This post is in no way representing the official information. Please consult the corresponding websites of Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK) and Tax Office (Belastingdienst) for the complete and actual information. The information below represents solely my personal experience and opinion. I am not responsible for any consequences of following my advices or tips. I am only sharing my own thoughts for the ones interested in the subject. Feel free to contact me for more details or if you are interested in working together with my company.
Since I have stopped with my “regular job” and started freelancing (a term which does not exist from official point of view of e.g. Tax Office) I am regularly approached with questions regarding starting a business in The Netherlands. While there is a lot of information available, it takes time to compile and most of it is (of course) in Dutch. As many people that are interested in this information are not necessarily speak Dutch fluently hereby a small compilation of what I have discovered so far and insert corresponding terms in Dutch here and there for further reference. Note that I am describing the situation from the point of view of an IT freelancer, e.g. someone who is doing programming work for (somewhat larger) clients, although many things do not depend on particular area of application. This post actually "grew out" from few notes I was sending to several people answering their (general) questions, I hope this will be also useful for other people as well.
So what does it take to register a company (in NL)?
Well, it depends on a type of business you want to register. For most the Self-employed without staff (Dtuch "ZZP = zelfstandige zonder personeel") is the easiest way to start with. It is easy to setup and to deal with the (unfortunately) corresponding overhead, but it also has disadvantages like liability with your own possessions in case something bad happens. As long as you are not taking (too much) responsibility it is OK. Next step is a BV, which is made somewhat simpler to register from October 2012 by the so-called "Flex-BV" which among other things takes away the previsly needed 18.000 eur initial capital, but that one is mainly makes sense when you are taking somewhat more risk and therefore want to offset it. I’ve decided to start easy with ZZP and then have a good look on whether a BV is a better option on a longer term.
Actual registration of a self-employed is very easy. You make an appointment in one of the local offices of KvK after about 15 minutes (electronic) paperwork and small fee you get your registration number and a small bottle of sparkling wine for a good start :). Is that it? Well, almost. Before registering you have to think of a name and what are you exactly going to do, etc. This all is available in the corresponding registration forms.
Tip: search Google for "kvk inschrijvingsformulier" and fill in the form before you go to KvK. Registering a domain and getting proper e-mail address instead of your private one may be a good idea as well, but it is absolutely not necessary and completely up to you.
Beware that as soon as you do register you are subject to pay annual fees to KvK and providing information on your turnover and VAT payments to Tax office (even if you have a zero balance!). This is small overhead, but does require some time.
Tip: you can get a lot of useful information by signing in to a regular KvK starters day. Google
Finding clients and assignments (opdrachten)
Here are the companies I was contacting for freelance projects. Note that your situation may depend totally on what you’re going to do with your business, the type of assignments you’re looking for, type of clients, etc. I have decided to start with on an easy route and to provide service to the same type of clients I used to work for (multinationals working in large high-tech machines control). So the following companies may help you with finding clients.
On most websites you can upload your CV and get inside their database (for some you need one a Word format… yuk!). The ones marked with a start I have worked with. More information is available on request.
- IT-Staffing (*). Pretty open, reasonable rate.
- Yacht. Very flexible, all kinds of contracts available.
- NSpyre FlexCells. Could be something for people looking for a larger company behind them.
- Enter Mbedded.
I have also registered with the following ones, but didn’t have direct contact with the following ones:
Note You may also ask why do you need an intermediair for this? Well, from experiences of people that have tried with and without them seems that going through an agency simplifies life especially (but not only) when dealing with big companies which tend to pay somewhere around 80-90 days after you invoice them and sometimes forget, mess up administration, etc. I am not in shape of fighting financial departments of large companies, I prefer having people doing it for me and getting my payments in time (normally around 30 days from the date of issuing the invoice). This does cost about 10-25% on top of your hourly rate (depending on agency), but I find around 10% a fair amount for the things they take care of. Again, totally up to you.
You need to have several insurances, the ones you definitely need to take care of are the following:
- "Rechtbijstand" (legal assistance). Note that there are 4 modules, all 4 are needed, as the last one includes e.g. going after companies that refuse to pay you, etc.
- "Wettelijke aansprakelijkheidverzekeringbedrijven" (AVB). Basic liability required by law. Some intermediairs (like Yacht I believe) requires this one to work with you.
- "Arbeidsongeschikheid" Income insurance in case of inability to work. Very handy in case you have a family depending on your income… Note that above certain amount (as of 2012 around 53 kEur) you need an explicit medical check and a business plan confirming you have a solid basis for your insured amount, but it is no problem if you stay below the threshold amount.
- Optionally (but still required by some companies) you may get so-called "beroepsaansprakelijkheidverzekering" (professional liability), but beware that this is a costly one (next ot the "arbeidsongeschikheid"), you only want this one if it is required or you need a coverage in case you are responsible for project results as opposite of only being paid for hours, which is true most of the time with larger clients. All of the companies mentioned above ensure you are only "selling" your hours but not the result of your work, so you are only responsible for spending your claimed time at the proper things (and not watching movies instead :)).
It is advisable (although not a must) to go for a financial advisors. The price will be around 100 eur per month (tax deductible), but those guys can potentially save you more than that! They also will keep up with the changing tax and law landscape. So unless you’re willing to spend your precious time on non-technical stuff look up an accountant nearby.
It is advisable (but not necessary) to get a business bank account. It makes life of accountants but also yourself if the business and private life are split up properly. Note that a business account does not mean just another account, but there are also additional rules. E.g. you have to pay for each transaction a small fee and an additional yearly fee. Normally the first year comes with a discount and all transactions are for free, but after a year everything becomes "serious". I have conducted some research and while some banks seemed cheaper at the first glance the other come as cheapest in total package over several years. In any case it is worth looking at the current offers and get a feeling of the service, etc. The very first reply I’ve gotten from one (cheapest on my list) bank put a fat cross on it’s name as it stated something like "we are very busy, please get back in a month"! What a … service!
After several years of prolonging and "investigatin the issue" I took a step "to the other side" and registered my own company Profigent. While taking some risk I was sure this was the only way forward and if I do not do it now I will most likely have to forget the idea and accept life as-is. No way…
Other interesting tips
Recently I have attendend a seminar organized by IT-Staffing with an interesting guy
Robby Coelho. Although not everything was new for me it was worth the time and I did note down few points of attention for myself. Keep an eye on the upcoming seminars, perhaps something for you as well.
- Pitfalls for enterpreneurs (original title in the brochure mentioned 10 of them, but the KvK website now has only 5, I will list them before they reduce it to 1 :)).
- Agreements not on paper
- Administration is not OK
- No insurances
- Let non-payers go on
- Not putting money for taxes aside