Subsidies – what’s in it for freelancers?
Subsidies, government grants,… Many entrepreneurial eyes start to twinkle at the prospect that they might be within reach. With this article, I want to convey some general notions about subsidies and elaborate on how freelancers can benefit from them.
Why does a government grant subsidy?
One important notion to bear in mind is that you get a subsidy for doing something that you (as a freelancer or your company) did not do before; be it training your staff, investing in new infrastructure, making your processes more sustainable, digital transformation of your business, elaborating an innovation, going international,… If the activity that you want to ask a grant for is already inherently part of your business operations, it will make no difference if the government awards the grant or not. Speaking in subsidy lingo: the grant should have ‘additionality’. If your company wants to stay just what it currently is, then it does not make a lot of sense to look into subsidies.
Subsidies in Belgium
Subsidies are granted by many levels of government: the European, the national, the sub-national (regional /provincial), until even city- or municipality level. The scope of envisioned projects and associated grant amounts typically become smaller when the government is more local. It should be no surprise that the subsidy landscape in Belgium is rather complex, with not only the national government but also the regions and the communities each hosting their own programs. At which level you apply for a subsidy for your project depends on the division of competencies.
First, let’s have a look at subsidies that are directly available for freelancers.
Local support for entrepreneurs
It is certainly worth checking what is available on the local level. Several cities grant support to entrepreneurs, sometimes with a focus on starters.
- The city of Gent has the Starterscontract, a subsidy of 5.000€ for startup investments, training, or professional advice; and the “Doorzetterscontract“, the same amount for future-oriented investments.
- The city of Antwerpen regularly organise open calls for entrepreneurs to submit projects based on a theme; such as circular, digital, social, creative economy or fashion, but also to support other entrepreneurs or to improve the climate or mobility in the city.
- Many subsidy measures for entrepreneurs in Brussels can be found via the 1819 service of hub.brussels .
Support for training and advice from the regions
Chances are big that as a Belgian entrepreneur, you have heard of or applied for support for training and
advice, awarded by the regions, that improve the (economic) quality of your enterprise. In Flanders, this
support is awarded through the KMO-portefeuille of the Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship agency (VLAIO). In Wallonia, you can call upon Chèques-entreprises and Chèques-formation, while in Brussels Capital Region as well you can count on the Adviespremies for advice (with subcategories
Consultancy, Web and Export Strategy 8 ) and the Premies Opleiding for training. All these instruments have in common that they can only be applied for by small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including independent professionals. A second common condition is that the consultancy or training provider must be approved by the authority. This sometimes entails an extensive procedure for the provider if it is not yet in the authority’s database.
Finally – and this is a condition in many subsidy instruments – you should apply for the subsidy
before the project (here meaning: consultancy assignment or training) starts. The good news is that a company or independent professional receives new credit for applications every year.
Is there more for freelancers?
From here on, things become a bit more complicated… There are many other types of subsidies, some also accessible to independent professionals, often for larger amounts than the local subsidies and the support for training and advice from the regions. However, if you receive a large sum it will mean that the granting authority will demand a ‘return on investment’. For independent professionals, this means that they should at least have a genuine ambition to grow their business and enterprises.
This can be illustrated with VLAIO’s (SME growth subsidy) Kmo-groeisubsidie, an instrument that supports
SMEs in achieving their growth trajectory by purchasing external advice or recruiting a strategic employee. With up to 50.000 € subsidy per growth trajectory, it can be considered the big brother of the Kmo-portefeuille. An additional advantage is that in this case, the external advisor does not need to be approved by the authority. The applicant is free to involve the advisor(s) of their choice. The Kmo-groeisubsidie is open for applications from independent professionals, but the name and scope of the instrument make it clear: you are expected to grow as a company. Growth indicators that are questioned in the application are revenue, employment, and investment amounts. Needless to say that answering “everything will stay the same” will not make you win the grant.
Indirect way for freelancers to benefit from subsidies
Is that all there is for freelancers, subsidy-wise?
Not at all! Freelancers can benefit from subsidies in an indirect way. You could be the external service provider in an advice or training assignment supported by the regions (Kmo-portefeuille, Chèques-enterprises,…) or in a growth trajectory (Kmo-groeisubsidie). If you have a closer look, you will find that in many subsidy instruments there are roles for external experts or advisors. (As illustrated above, in quite some cases the support to companies by external professionals is actually the core of the subsidized project.)
You could be:
- a trainer that helps develop the skills of a client’s employees in a project funded by the European Social Fund.
- a technological expert in a client’s innovative R&D project
- funded by Innoviris (Brussels), Wallonie Recherche SPW (Wallonia) or VLAIO (Flanders).
- the developer or translator of digital commercial communication in an assignment from a client that is subsidized by Flanders Investment & Trade. And so on…
Knowing how your expertise fits in projects that are eligible for funding, can give you a head start in
negotiations with prospects or clients.
It is a good idea to learn which kinds of projects related to your sector or expertise can be subsidized by doing some research in specialized databases, such as:
- Brussels: https://1819.brussels/outils/subsides
- Flanders: https://www.vlaio.be/nl/subsidies-financiering/subsidiedatabank
- EU: https://www.vleva.eu/en/eu-subsidies/subsidiegids
Use this knowledge to your advantage!
Note: While we have done our best to make sure this information is accurate, rules and regulations change and each individual situation might be different, so it is always a good idea to check with appropriate authorities for the latest information. Consequently, Freelancers in Belgium do not assume any responsibility or liability for any issues or damages stemming from the use of the information found on this website. If you have tips for how to improve this article, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org