Even on a Shoestring Budget, Starting a Business in the Netherlands is Possible, says Those Who Did It
Wittenborg Hosts Webinar for Students on Starting a Business in the Netherlands
If you are an international student or newly graduated, starting a business in the Netherlands offers an alternative to searching for a job. This option was unpacked in a recent webinar hosted by WUAS for current and prospective students. Many of them already has lots of business ideas. The webinar was facilitated by Yanti Setiawan, Wittenborg's Manager Admissions & External Relations, who presented the basics of registering a business as well as other howto's and pitfalls to look out for.
The Dutch government has made entrepreneurship relatively easy. Did you know for instance, that you can register a business at the Chamber of Commerce for a mere €51,30? Wittenborg invited current international student, Bishal Bhandari, to share his experience of running a business as photographer, videographer and graphic designer. Also invited was Wittenborg alumnus, Anesca Smith, whose company African Design Collective aims to connect African designers and makers with global buyers.
Dealing with the Paperwork
Setiawan ran through the different legal forms of businesses in the Netherlands, the importance of choosing a name and ensuring it has not been taken. In response to how he keeps his paper work in order, Bhandari shared that at the start he used the services of an accountant, but soon realized that submitting your tax returns quarterly as a sole proprietorship is less intimidating than it sounds and thus he now files it himself.
As someone who provides a service, as oppose to a product, Bhandari said he benefitted a lot from word-of-mouth when promoting his business. Even Wittenborg regularly commissions him to make videos of its events.
A Hobby Turned into a Business
Smith sells her products in various brick-and-mortar shops in the Netherlands and Belgium as well as having an online presence. "What started out as a hobby, turned into a more serious business for me by 2019, albeit on a shoestring budget," Smith said. "After scouting some products while on a holiday in South Africa, I gradually started selling more merchandise online as well as in a concept store in Nijmegen, a city in the east of the Netherlands. More shop-agreements followed with our products now being sold in Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam and Ghent, Belgium. I also do a lot of sales on Instagram. Social media is a cheap, easy way of promoting your products – especially when you are just starting out."
She shared how importing products from Africa became more complicated during COVID-19, with more expensive and longer shipping times, as well as how many of the company's suppliers in Africa ran into trouble as the pandemic raged on.
Navigating Cultural Differences
Asked about how she navigates cultural differences, Smith said she learned that the Dutch customer on holiday in Africa, or Asia, is a different type of buyer in the Netherlands. "Your products have to fit seamlessly into their homes or wardrobes. When I am in the physical shops, I spent a lot of time connecting with customers, learning from them and telling the story behind my brand or a product. Connecting also means a lot of listening, not just talking non-stop. Good communication skills is a real asset in business."
Many of the prospective students who logged in for the webinar already has a product or service in their home country and had questions about the Dutch market. Smith advised them to connect with someone who is already familiar with how businesses are conducted in the Netherlands, like a mentor or coach such as provided by non-profit organisation Qredits or Stichting Ondernemersklankbord for a small fee.
by James Wittenborg