollination, ideas, new business models, improved products and services, optimised ways of working, innovation, progress and advancement according to Fuller, J., Raman, M., Bailey A., Vaduganathan N., et al, (2020).
- When freelancers team up it is possible to demand training, products and services at a group discount. Check Yucopia, it’s a platform of business supplies at more affordable price and easy invoicing.
- For freelancers, who by definition function as a one-person show, it’s relatively easier to cooperate with others. The larger organizations and companies get, the more focus is on the internal processes and relations. It’s difficult to have so much time eaten up by meetings with colleagues and keep an external perspective at the same time. For freelancers, there isn’t much ‘internal’ stuff going on. This makes it easier for them to form up and cooperate with others, often also freelancers, to complete a project or face a challenge. By operating this way, they also help each other and increase each other's reach and income.
Work and job quality
Freelancers operate on their own conditions, and are responsible for their own job and work content and -quality. Whereas for employees much is defined (which has pluses, like certain standards for health and safety, and in some cases clear expectations of what you’re supposed to accomplish for your boss), for freelancers it’s a blank slate. Working 9-5? Possible, but not necessary. Working from home? For many it’s the standard. Doing your own admin? You can, but many outsource it.
How can you make your work and job quality better as a freelancer?
- Make the best business decisions in the interest of your company by being well informed about your client-to-be by obtaining credit reports and business information beforehand. Check e.g. Graydon Go. As a Freelancers in Belgium member, you get access to company reports for half of the standard price via this link.
- Find the sweet spot for what you like, you’re good at, what the world needs and what people are willing to pay for. Check e.g the Japanese framework for finding your purpose: Ikigai.
- If there is something that reduces work quality; change, add or remove something in your job. As you yourself are responsible for your work processes, try to go for continuous improvement. If you manage 1% improvement in your effectiveness per month, that will pay huge dividends over time.
- Exercise good craftsmanship in all the work you do. Do your job with passion, care and attention to detail. Do the best work you’re capable of, and be proud of it. If you’re not proud of your work, why would anyone else be?
How can you improve work and job quality for your immediate surroundings and society as a whole as a freelancer?
- Work only with companies which align with your values. If you live your life adhering to certain values, and you think these have great significance in society - why work for others who have a completely inverse position in this? Of course, this is different from agreeing on everything! Formulated more positively - try to work with companies that support values and work on topics you care about.
- Work only with companies acting in a transparent and sustainable way. Some companies have business practices that might work for them in the short run, but don’t help them or society in the long run. Working with them, you either eventually become a victim to them as well (them actually paying you, is one thing), or an accomplice in their evil deeds. Since your own motivation and belief is very relevant for your success, think about this long and hard.
- Make sound agreements with clients and partners. This will increase trust, save time and frustration, lead to more effective work and more business, less bankruptcies, more spend and more jobs. Better to create clarity beforehand than to pick up the pieces later. As mentioned before, e.g. checking the financial health of a company by doing a credit check with e.g. Graydon Go before entering a collaboration might save a lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and frustration in the long run.
- Join forces to lobby and raise awareness for better working conditions for freelancers.
For any person, it’s important to pay attention to your own well being, or at least to keep a positive mindset. There are some aspects of freelancing that make it more mentally challenging than working as an employee: (1) there’s no guidance, you need to make your own; (2) your own success as a business, including winning or losing clients, can feel very ‘personal’ - often freelancers are personally part of their own brand; (3) freelancers work relatively more independently, which means they need to organize their own positive environment to work for them. No employer is going to do that for you.
How can you as a freelancer feel better?
Work on balancing emotions, moods and feelings, consider consulting business coaches and therapists.
- Do an exercise like the ‘life wheel’, and make a plan to improve where applicable. Your business is an important part of your life, but there’s more.
- Your business is usually a one person operation and you’re responsible for everything. Try to focus on what you’re good at, which is usually what you enjoy doing most. Get help with the other stuff, but also try to get input and expertise on big questions or dilemmas you’re facing - don’t carry the load all on your own.
- If you’re looking for more meaning than just churning out the projects and assignments, you can take a look at your personal values to see what makes you tick and where you can perhaps take a new angle or side project in your business that gives you more fulfillment.
How can you as a freelancer improve subjective well-being for others?
- Lead as an example: you can show people how you overcome your struggles as an independent professional, helping you to do the same. This relates to both success in your work, work life balance, and happiness generally.
- Check in on fellow freelancers and clients, and see if there is something you can do to improve their work situation, especially those who are working in situations similar to your own, and who might be facing similar challenges. In organizations, people can learn from each other. As independents, freelancers should do the same.
- Raise awareness and educate about subjective well being practices. This can even be part of your business. As a freelancer, you might be an expert in topic x, y and z. Your business offering can be expanded not only doing work or managing projects in these topics, but also explaining what you know about these topics, and even explaining what hurdles you’ve overcome to become effective at what you do. Don’t be too afraid to create ‘competition’ - more likely it will generate you new business and further cement you as an expert in your field.
Health is yet another area where freelancers are responsible for their own situation. However, this is the same for many employees, where the employer is not adequately paying attention to this. It depends of course on the line of work you’re in what health challenges you have. The biggest differences with working for someone else is that freelancers set their own boundaries, or neglect to do so. This can be with relation to safety, ergonomics, hygiene, and of course work life balance, which we’ll discuss later.
How can you as a freelancer be healthier?
- For optimal productivity: prioritise healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising regularly. Use a bike or walk to get around (even if only part of the way) instead of public transportation or your car if possible.
- Work ergonomically. If you’re in front of your screen a lot, make sure you take breaks. Mind your posture and try to do some of your computer work and/or conference calls standing or walking (outside if possible). Take care to have a proper chair to sit on, a desk at the correct height and limit screen time in the evenings. Get a more ergonomic keyboard and implement new mouse and keyboard habits (incl. learning shortcuts) that boost productivity and limit RSI-type health issues.
How can you as a freelancer improve health for others?
- Lead as an example. Show others what your best practices are and what helps you avoid the most unhealthy behavior and become a slightly more healthy person than you were yesterday. Try not to look perfect in the eyes of others - if you show progress while sharing your ups and downs (and this doesn’t only go for health, obviously) your example becomes more realistic and inspiring to others.
- Raise awareness and educate about health practices. If you have specific experience overcoming certain health issues (for instance, overcoming back pain by getting a better desk chair), or certain knowledge of a subject, sharing facts might open other people’s eyes and they might start to make changes. You don’t always need to convince, let the facts do that for you - people often need to convince themselves.
- Lobby to get investments in pro active health care such as subscriptions to fitness activities to be possible to deduct as a professional expense. Or incentives to use a bike as a transportation option.
Knowledge & Skills
Even though not all employers score 10/10 on this metric, many (office) workers will have at least some type of training budget or will be offered training or education of some sort by their employer. This can be formal education, training on the job or even personal development that might or might not be directly related to your job. Freelancers need to organize all of this themselves. They need to pay for it, as well as take the time to do it, even though it doesn’t pay the bills in the short term, obviously. To neglect it, however, is not a good idea in the long run.
How can you improve your knowledge and skills as a freelancer?
- Think ahead and consider what employers might need in the future, check e.g. LinkedIn’s Economic Graph to get access to country specific labour market data.
- Educate yourself and sharpen your saw continuously. Check The 7 habits of highly effective people by Covey.
- Stay up to date with trends and technologies via relevant industry publications, reputable newspapers and being in contact with fellow professionals.
How can you as a freelancer impact the knowledge and skills for others?
- Teach: share publicly what you do and know so that you can advance other professionals and industries. You can help others as well as build up your profile as an expert in your field at the same time, killing two birds with one stone.
- Stimulate others to take learning journeys as well. As a serious professional, you should always be learning and developing. By sharing what you have learned and that you value investing in your own development, you inspire others to do the same.
- Tell companies about the benefits of hiring freelancers.
While this is basically a subcategory of leading a healthy life, it is a very specific theme freelancers, as well as other workers with a fair amount of autonomy and expectations, need to pay special attention to. While freelancers have the benefit of doing without that tyrannical boss, they can often very well play that role themselves. Combined with demanding clients, deadlines and perhaps a hint of perhaps a hint of perfectionism, this can become very challenging.
How can you improve your your work-life balance as a freelancer?
- Learn how to handle stress. Learn how to manage your time, reflect about your business often to identify your purpose and direction, to know which tasks gives energy and which drain it. Learn how to manage your time. Practice meditation and mindfulness.
- Spend time outside and in nature. Putting yourself in a different environment with different activities, as well as being offline for some time, gives you new ideas, and it also puts your professional worries in a different perspective. There is also scientific evidence that being on the move (walking, for instance) stimulates brain activity.
- Learn how to cope with demanding clients. As a freelancer you shouldn’t be a slave to your clients - there should be a healthy equal relationship between customer and freelancer, not a parent/child relationship. Consider saying ‘no’ to clients that are too demanding, or giving them feedback to develop your relationship in a more sustainable direction.
- Schedule enough time off to relax and enjoy yourself with leisure and cultural activities. Similar to being outside, talking to people about other topics than work or daily worries such as running the household, can take your mind of things and inspire you at the same time. Cultural activities have a similar function to being in nature - you experience something different and new, and that can have indirect benefits for you business as well.
- Work in an inspiring environment. If you need to spend a lot of hours in a certain place, make sure you like that place and that it’s a fun positive space. If possible, separate office/workspace from home, or within your home make sure you have a separate area where you do work and where you can also leave your work to focus on other aspects of life.
How can you as a freelancer impact work-life balance for others?
- Raise awareness about freelancing - free agents report even higher levels of satisfaction than those in traditional jobs according to McKinsey’s report Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, (McKinsey, 2016).
- Educate companies about the best ways to hire and manage freelancers. For some organizations, it’s just not common business practice to work with independent contractors. They lift their load with employees and when the work is too much, they just suffer. Yet other organizations just
Social connections play an important role for freelancers. Firstly, it’s important not to let your work (which has no limits) eat up your social life completely, which it can (see work life balance). Secondly, your private life can be a healthy distraction, and you can move in different circles, and do different activities, and get inspiration that you can use in your freelancing career. Last, but not least, as a freelancer it’s not completely unimportant to at least partially leverage your own social network for your business. Networking, for acquisition and collaboration purposes, is hugely important for freelancers, more so than for employees.
How can you take social connections into account as a freelancer?
- Prioritise and schedule time for friends and family. If you count on just using the time that is left for this, that will probably not work. Usually, there is no time ‘left’.
- Set up your own support network of like minded professionals to celebrate wins and tackle challenges together. As a one person operation, there is usually no back up or extra capacity to put to work. Having a decent network of friendly experts will help in cases you get swamped.
- Aim to spend time and surround yourself with uplifting people, both professionally and personally. Being an entrepreneur always involves risks and there are more peaks and valleys professionally compared to life as an employee - and these translate to personal life as well. What you don’t need, in such a situation, is someone that is telling you that it’s not going to work and just give up. You’re perhaps not looking for blind optimists to surround you, but you don't want naysayers either.
How can you as a freelancer improve social connections for others?
- Connect people with each other. People will not only be grateful, but they might repay you in the future. Furthermore, it makes you feel good to help others out.
- Connect with other freelancers. Share knowledge and job opportunities, best practices and insights in communities like e.g. Freelancers in Belgium.
Freelancers, like employees, may or may not be engaged in projects or activities for the common good. But unlike employees, unless these operate under the flag of their employer, the goodwill that results from their civic activities has a spin off effect that translates directly to their person and therefore also to their business. In another sense, similar to with social connections, being engaged in your local community might bring you new connections that you hadn’t encountered otherwise professionally. It widens your scope, your perspective, and your world. And it brings many karma points...
How can you engage civically as a freelancer?
- Stay curious and educate yourself about the world around you. By being active civically as an individual, you might learn something about your environment you didn’t know before, and this can have business benefits as well (for instance, you might find out more about your customers or your customers’ preferences or priorities).
- There’s often more possible in your local environment than you think. Try to move around in different social circles by doing something for society. You’ll find that it inspires you but also expands your network into new directions that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
- Use your skills/expertise for public good or a cause you believe in. Some organizations in civil society can perhaps use your expertise for the public good.
- Donate to causes and receive fiscal advantages.
How can you as a freelancer impact civic engagement in the society as a whole?
- Improve the lives of the people around you by engaging with employers, politics, authorities.
- Mobilise like minded people around a cause.
- Pay your taxes and social security contributions.
- Contribute to the local economy by using local suppliers in your business.
Written by Laurens Heinen Independent Trainder
And Jenny Bjorklof - community leader Freelancers in Belgium and LinkedIn marketing freelance trainer.
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We hope you enjoyed this article and that it inspires you to take care of your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. We’d love to hear from you! Did you take action after reading this article? Share your story! If there are any things we missed and should be included, or you want to give feedback about it, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
OECD (2020), How's Life? 2020: Measuring Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9870c393-en
McKinsey. (2016). Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy#
Fuller, J., Raman, M., Bailey A., Vaduganathan N., et al (2020). Building the
on-demand workforce. Published by Harvard Business School and BCG.