self-employed people definition

In practice, it has proven very difficult to come to a conclusive definition for the group ‘self-employed’. This group is diverse and cannot be summarized in a few lines.

This page begins with a description of the various types of the self-employed who are visible in the Self-Employed Society. Apart from this concept, the self-employed need a number of skills to survive. The core activities of the self-employed are acquisition, professionalisation and financial administration. In the past year, we have examined how self-employed are handling this and the main results will be discussed in this chapter.

The self-employed group in all its forms – model

Together, freelancers are not a homogeneous group and and also cannot, as such, be considered or investigated. Therefore KIZO identifies ten qualities. These qualities can be merged into useful definitions. The self-employed group is generally characterized by a large portion of autonomy, a high labor productivity, social commitment and a a large dose of entrepreneurship and/or knowledge and specialism. The group distinguishes itself in various profiles and is in fact no different to the labor market division of, for example, a ministry in which different roles are filled from top to bottom; from security officer to minister.

self employed model




The knowledge workers – head

Specialists: Of the 800,000 self-employed, about a third is specialized in disciplines where management, higher business management or highly specialized knowledge is made available.

Generalists: A small leading group above is requested for heavy administrative issues.

The generalists and specialists were previously employed and not happy. The had too little space to develop their talents and to realize their ideas on innovation. They got stuck in internal viscosity and political games. These consultants, interim professionals, advisors, counselors and coaches do lots of research, take courses, go to expensive conferences and congresses, write publications; all to stay in new developments and to be visible to potential clients.

In contrast to the specialists, the focus of generalists is not just on one topic but at least on two or three. For example, a project leader in the social domain who specializes in sustainability projects in municipalities. Knowledge and experience in project management, sustainability and social developments makes him agile because he can make new combinations and can respond quickly to questions that arise. In conversation with clients, they come to understand where the need is and think of a service or product to solve this problem. Most of them think they will be still self-employed in five years, perhaps in a larger form by working together with other specialists. Or they develop through another interest area that presents itself.

The skilled man and craft workers – hand

Part of the self-employed can be divided into direct deployable executive people and specialized professionals.

The group of deployable executive people actually includes all conceivable functions at executive level, of people involved in agriculture in order to get the crop in on time, temporary indentation in healthcare or let themselves be hired by a construction company. Some of these jobs are also being mediated by the staffing industry.

The group of professionals are practicing a craft, makes concrete products and works for himself or in small organizations with other self-employed.

They previously worked frequently employed and were not happy either. They continue to do what they did because they love their profession. This group is very mixed, like upholsterers, plumbers, dental technicians, carpenters or welders. Some great ones find their way onto the world stage and eventually become a leader of a large company, as there are many examples in the shoemaking business and bags industry.

The professionals train themselves to maintain their knowledge level. They receive training and are members of their branch association. This means that they have actual knowledge and that they’re able to respond to market developments to differentiate themselves from colleagues.

It’s important to stay ahead. Regarding their future expectations they think they’ll do the same job, either deepened or widened, and with more costumers.

Own free will or forced

It is utopian to think that every self-employed begins of their own free will. In today’s job market, where there is insufficient employment, where many who are made redundant and who are not able to find any more work by benefit agencies, are pushed in the direction of self-employement. Whether or not supervised and provided with financial resources.

The motivation and thus the probability of success varies between voluntary and forced.

Further research must be done. Why does anyone have to be self-employed? Is a retraining program not a more logical response? Is it the social securities role to push someone, who has been in employed for the last 25 year, into self-employement or are there other possibilities? Conversations with various agencies justifies the saying ‘To ask the question is to answer it’.

Despite the financial support, some interviewed self-employed sitting on the edge of bankruptcy experience that the financial problem has not been solved. They feel that they are powerless to escape the vicious circle that is dominated by a lack of money or debts. The sense of human failure, the must to justify the situation continuously, puts a heavy burden on these entrepreneurs.

Specialist or entrepreneur

Is a self-employed an entrepreneur? That’s a persistent discussion. Must he be judged by the standards related to entrepreneurship, such as the creation of jobs or achieving economic growth? Or is he a self-employed who must have entrepreneurial skills to put himself in the regular labor market? Some self-employed will develop themselves as start-up into entrepreneur with staff and won’t be part of the self-employed group much longer.


How does a self-employed collect his income? He is fully specialized in a field and this obtains a 100% income or he generates an income in a hybrid way. For example, a combination of the self-employment with a part-time job on a permanent basis. This form is often seen by new self-employees until they have enough orders to focus entirely on self-employment.

Together versus sole

It is certain that the greatest security for self-employed is uncertainty. That is a conscious choice, but it seems that there still is a need for certainties. Many try to work together. If it’s in the same field, then competition or difference in quality perception will often arise and thereby disappointment.

The research of KIZO shows that almost all self-employed are networking somewhere or that they’re having cooperation. The premise of the self-employed is that he has a sole proprietorship and gives form to his ‘entrepreneurship’ through individual interests and skills.

The selp-employed as soloist will generally not exist and that’s why he works in more or less organized networks of self-employed and of clients. Independent doesn’t mean alone…


Onderzoekspartners van KIZO

Vertegenwoordigende partners

ZZP Servicedesk

MKB Servicedesk

European Forum of Independent Professionals

FNV Zelfstandigen