Seven tips for dealing with your accounts and tax in The Netherlands as an entrepreneur

Zestee started in Australia in 2008, then in 2012 I relocated to The Netherlands. I shared some of my experiences in this post:

7 tips for moving your small business overseas with you

In December 2012, I registered Zestee with the KVK  in The Netherlands.  Some more tips you may find useful are here:

Five tips for starting a small business in The Netherlands

Now, I’m tacking dealing with accounts and tax.  I’ll make a very clear disclaimer here to start.  Firstly, this information is focussed on entrepreneurs.  Secondly and more importantly – I’m NOT an accountant.  I’m a social media trainer and consultant.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that doing my accounts and tax is the least favourite part of running my business.  However in the spirit of trying to share my experiences and help others out, here’s seven things I’ve learnt about dealing with your tax in The Netherlands as an entrepreneur, or ZZPer.

If you’re looking for a step by step guide to doing your BTW, you may also find this post useful:

How to do your quarterly BTW return in The Netherlands

For those reading this who aren’t in The Netherlands, many of these will still be relevant to you and I’d love to hear how it compares with your country in a comment below.  A ZZPer is a sole trader/small business/micro business without staff.

1.  Don’t ignore it – factor in time and energy 

When you are an entrepreneur or ZZPer you often do EVERYTHING.  Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Social Media…and accounts and  tax.  Personally, I wish I could just focus on what I’m good at and love – social media training and community management – and totally ignore my accounts and taxes.  Of course I’d love the money to keep coming in, but the actual sitting down with spreadsheets stresses me out and I never seem to find the time until a few days before my taxes are due!  Though I’ve found that if I recognise this and consciously factor in the time and energy – for example, once a month on a Friday morning for an hour or two, it’s much easier to deal with.  Then, I can give it my undivided attention and dare I say, even enjoy it?!

2.  Find a good bookkeeper or accountant…and budget for this

This is crucial for any successful business.  I have found a good accountant but it costs me a small fortune.  I’ve spent more than 18 months now researching this, talking to plenty of people in business and am still confused about how to clarify what exactly is a “good” bookkeeper or accountant and what this should cost.  For example, it seemed a general consensus with many others in a similar business situation was that it would cost around 750 euros for an accountant to do my annual tax return for me.  This already seemed quite excessive, especially considering as a new business and one that I run part time, as well as doing all my own quarterly BTW returns, I thought it would be fairly quick and easy and this would be a significant chunk of my annual earnings. For 2013, I ended up paying over 1000 euros for my tax return to be prepared and filed by an accountant.  I chose the accountant through a network we were both a member of.  I nearly fell over when I got the bill, despite the fact that I would get an expected return that would cover this.  A few friends in a very similar business situation to myself paid between 250-500 for what seemed like a similar service – but it’s near impossible to compare whether their bookkeepers/accountants would have managed to get the same return for me.  When I questioned the price with my accountant I was told it’s as I am a new client and a lot of time was spent setting up my dossier and that it would be cheaper for 2014.  I sure hope so.

I also still don’t clearly understand the difference between a bookkeeper and accountant and which I may need – but it seems that anyone can set up as a bookkeeper, fees vary widely and they may or may not be any good.  Accountants however I believe must be registered and are most likely to do things “properly” and be more alert to deductions you may be entitled to.

So all in all, it’s hard to choose who is “good”, but I’d recommend asking around in business networks you are a part of and don’t be afraid to continually question the accountant or bookkeeper you decide to work with either.

3.  Get some good systems going

My husband, an excel whiz, set me up this flash excel system when I first started my business.  As it turned out, I found it too overwhelming to understand and use, so have ended up just using a really simplified excel version.  I did look into a stack of different online software companies, but found that their monthly fees compared to the number of invoices I did just weren’t worth it for me.   Regardless, you need to find a system that works for you.  Make sure you collect the required information you are required to by law (check out the KVK and Belastingdienst for this).  One example is that when you invoice in The Netherlands, there is a certain list of requirement of what must be included on the invoice (which you can check out on the Belastingdienst site in English here).   If you set up a system with a template invoice for your business (such as in Excel or Word), then this is going to make your life easier.

4.  Educate yourself as much as possible

You may love excel sheets and numbers.  I don’t.  Even if you do complete tip 2 and have a fantastic accountant/bookkeeper, you’re still going to need to know how to read those spreadsheets.  Last year, the KVK (Chamber of Commerce) was offering a one day course about book-keeping and tax for ZZPs.  I sat in a room with about 50 others for a full day and though my head hurt by the end of it – as it was in Dutch and as there was so much information – but I learnt quite a lot.  If you can understand Dutch, there is a lot of information out there online.  If you only understand English, there is still sufficient material out there too, spend some time reading through and understand the basics, and ask questions – I find friends in business, business networks such as the WBII, or online forums such as Amsterdam Business Mamas or Professional Parents The Netherlands really useful.  On that point, if you learn something useful – share it!  That’s my purpose with this post…after 18 months in business in The Netherlands I wanted to take some time to help others out and hopefully save you some time and stress!

5.  Don’t be surprised if the Belastingdienst turns up on your doorstep

It was the end of summer holidays 2012 at around 7pm.  My kids were getting ready for bed, I’d just finished a shower and was drying my hair.  The doorbell rang.  I peeked out of our windows and saw two uniformed officers at my door in blue.  It didn’t look like the police (as they seem to generally wear white), but my heart stopped.  I did a mental check – husband and children all home and safe?  I opened the door.  “Are you Renee Veldman-Tentori, owner of Zestee” these two women asked. “Yes”.  My husband came to stand with me.  They flashed some ID at me, which really meant nothing as I have no idea what official ID looks like anyway!  “We’re from the Belastingdienst and we are here to aflkj;asdfadsfaodsfadflj;”  I type that last “word”, as though my dutch is pretty good, that’s a bit what it sounded like to me.  My mind was racing.  I’d registered Zestee with the KVK six months earlier, and as far as I was aware, after spending hours pouring over online information and even an introduction meeting with the Belastingdienst a few weeks after I started to ask loads of questions, I was doing everything correctly.  My Dutch husband stood next to me.  “An audit”  he explained.  “Oh, ok now?  I asked?  I am a week or two behind in entering my accounts as it’s summer holidays but you’re welcome to take a look at my files”.   “No, we’re here to make an appointment,” they answered.  “Can’t you do that via phone?” I asked, “In business hours?”.  They said they do that sometimes but other times they visit.   I was still a little confused and shocked.  They left me with a letter giving some “explanation” and wrote a time and date that someone would come to my house.  To cut a very long story short, after several  phone calls to the Belastingdienst (including one the following day where they would neither confirm nor deny sending someone the night before) as well as me seeking some advice from a contact at the KVK and asking many others, it seems I was subjected to fairly unusual but not unheard of tactics.  Personally, I am still rather angry about it all, it caused me unnecessary stress and could have been achieved much more efficiently with a simple phone call or letter, with a follow up visit if I didn’t respond perhaps.  The “officers” themselves also didn’t follow the protocol – there was no reference number or names on the letter they left me (they left this blank) so for all I knew, it was scammers or criminals checking out my house.   A few weeks later though, a Belastingdienst auditor came to my house, we went though my systems and paperwork.  After me questioning the methods they used and why I had been “chosen” he said they were targeting new businesses.  A few weeks after that I received an official report basically saying “all was ok”.

6.  Don’t be surprised if you can’t get a clear answer – in English

As my Dutch is fairly fluent, any phone calls I’ve made to the Belastingdienst have been in Dutch, however I’ve heard some stories about staff flatly refusing to speak English with others.  I think it depends on who you get.  They do have a lot of information on their website in English though.  What I found difficult is that for one question – such as “Do I include BTW on an invoice if I’m delivering an online service to a customer overseas?”  I’ve had at least 3 different answers from 3 different staff members (pretty much yes, no and maybe!).  My advice would be , just persist, ask as many times as you need to, and if in doubt, take the most “cautious” line of action – so for me, that was to just include the tax anyway as I figure I may encounter problems if I don’t, but they aren’t likely to complain about receiving “extra” money (and after even more questioning it seems I should be doing this).

7.  Make sure you submit both your BTW quarterly returns and your annual return on time

At least in my case, there are two different types of tax returns I need to submit.  One is my quarterly BTW and the other is my annual return.  Until the end of 2013, you would receive a reminder in the post to do your quarterly BTW return.  You will need to check with the Belastingdienst if you need to do this, but if you do, the reporting periods are:

  • January-March (submit return by end of April)
  • April-June (submit return by end of July)
  • July-September (submit return by end of October)
  • October-December (submit return by end of January following year)

Something else to remember is that if you need to pay – the money must be in their account by the deadline, so you may need to submit a few days earlier to allow for this transfer.

I believe the deadline for the annual return is the end of March, however if a registered accountant is submitting on your behalf, they can extend this deadline.

So that’s a lot of tax talk!  I hope you’ve found it useful and I’d love to hear your experiences of dealing with your accounts and tax in The Netherlands below.

I had better stop procrastinating and go and do my 2nd quarter BTW tax return now….

Renee