Share in helping start-ups get ahead
Starting your own business sounds like something that happens suddenly, but in reality it is a process that spans several years. In the Netherlands, the website ikgastarten.nl helps starting entrepreneurs to find relevant information, but most important is the personal contact. 'For many people, this is an important step and they are pleased when they have someone from Rabobank at the table with them, so they can tell their story and get practical advice.'
More than 60,000 people in the Netherlands started their own businesses in the first six months of 2015. This group is made up of self-employed persons without personnel, who are commonly called ZZPers in Dutch. Popular business categories include management consultants, online retailers, construction workers and independent healthcare professionals. Figures from the Dutch Chamber of Commerce show that another more than 10,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises with personnel were also begun during the same period.
Regardless of the importance of effective banking services, they are not on many start-ups’ list of priorities. 'Many people start their own business because they want the freedom to once again focus on the substance of their work. They’ve often already acquired their first project and want to start working on it right away. Their business name and logo is often more important to them than banking affairs. We can take the worry off their shoulders with respect to banking and can assist them by providing networks and support relating to accounting and taxes', says Nick Poldermans, who is marketing manager at Rabobank who focuses on start-ups.
Separating private and business affairs
Even though self-employed persons without personnel might at first glance appear to have the same banking needs as a regular retail client (such as payments and insurance), they are nonetheless very different clients in a number of ways. For example, self-employed persons must have a business account in order to be able to keep their private and business affairs separate and to eventually link to their accounting software. Peter-Paul van Vugt, who is a start-up adviser at the local Rabobank Rotterdam, emphasises that people who are starting a business must be made aware that they have other obligations than private individuals and also run different risks, for example with respect to liability for the products and services provided.
Gaining information online
An important component of starters’ search for information and resources takes place online. The ikgastarten.nl website, which is an initiative of Rabobank, plays a crucial part in this process. ‘The website helps people find the information they need and is consequently an extremely valuable resource. Clients often tell us that they find it very helpful', says Van Vugt. The website provides start-ups with information before, during and after starting their business and currently attracts 127,000 unique visitors a month. This makes it one of the most-visited websites of its type in the Netherlands.
The information people need
The structure and content of ikgastarten.nl are aligned to the target group’s need for information. The site provides tips and information that covers three stages: planning to start a business, the start-up phase and the first years of operation. Rabobank’s product offering is clearly of secondary importance. 'Google is the primary source of new visitors to ikgastarten.nl', says Nick Poldermans. 'We optimise the site content and structure based on client behaviour. The so-called search behaviour of starters is an important indicator for us to see what they find really important.' A calendar showing events for start-ups, being organised by the local Rabobanks and other organisations, ranging from walk-in consultations to master classes, has been added to the website in recent months.
The success online is thanks to the in-depth analysis of clients’ needs and this also holds the key to success offline. Peter-Paul van Vugt and his colleague start-up advisers at Rabobank Rotterdam attach great importance to having personal contact with people starting a business. If start-ups do not contact Rabobank themselves, the start-up advisers proactively contact the new entrepreneurs. It is not unusual for someone who has just registered their business with the Chamber of Commerce to walk across the street to Rabobank Rotterdam. ‘People often have a fantastic idea, want to talk about it and basically all we have to do is listen. The conversation helps them to present their idea and business and gives us useful information that we can use to connect them with other entrepreneurs and make them aware of the best way to handle business matters such as payments and risks. While we also do a great deal online, many people still see this as a pivotal moment in their lives and want to speak with someone from Rabobank face to face. It gives them the opportunity to share their story and plans and to gain practical advice.'
The start-up process spans years
While starting your own business might sound like something that happens suddenly, practice shows it is actually a process that can take about three years. The majority of visitors to ikgastarten.nl are either planning on starting a business within the next year or have been operating their business for up to two years. People sometimes visit the site several times a week for a while and then don’t come back for several months. 'It takes a good bit of time before a business is really up and running', says Peter-Paul van Vugt of Rabobank Rotterdam. 'The first year is the toughest. We do our best to provide people with a designated adviser during that first year. We then contact them after that year and ask what they expect from us going forward. Many start-ups say that our virtual banking services are in principle sufficient for their needs. But there are also start-ups who after their first year want to expand, buy a van or even a building and hire staff. Our colleagues can then provide these clients with targeted service.'