How to hire EU freelancers: a gentle guide

Elena Prokopets
Written by Elena Prokopets
on January 25, 2022 9 minute read

Do you know what AppSumo, Skype, and Google have in common? Each relied on freelancers to build and scale their operations. And many more entrepreneurs also choose to hire freelancers over full-time teammates.

But where do you find the best freelance people?

In Europe! The world's second-smallest continent is home to a sizable workforce of independent professionals, operating in every industry imaginable — from app design to videography.

In this guide, we’ll examine exactly how you can find and hire EU freelancers for your projects while staying on the good side of compliance.

Benefits of hiring EU freelancers

Some 13 million digital freelancers live, work and play in the 27 EU member states. Geographically speaking, Europe provides access to an even larger talent pool (which is also harder to count).  

So whether you are looking for a data science consultant with a background in B2B e-commerce, a UX designer, familiar with the French finance industry, or a Portuguese-speaking photographer, you’ll find your pro. 

Accessing a large multilingual talent pool is great. But there are even more reasons to work with EU freelancers:

  • Highly educated workforce. Since higher education is free or affordable in most European countries, you get to work with certified pros. According to a Malt x BCG study, 77% of EU freelancers hold a Bachelor's degree and 55% completed a Master’s, too. 
  • Access to local market knowledge. Ten of the biggest global economies are EU-member states. So expanding or launching your business in this region is profitable. A local pro can help you understand the cultural, operational, and legal nuances of doing business in a new target market. 
  • Significant experience. Many picture freelancers as young Millennials or college-aged kids, doing gigs part-time. But it’s not always the case in the EU. Here many professionals switch to self-employment after several years in the corporate world. Per Deloitte research, one in five European professionals, aged 50+ are open to self-employment as their path out of the labor force. That means you get to work with seasoned pros, who know their craft. 
  • Cost flexibility. Despite being a single market, the service costs vary across European countries. Mostly due to differences in the cost of living,  local salaries, and tax rates. That’s why even EU-based businesses often outsource work to neighboring countries to save some cash. You too can choose to hire freelancers from a cheaper region to balance your budgets. For example, the average hourly rate of a DACH-based IT freelancer is 94.28 EUR. But a Bulgarian freelance developer bills under 45 EUR, on average. 

To sum up: the EU is a destination to scout for skilled workforce across a broad spectrum of professions and price points. 

Already sold? Great, then let’s get you up to speed on how to hire and manage EU freelancers. 

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How to find, hire and onboard the best EU freelancers

Hiring the right freelancer feels like a needle in a haystack situation. First, you need to find a suitable candidate. Then sift through tons of confusing information — about payments, taxes, legal paperwork — and question your decision a couple of times. 

To help you out, we've put together this guide with clear-cut steps and tips to hire international freelancers.

1. Define the scope of work for new freelance hires

To hire the right fit, you need to determine what they’ll do. Duh, easy! They’ll do the work I’ll assign to them. Well, hold that thought. 

Freelancers are not full-time employees — they are independent contractors. And this assumes several differences in compliance and day-to-day management. 

Some EU countries have regulations, aimed at curbing false self-employment. Essentially, such laws put limits on how much work a freelancer can do for one company before being considered its employee. If you are from the US, the premises are similar to the recently passed California Assembly Bill 5

In Germany, the anti-false-self-employment policy is called “Scheinselbstständigkeit.” Spain, the UK and the Netherlands also have a series of similar laws. So do other EU countries. 

Should you be worried? In most cases, no. Just remember that when you hire EU freelancers, don't try to negotiate a semblance of traditional work arrangement i.e. a 9-5 schedule with no finite employment date and a fixed monthly payment, but no benefits. 

A freelancer is someone you hire to do scoped, well-articulated tasks for your business, rather than cross off any task off your to-do list.  

So before you go onto a hiring spree, create a short project overview document — a high-level summary of what you expect the person to do. 

To make things easier for you here’s a quick checklist to determine the scope of work a freelancer could cover for you. 

How to narrow down the freelancer’s scope of work?

  • Make a list of jobs you need to get done. Try to be reasonable here and weed out tasks that can be done with lower dependency on other team members i.e. they are easy to hand off and complete independently. Then determine: 
    • Is it an end-to-end service (e.g. creating a new logo)?
    • Or a recurring service (e.g. monthly social media support)? 
    • Is it reasonable for one person to do two or more tasks (e.g. social media content creation + publishing)? 
  • Decide on the engagement length. What is your expectation of a freelancer's availability? Being upfront about the time commitment helps your freelancer provide accurate estimates on deadlines and deliver on time. Here are some options: 
    • One-off — you need this done once. 
    • On-demand/need-based — you may require the same/similar services on a rotating schedule. 
    • Fixed number of hours per period (retainer) — you need someone to be regularly available to get the needle moving.  
  • Set project goals/KPIs. This is important for setting and managing the expectations on both ends. How will you define the success of the partnership? Communicate measurable goals in advance.   
  • For deliverables-based work: the final product delivery is the definition of a successful project. But it’s better to spell out which attributes the deliverable should have — e.g. 3 logo variations + all source files. 
  • For recurring, service-based offerings (e.g. VA or app development work), you should define the number of weekly/monthly working hours and extra requirements (e.g. daily standup meeting with the team at 10 am).  
  • Consider the compensation. How much are you willing to pay for the outlined work and expected commitment? 
  • Do you want the best money can get you or are you OK with settling for a more affordable provider (albeit someone less experienced)?
  • Are you okay with negotiating down the scope of work in exchange for a lower rate? 

Pack the above information into a document you’ll share with prospective freelance hires. 

2. Determine how much you should pay EU freelancers

You have the project specs, now you want to figure out how much it will cost you to get it done.

Freelance rates are all over the place and vary a lot based on the scope of work (that’s why you need to figure that out!). But here are some day rate ballparks, courtesy of Malt x BCG research: 

Source: BCG x Malt Freelancing in Europe 2021 study

As the data above shows, experienced freelance talent isn’t cheap. Still, the cost can be lower than keeping the same person on the payroll as you don’t have to worry about taxes or social security contributions. These are paid by your freelancer (and often bundled into the price of their services). 

To research how much hiring an EU freelancer will cost you:

  • Analyze local salaries for similar in-house roles. Glassdoor and Payscale have ample data. 
  • Compare salary / hourly rates across different EU countries to win some cents on geo arbitrage. 
  • Ask around for price quotes, using your project overview doc.

But remember: as the project management triangle principle says the quality of delivered work is always constrained by the budget, time, and scope. So you can only have two out of the cheap, fast, or comprehensive equation. 

Figure out how you will pay EU freelancers

As you compare quotes, think about how you’ll pay your overseas freelancers.

Here are several important caveats to keep in mind:  

  • Currency conversion. Not all EU freelancers bill in EUR or USD for the matter. Some prefer local currencies. So mind the conversion costs and fees. These can add up fast for international wire transfers. 
  • Payment tools. If you have a SEPA bank account, intra-market payments are easy and cheap. If not, there are alternative tools like PayPal and Stripe. Though both are good for smaller transfers (under €800), for larger and recurring platforms, there are solutions like Xolo. Our platform allows you to sign on any worldwide freelancer and easily transfer money from your bank account to theirs. Plus, we handle compliance for you when the need arises…
  • Invoice requirements. Some EU countries require freelancers to make invoices in a specific format. So be open to using the freelancer-supplied template and provide business information they may request for compliance purposes. 
  • Taxes. Soundly, this isn’t something you should worry about. EU contractors file their own taxes locally. Still, it’s worth double-checking with your local tax authorities on any provisions that may apply to cross-border B2B payments. 

3. Find the best EU freelancers

So there’s a lot of freelance talent in the EU. But how do you connect with your next best hire? 

Here’s where to find EU freelancers:

  • Freelance marketplace. With Xolo, you’ll be able to find high-quality and motivated freelancers in a pain-free way from all over Europe.
  • Online freelance communities. There are plenty of location-specific freelancer groups on Facebook e.g. Freelance Business Belgium or Berlin Freelancers. Most allow (and encourage) free job posts. 
  • Matchmaking apps and networking services.  If you are keen to network and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs (and a possible business partner), Klapp and Shapr are two popular apps. 
  • Referrals and online research. Most freelancers get new business from referrals. So start asking around on LinkedIn or Twitter who is the best person for X and you’d probably get a ton of intros. Or just search for existing threads. 

Source: LinkedIn

Is your freelancer a match?

So you’ve got a roaster of candidates. How do you zero down on the ideal choice? Here are several quick and effective ways to vet a freelancer: 

  • Ask for samples or a portfolio. Let their work speak for itself. You can usually get a good sense of the person’s expertise and creative preferences (if these matter) by assessing their past projects. Add a bonus point if the person can share some cool results they got for their clients or glowing reviews.  
  • Assess their reply to your project overview. Did they ask for some extra clarifications about the specs? Are they trying to learn more about your goals? Treat an “all looks clear, can do that” reply with slight suspicion.  
  • Do a discovery call. This makes sense for bigger projects. Block 30-45 mins for a quick get-to-know chat. Encourage the freelancer to ask extra project questions, provide a walkthrough of their process, outline the next steps. 
  • Start with a small (paid) test project. Paid tests give you a preview of the upcoming collaboration. Apart from assessing the freelancer’s skill set, test projects also help you understand how they communicate and stand by the commitments they take on (e.g. around the deadline or any special requirements you’ve included). 

4. Create a freelance work contract

Contract signing is an important part of onboarding international freelancers

A formal freelance work contract gives legal protection to both parties and prevents misunderstanding or disputes. The most standard type of contract for freelancers is a work-for-hire agreement.

A solid freelance work contract covers:  

  • Pre-agreed scope of work
  • Payment terms and conditions 
  • Key deadlines/milestones 
  • Governing jurisdiction for the contract   
  • Liabilities and indemnities 
  • Copyright ownership (if applicable) 
  • Any special provisions

Special provisions can include a non-disclosure clause or a separate non-disclosure agreement (NDA). NDAs are a common industry practice. Freelancer management platforms like Xolo provide access to pre-made templates for such legal documents, including work-for-hire contracts, NDAs,  intellectual property rights agreements, etc. 

Can you ask a freelancer to sign a non-compete agreement?

Technically yes. Practically, it’s complex. 

Most freelancers have a niche (e.g. they specialize in working with ecommerce or FinTech companies). Asking them to NOT work for any of your competitors for a set number of months/years puts them at a major disadvantage. So negotiating a non-compete clause can be rather problematic. 

But if you are worried about sensitive information disclosure, an NDA should have you covered. Also, most freelancers build their business on their reputation. They practice integrity and avoid behind-the-back discussions of private client information.  

5. Onboard EU freelancers like a pro

All legal formalities are done and this means you are ready to kick off your partnership.   

Some freelancers will have a client onboarding process in place. Others prefer you to take the lead. 

If that’s the case, here’s how to effectively onboard a new freelancer. 

  • Share all the details relevant to the project. The type of information you should provide varies a lot depending on the freelancer’s role. But, generally, share your:
    • Mission
    • Main goals for the project
    • Supporting materials (brand book, style guide, references, mockups, etc) 
    • Preliminary research + approved scope of work 
    • Other points of contact and their details 
  • Provide or set up account access to all needed tools. 
    • Decide on your communication channels
    • Set up shared document accesses 
    • Securely share login/pass details to extra apps they need 
  • Decide on the communication and reporting schedule. Keep the time zone differences in mind. 
    • Ask the freelancer for their average response times 
    • Make a more formal weekly/monthly status update schedule (if needed)

Effective communication is essential for building a strong rapport with your freelance team. It helps build trust by establishing expectations on both ends. So that you don’t resort to micromanagement and the freelancer doesn’t have to endlessly follow up for details. 

A cool way to reduce this “learning curve” is to create and exchange a “How to work with me” manual — a quick document, explaining your traits, quirks, and communication preferences. It can help the freelancer better understand your way of work and vice-versa. 

Here’s a sample document from the Monzo team

Source: Twitter

P.S. You can turn all of the above tips into a standard onboarding checklist and manage all the steps via Xolo

6. Expand your partnership

You did the first project together with our new freelancer. It was a blast and you are ready for more! Here’s what you can do next: 

Put your freelancer(s) on a retainer. Retainers are long-term agreements for collaboration. You book your freelancer to do X amount of work for a Y period. They are a win-win for both. You get a fixed chunk of work covered while the freelancer receives regular pay and can block a fixed number of hours on their schedule to prevent overruns. 

Hire a bigger freelance team. Consider what other roles could you fill in with freelancers? Chances are quite a few. So ask your original hires to make some referrals. A freelance designer probably has a developer friend or knows more awesome industry people. Or test out other hiring strategies we shared earlier! 

Final thoughts...

It’s a wrap. You now know how to contract international freelancers from the EU and onboard them to become a driver for your next big project!

Just remember: freelancers are your partners, not your employees. Treat them as equals. Respect their work preferences and be proactive in communication. Build a dynamics where their efforts are valued and their opinions are accounted for — that’s how you get the best assets for your team!

Note: The information contained in this document is for guidance only and cannot be considered financial, legal or tax advice.

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About Elena

Elena Prokopets writes content for tech-led companies & software development businesses, marketing to them. Her empathy for the customer, expertise in SEO, and knack for storytelling help create content that ranks well and drives industry conversations.

Elena uses Xolo so she can focus on her solo B2B content writing business without stressing over the compliance and admin overhead.

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