This post is also available in Greek
After some time had passed from the day I landed in this country, I realized that the “language issue” is a huge hurdle in my search for work, so I decided half heartedly to start a business of my own. Half heartedly, because I had never had my own business and truth be told, as soon as I got the paper from KVK (Chamber of commerce) and I saw my name printed on it and the number of my own business, I was showered with a cold sweat and mixed feelings of joy and anxiety.
Starting your own business in the Netherlands is quite easy. You take your ID, your BSN, your house contract if you intend on working from home and you head to your local KVK. I went to Amsterdam’s KVK which is located directly behind the Central station.
After I had admired the view, finished my cigarette and taken a deep breath, I went in and spoke to a very well mannered clerk, who handed me a form in English and explained what I was supposed to do and gave me a paper with a number to wait for my turn at the KVK’s lobby. Waiting in this lovely space, you could enjoy a cup of coffee or tea but also use their computers in order to spend your time or maybe even get a few things done and not spend all your valuable time doing nothing.
While I was waiting, no longer than 15 minutes, I filled out the form which was a mini business plan that I had to describe how I believe that my business will develop over the next year. I had to also fill what my business would be about, my starting capital, how many clients do I expect, what profits I expect, well lets face it, my plan. Because you need to have a plan in order to start something, even something small, like my business.
Within less than an hour and after a very detailed interview about the vision of my company, the “magic” paper landed on my hands with my name printed on it, just by paying 32,57€ for my registration and 11,00€ in order to have an original of my registration. Gladfully I called my boyfriend and mother to boast, that as a Greek I had come to the Netherlands and started my own business. Thinking it out loud made it sound like the start of a joke!
My next move was to get an accountant and it was one of the best moves I made. It isn’t necessary to have an accountant that you pay monthly. You could always do most of the financial tasks by your self since most things can be done online, none the less, I decided not to take chances and I have no regrets.
The accountant initial sent me to an insurance broker to get my business insured and afterwards to open a business account at a bank, one of the toughest things I had to go through. Apparently, the banks were not interested about me at the time, because my country had no government and they wouldn’t even book me an appointment. After some calls made by my accountant I managed to get an appointment, 2 weeks later and I was in my local bank finally. It took about 2 hours. I answered many questions, personal and professional related, left my paperwork, my Graphic Design diploma, my English Lower degree (which caused quite a sensation, since it was certified from the University of Cambridge) and I left waiting for an answer.
Soon they informed me that they had an interest in me as a client and that my account would open very soon, which meant another 2 weeks later. I don’t know how long it takes for a bank nowadays to open a new account, I am hoping less, so you don’t waste time waiting. At the same time, the Tax office is being notified about the start of your business and they send your VAT number.
You can always go by your local KVK and find answers to most questions you might have. The KVK is actually one of the most gentle and full of helping attitude public service and when they tell you good luck, they mean it. Any question you might have you can go by and get an answer in no more than an hour, unless you are so unlucky and the place is packed!
Here you can find the English brochure with all the necessary information on how to start your own business.
Now a few tips from someone who had issues a few times
If I could start over I would do quite a few things different. The only thing I won't regret is the accountant. Don’t go blind into this, many documents are in Dutch only and if you don’t know the language or someone you trust to translate them for you, then Google translate is NOT an option! Trust me!
Before you start working, make a plan with how much money you need in order to have a good life in the Netherlands. This isn’t Greece, the money required by a small business in order to survive in the beginning might not be a lot, but the money you need in order to survive, usually are a lot! So you write everything down, every expense, rent, insurance, bills, current expenses + the money you want to be making in order to have the lifestyle you are aiming for. This is the way to also determine how much your services or your products will cost. If you think that you will not survive financially because your prices are too high then don’t do it, because you will probably end up with less. But do remember, that if you have low prices in the start, it might be difficult to raise them later on. The Dutch are some of the best merchants and entrepreneurs in the world and they will always negotiate and haggle with you. But I think you already realized that.
Don’t support your business future on other people claiming that they will help. They may have the best intentions to do so but the business is your responsibility and yours alone. If help comes then it is welcome but until then, trust in yourself and go and make new connections.
If what you are selling is services then always work with signed contracts/agreements and take money in advance. You should know that in the Netherlands, the oral agreement can be taken to court, so take some time and write down on a piece of paper the terms of agreement and payment, because the phenomenon of “I ain’t got any money now, so I am not going to pay you” exists also in the Netherlands.
In case someone refuses to pay and you have a contract and the invoices, you can go to an Incasso company and they handle to get your money for you.
Always check and confirm all the invoices that are coming by mail or email. There are many “ghost” invoices circulating with sums around 200 - 300 euros, that are aimed specifically at new businesses with expat owners, hoping that they don’t speak yet Dutch and in their fear that it might be an actual tax they pay it, without a second thought. If you see an invoice from a service or company you don’t recognize, then just google it and make sure you know what you are paying for.
You should also be aware that in case you want to rent a house, before your business closes 2 years, your revenue is not considered as steady. So, before you open your own business, make sure you have “solved” your housing issues or make sure you find a solution if you end up without a house.
Last advice that I also give to my self is to do something that you like as best as you can, happily, on time and give it time, don’t quit. It takes a lot of time to earn people’s trust and to become known. Advertise online, concern yourself with your business and don’t stick only to Greek clients, open your mind.
For more information you can always visit KVK’s website kvk.nl