What is a freelancer?

reading time: 5min | #businesses # principals #working with freelancers | September 9, 2021 | Daan De Bock

Freelancing is becoming more and more popular. We are seeing an increase in the number of freelancers not only in Belgium but all across the globe. However, we have noted a certain amount of uncertainty about the precise definition of the term 'freelance'. This is due to the absence of a specific freelancer status in Belgian legislation. To relieve any doubts you may have in relation to this, we went in search of a correct definition, with supplementary information.

Our search for the perfect definition started where many such searches begin: the dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary defines freelance as follows: 'free-lance (adjective) - Self-employed and hired to work for different companies on a particular assignment'. Unfortunately, this definition is rather simple, and we are looking for a more detailed description. The description offered by the Flemish association for independent entrepreneurs UNIZO: ''A freelancer is an entrepreneur without personnel who primarily, but not exclusively, provides business services in a business-to-business (B2B) context on the basis of temporary contracts, assignments or projects.'

To us, this definition is also quite worthy of praise because it presents a good summary of the key ideas in the concept of "freelance. Nevertheless, even this summary requires a more nuanced approach. Specifically, we believe that a few elements are still missing from this definition. First of all, it is important that 'an entrepreneur' is defined as a self-employed person in possession of his/her own VAT number and who is registered with the Crossroads Bank of Enterprises. Secondly, the concept of time in relation to the freelancer is lacking in this definition. A freelancer can choose to practice either his/her primary profession or an ancillary profession on a freelance basis.

We therefore propose the following definition:

What is a freelancer?"A freelancer is an entrepreneur without personnel, who is registered with the Crossroads Bank of Enterprises and is in possession of his/her own VAT number and who primarily but not exclusively provides business services in a business-to-business (B2B) context on the basis of temporary contracts, assignments or projects, in the practice of his/her primary profession or an ancillary profession.

What about synonyms?

We have already pointed out that the definition of the term 'freelancer' is not entirely clear to most people. Nevertheless, there are a number of terms that are often used interchangeably with 'freelancer'. Are these terms effectively synonyms, or do they have a different meaning? Here is a summary.

  • Self-employed without personnel:
    This is defined as a self-employed entrepreneur who practices his/her profession without hiring other persons (in Dutch, this is referred to a 'ZZP-er').
  • Consultant:
    This is someone who advises business enterprises as a profession
  • Interim Manager or Acting Manager:

An interim or acting manager is someone who is temporarily hired to carry out specific management or other duties within an organization. Most interim or acting managers have not concluded an employment contract with the organization for which they work, and operate at management or executive level. A self-employed person without personnel and a freelancer can be considered synonymous. The term "ZZP-er" is commonly used in the Netherlands, while the term "freelancer" is more widespread in Belgium. Consultants and Interim or Acting Managers don't necessarily have to be freelancers; they can also be in the permanent employment of the organization in question.


Freelancer vs. employee

Sometimes, it is interesting to examine the opposite of the term you are examining to arrive at a definition. A freelancer is not an employee. What are the differences?
An employee works under the authority and supervision of a boss or other superior. This is not the case for a freelancer. A freelancer acts as a supplier. Therefore, there is no hierarchical relationship between a freelancer and the party hiring him or her. Moreover, although a freelancer may enter into a contract with the company or organization for which he or she is working, this can never be a permanent employment contract.

Whereas an employee receives a monthly gross salary, is guaranteed payment of his/her monthly salary if he/she were to become ill, is entitled to a 13th month and paid holidays, a freelancer is only entitled to remuneration for the services he/she provides. The rates and fees for these services are set down in a contract between the client and the freelancer. This fee is not paid as a salary, but through an invoice paid by the client.

Whereas the employer of a permanent employee pays his/her social contributions, freelancers must pay these contributions themselves. This means that a client hiring a freelancer will need to pay fewer 'supplementary costs' than if this client were to hire an employee under an employment contract. You, as a client, will therefore only need to pay for the services you receive and can include these costs under the heading '440. Suppliers'.

With thanks to Naomi Van Obbergen and Amy Messely


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