• Freelancers in Belgium

This was Freelancers in Belgium Day 2020

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

What a day. What a buzz. Over 200 freelancers and almost as many expertises, but many of the same struggles. That’s why Freelancers in Belgium is all about sharing knowledge and experiences. After the event, we could all go home with answers to questions we didn’t know we had, inspiration on how to keep moving forward and tons of energy.

Kick-starting the day

The venue ING Marnix in Brussels slowly but surely filled up with people, energy and buzz.

Katrina Sichel, our moderator for the day, welcomed everyone to the event and set the tone for the conference. We were in for a day of learning ànd sharing.

The opening speech by Marleen Deleu, owner of The Flex Academy and founder of NextConomy, gave us insights into some major trends and challenges that shape the current labour market.

  • Already 4 out of 10 people in the EU have a non-standard contract or are self-employed, but there is still a lot of ground to be covered in terms of social protection.

  • Freelance Management Systems enable businesses to manage collaboration with freelancers and make the gig economy go global.

  • Freelancers bring added value to companies but are not on the radar of HR departments because they are not on the payroll. This should change.

  • As more and more freelancers enter the market, competition is high. This raises the need for freelancers to invest in themselves and continuously develop their skills.

A short presentation by Dirk Paelinck, CEO of Workero followed.

Workero is on a mission to match underused space in companies with people looking for a place to work. With a very competitive pricing (from 2,5€ an hour!) and a solid offering of no less than 328 desks, 40 private offices, 43 meeting rooms and 5 event rooms across Belgium, and expanding further both within Belgium and internationally!

Peer-to-peer panel discussion

Next up was a peer-to-peer panel discussion with four freelance experts: Freelance ICT Strategy Consultant Adrien Willems, Humanist Photographer, Ralitza Soultanova​, Strategic Marketer Anthony Stabourlos and Freelance Journalist Linda A. Thompson.

Although four very different expertises and four very different personalities, it became clear that they had overcome many of the same struggles. They were happy to share their experiences and answered five questions for us.

Looking back, what would you do differently?

Each panelist seemed to say the same thing in a different way: take better care of yourself. Take care of your work life balance, say no more often, don’t take things personally and step away from assignments and people you don’t like.

“Receiving a ‘no’ is not a personal failure, it’s a trigger to move on to the next thing.” - Linda A. Thompson

“Find a mentor with an open mind.” - Adrien Willems

What is your golden tip for fellow freelancers?

“Put yourself out there”, was Anthony’s main message, “use LinkedIn and go to events.” (Check! is what I imagine many fellow freelancers thought.) Whereas Ralitza’s advice was to go out of your comfort zone, Linda’s golden tip was to find your own comfort zone, specifically for networking. Find a setting in which you are comfortable and do some smart networking. Adrien reminded everyone of the importance of asking for feedback and learning from it.

Have you ever undervalued your work?

It’s clear that pricing is a struggle everyone overcame at some point in their career. Some tips: don’t start with a low pricing, or if you did make that mistake, get out of low paying jobs as fast as you can, add 10% to your time estimations to cover back and forth and once you have a pricing you feel comfortable with stick to your price. Another golden tip from our most seasoned expert Adrien: if a client says you are too expensive, kindly thank them and refer them to someone else.

How do you deal with financial insecurity?

Very practical advice here: invoice fast, chase payments and plan your year, not your month. Also, get a good accountant and listen to him or her!

How do you differentiate?

Differentiating is not only a matter of hard skills and expertise, it’s also about how you make your client feel. The common denominator in all answers here: warmth and heart. When you leave a job, do it positively, share knowledge, help people and always give it your personal best.

Moderator Katrina also shared her two cents: roll your sleeves up and go the extra mile. Every little detail that makes the life of the customer easier or better counts. Solid advice.

Pick Your Expert sessions takeaways

After an inspiring peer-to-peer panel discussion, the four panel experts were joined by eight more freelance experts and five of our event partners for the “Pick Your Expert”- sessions hosted by participation guru Marina Lynch. A new and exciting format, aimed at answering as many questions as possible.

We asked each expert for their top insight from each session.

Strategic Marketer - Anthony Stabourlos

Authenticity is very important. In your branding, but also in how you service your customers. Try to give that little bit extra.

Data Protection Officer / GDPR - Cathy Habils

Comply to the GDPR, use common sense and don’t process customer data you wouldn’t feel comfortable with if it was about yourself.

Sparking Visibility - Online & Offline (Social Media, Personal Branding, Events, Networking, Mindset) - Geraldine Huybrechts

LinkedIn is your personal brand. It’s important to share valuable content. Don’t sell, give value.

Entrepreneur Coach - Judith Escalier Revollo

Balance your work, yourself, your family and your purpose. You can do that by asking yourself what’s most important and prioritizing.

Video marketer and thought leadership expert- Ken de Kort

Storytelling is the new selling. For a freelancer, this statement is even more applicable, because YOU are the face and story of your brand. Make sure you leverage this by putting out visual content.

Thought Leadership, although often thought of as positioning yourself as the expert, is more about including the stories of your stakeholders. It may sound counterintuitive, but by giving a platform to other people and playing the role of a facilitator, you will be perceived more as an expert in the long run.

Copywriter & content marketer - Kristof Maddelein

Don’t offer everything to everyone. You are not Delhaize. Instead, focus on serving one particular audience, doing one particular job, or solving one particular problem. And do this amazingly well. Your customers will love you for it.

Freelance Storyteller - Magali De Reu

Try. Dare. Use value based pricing and show more authenticity. Being less ‘commercial’ sells better.

Artist Illustrator - Peter Quirijnen

Dare to come out of your comfort zone. Slowly expand it by asking yourself new questions or trying a creative approach at a certain problem. If you are looking for a solution in front of you, remember that the solution might be behind you.

Designer & Co-Founder at PandaPanda - Sebastiaan Schillebeeckx

Working together with other freelancers should be based on trust. I like the idea of the paying forward principle. What you give to others will eventually come back to you.

Humanist photographer - Ralitza Soultanova

There is never only one way to do things, there are many. Although we have similar worries, we might have different solutions.

Freelance digital marketer & entrepreneur - Evelien De Bruyne

Even when you are just starting out as a freelancer it’s perfectly possible to land an assignment with a large company.

Freelance journalist - Linda A. Thompson

Freelancing is an emotional rollercoaster. Surround yourself with the right people so that you are not alone in everything. Ask yourself what kind of people you would like to meet and seek them out on events, in co-working spaces or even Facebook groups.

TENTOO - Sabrina Naji

Freelancers should be able to do what they’re good at without worrying about any kind of administration. That’s why Tentoo supports freelancers by taking over the entire administration and being their single point of contact regarding their business.

ING - Dave Deruytter

Starters in Belgium are welcome to get their free starters package at www.ing.be/starters including a Starter Guide. Freelance businesses and companies looking for cash management, lending, insurance or pension options, are welcome to check www.ing.be/business.

SECUREX - Philippe Vander Linden

There are several ways people can start as a freelancer and live from their activity. Once you are established, there are ways to optimize how you get value from your activity. Securex can help with that.

FURBO LEGAL - Ellen Pensaert

Know what you want and what you don’t want: how do you want your invoices to be paid, which type of clients do you want to work with, which collaboration form…? This will help you draft well balanced contracts.

SBB - Niels Van Rijsselberghe

How do I prepare a financial plan? What legal form is appropriate for my business? What about VAT, taxes and accounting? Do I need any special permits? What investments are necessary and how do I spread them? Difficult questions for you, but a piece of cake for the SBB consultant.

A unique lunch break

If you have been to events before you probably expect lunch to be your networking opportunity. You gather all your courage and walk up to people to connect with them, holding the little food that you’ll manage to eat that day. Freelancers in Belgium Day 2020 was different.

Thanks to Conversation Starter (made possible by digital talent agency NedWorks) it was really easy to connect with other freelancers because you could book meetings upfront with relevant and interesting people.

But there was much more going on:

- A Business Clinic for specific questions about starting and running a business.

- A Job Market for information on finding new opportunities and projects.

- Mini photoshoots by professional portrait photographer Joke Houbraken

- An introvert area. That’s right. If you weren’t up for networking at all, you could just sit comfortably in the introvert area and do your thing.

Before moving on to the keynotes of the day, some time was dedicated to reflecting on the learning of the event so far. By means of Q&A, show of hands and sharing own insights, moderator Katrina turned this into an interactive and fun moment. Amongst other things, we found out who the pyjama workers in the room were and learned some tips on how to stay productive when working from home.

Shout out to the partners and sponsors

Freelancers in Belgium 2020 would not have been possible without the support of these partners and sponsors. We were happy to have them present their solutions for freelance businesses to our attendees and invite you to check out how they can bring value to your business.

ING - Check out the ING Starters package, the ING digital banking services and lending solutions for freelancers www.ing.be/starters.

Securex: Has an enterprise counter, where you can get your company and VAT number and arrange social security. They also offer 1-on-1 meetings, for example to analyse the financial aspects of your business. https://www.securex.be/en/colab-entrepreneurs-en/start-to-freelance.

SBB: Offers VAT, accountancy, bookkeeping, tax and finance advice for starting and growing freelance businesses.

FURBO Legal: Offers legal advice to freelancers. They can support you in setting up your general terms and conditions, service agreements, contracts and more.

Lancr: Is on a mission to get the same benefits to freelancers that employees have. They do this with Freelance Deals. Download their app.

Tentoo: Makes freelancing possible without administration or accounting.

Lizy: Considering getting a car? Check out Lizy for affordable second-hand car leasing, and get your car in 2 weeks instead of needing to wait for months.

Workero: Did you know you can rent office space in many locations and companies across Belgium for 2,50€ an hour?

Skipr: Book, set, monitor, and claim expenses for multimodal journeys from one account. Eliminating paper receipts, Skipr combines all trips booked through the app and linked Skipr payment card into a single monthly invoice.

Brand Aid Clinic: How to translate your vision into tangible products or services your clients believe in and make your credibility as a professional stand out? The Brand Aid Clinic wants you to get the result and reputation you deserve. By using scans, consultancy and all kinds of treatments you’ll find yourself in no time on your way to grow a healthy brand.

Jellow: Jellow combines a freelance platform with a network of +30.000 freelancers and +1.800 employers. Intermediary parties are not allowed in the network and freelancer rates are margin free.

CrossCast: Matches freelance talent in marketing and communication with companies looking for precisely those skills.

NedWorks: NedWorks is a Digital Talent Agency. Their mission is to connect, inspire and create opportunities for the community of digital professionals in Belgium.

Keynote Clo Willaerts - How to become your own swiss army knife marketing department

Clo Willaerts answers one very important question for us: How can I make money doing what I love? The answer? Talent, focus and persistence. Her talk is jam-packed with tips for books, tools and good habits.

Firstly, focusing on talent, Clo encourages everyone to find their ikigai. It’s right in the middle of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Always remembering that’s it’s about solving a problem, rather than selling a product or a service. And is as much a matter of deciding what to do, than of what not to do. Some quotes to hang above your desk: “ If you can’t bill it, kill it.” and “Dance like nobody’s watching.”

Secondly, talking about focus, we are encouraged to disable all notifications on our smartphones. Not for the duration of the talk, for...ever. A suggestion that was welcomed by some, but for sure not by all. Focus is also a matter of which channels to invest your time in. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, your blog or a podcast series, pick three and do them well.

And last but not least, persistence. “Get up, show up, never give up.” Even when you are facing many challenges at a time and you see no way out, don’t cancel jobs or events. Keep going, people will help you. A beautiful message, that the vibes at the event seem to confirm.

Keynote Laurent-David Hostyn - The impact of changing your pricing strategy

When it comes to pricing, Laurent-David Hostyn seems to have clear answers to something that is perceived as complicated and tricky. In just a few steps, he explains how you can significantly increase your profit, just by thinking of your price a bit more often.

His golden tip? Adopt value based pricing. Don’t calculate how to merely cover your costs, nevermind what your competitors ask, step away from hourly rates, but rather focus on the value you deliver.

First and foremost, you should understand price sensitivity. As of when will you be perceived as too expensive, as of when as too cheap? It’s a crucial question and the answer is different for each client. Secondly, understand how your value is perceived by asking what your client values most. Is it quality? Is it speed? Again, the answer can be different depending on the client.

Next to these valuable insights, Laurent-David also explains that pricing is a process. He encourages everyone to think about pricing at least once a year. It’s well worth the effort.

The event team

  • Maritime photographer Mike Louagie: comedian + videographer

  • Graphic Designer Diana Chitchiyan - she made the Freelancers in Belgium logo!

  • Virtual assistant Heidi Van den Bergh (name badges + welcome desk)

  • Diedrik De Mits - a bit of everything + community manager IT Freelancers in Belgium

  • Portrait photographer Joke Houbraken

  • Community Manager Jenny Bjorklof

  • Atmosphere Manager Inna Stelmakh

  • Participation Guru Marina Lynch

  • HR Copywriter Veerle Van Hoecke (event journalist)

  • Conference Interpreter and translator Qing Chen (speaker host)

  • HR pro Jessie Govaert (partner manager)

Not on image:

  • Event Photographer: David Legrève

  • Welcome desk: Online supporter Silke Van den Broeck

  • Social media support Liesbeth and Zhihao

  • Multi consultant Christophe David logistics support + Excel wizard

  • Translator Adrian Probst organiser of post event dinner

  • Dominique Vanderbeken: DJ + partner of community manager Jenny, he has helped her also to get fed and relax (sometimes) while organising the event 😊

Freelance Bloopers anyone?

If by late afternoon the event had not yet exceeded your expectations, there was one more trump card to be played: a comedy act. Maritime Photographer Mike Louagie shared his freelance bloopers in an unforgettable way, describing some major ‘faux pas’ of his career in full detail.

Surely the perfect way to wrap up the event light heartedly and with a positive vibe.

This article is brought to you by Veerle Van Hoecke

Freelance copywriter specialized in HR challenges & topics

Photo credits: David Legreve