Updated: Sep 23, 2021
A lot of students work to support themselves. Bartending, dishwashing, waitressing - and for foreigners, that’s probably all the work they can get without speaking Dutch. After a while, students feel stuck.
Let me tell you about my journey of starting my own business here, in The Netherlands, as a foreign student.
How did I get the idea? There’s a lot of talk about entrepreneurship and turning side hustles into solid income. If you’re like me, you’ve probably done research, joined courses, and masterclasses on the topic. You’re eager to start your own business, anxious to become financially independent. But you don’t have a side hustle yet.
Working and studying is already quite tiresome. You’re wondering what is a skill or skill set that you have and can earn you enough money to live comfortably without taking a toll on your study success. You have to exercise your creativity and memory - think about what you are superb at, what have you done/achieved in the past? Have you helped others in particular ways, have you overcome a big challenge that you can share and people can relate to? If you’re further in your study, what skills have you acquired? Make a list of your talents, achievements (academic, practical, personal, etc.), ways in which you’ve helped friends and family.
I’ve always been the listener in my friendships. The one who is there for support and the occasional advice. The most advice I’ve given was about relationships and confidence. I tested both ideas by first checking online for what kind of services are available right now, are they in demand (think number of followers, testimonials), how are they priced, on which platforms are they positioned and marketed, who are they targeting (you can get a feel for this by reading the content other professionals post). I then tried writing about relationships but most of my content came down to confidence. I switched to confidence and created a self-esteem building course - the experience was a whirlwind of ideas, time management, calculations of how much money to save, how much to spend, to-do lists, realizations that I need help with particular tasks.
I ended up asking friends and family for help with 1 or 2 tasks each and then getting them out for a drink as a thank you. It was a great reason to spend time with my loved ones and rescue my brain from overheating.
Seven months later - bam, I got a product!
Legalities of business ownership
I wanted my business to be official and legal. This meant figuring out where to register, how to do that, and in what form. Note: If you don’t speak Dutch at all, find a buddy who is willing to translate for you, or be ready to call institutions to ask questions.
As a foreigner, you can register yourself as a freelancer and a one-person business - both of these are called eenmanszaak or eenpersoonszaak. The registration itself is easy if you have a translation browser extension or a Dutch speaker to help you. All you have to do is follow the steps provided here to register at the KvK, which is the Dutch Commerce Registry.
It is a two-step process - first you fill in a form, then you make an appointment at the KvK, where they speak English and you pay €50 once. They give you your VAT number and you’re all set! I was so excited to make my business official - being registered at the Chamber of Commerce felt like a huge accomplishment. For me, it meant me saying to the world “I am here! I am a new business owner! I am taking action and following my dreams!”
But that was more of a win in my head, than in reality.
Study and business A lot of the Bachelor’s degrees offered by HHS are very practical. You can use that knowledge in your own business - test it, see what works for new ventures, get some real-world experience.
As an International Communications Management student, I study marketing, persuasion, human behavior but I don’t see how it works in reality. I experiment with my business, create content, run ads, analyze my data, make decisions that directly affect me. Running the first test ads was nerve-racking, I couldn’t stop checking their performance. It was exhilarating every time someone signed up for my newsletter and free mini-course. That meant people were curious and were looking for guidance with their self-esteem. I also create content on a weekly basis - I have a schedule of posting once a week on Instagram and publishing a blog article every two weeks on my website. I do this so rarely for two reasons: 1) I feel like I will run out of ideas if I write more, and 2) Writing takes time - if I write more, I will neglect my studies. I’ve made my peace with the reality that businesses do not skyrocket in revenue from the get-go, rather, they slowly gain momentum which is proportionate to how active you are in creating content and getting in front of people. I love how what I do has a direct impact on the outcome!
Keep in mind before you start
While striving to be financially independent is great, being a one-man business is a lot of work. You are solely responsible for your brand’s image and voice, content, marketing, website, finances and taxes, product development and positioning, and most importantly - value delivery. Asking friends for a little help in setting up the things you don’t have experience in will save you a lot of time. Form a partnership with someone, who can add value to your product - I partnered with my mom who is a nutritionist to create a confidence-building meal plan. I love being busy. I might even be a workaholic. I get excited when I have an idea that challenges me to learn new skills and see if it works in reality. Running a business, however small, means being excited, making time for your ideas, and viewing revenue-generation as a game.
From my own experience, saving at least €1,000 before you start is a good idea. That way you have a nice budget for marketing experimentation (~ €500 to see what works) and for actual marketing (~ €500 to invest in whatever works for you).
Product development takes time - if you can, plan everything you want to create and take a week or two off work to turn your ideas into reality. It doesn’t have to be perfect to sell. It took me about 6 months to crystallize my ideas into my head, about 3 weeks to shoot and edit my videos, 1 more week to create the design of my printable materials and the meal plan and parallel almost 2 months for my mother to create the meal plan. All in all, it took me 7 months and 3 weeks off work to create my product. If I wasn’t having fun with this, I wouldn’t have kept it up. Have fun with whatever you intend on selling!
Lastly, creating content that engages also takes time but gets easier and quicker the more you do it.
If you’re interested in building your confidence and starting your own business, you can get my Diamond Confidence Course with the coupon code HHS1 for €69 and the Dedicated Diamond Confidence course with the coupon HHS2 for €99 here.
By: Angelina Aleksandrova
Angelina is a first-year ICM student with a passion for business and marketing. A life-long experimenter, curious to see the world in action and eager to help others. Founder of Annie Aleks Coaching since late 2019.