Your Dutch bookkeeper will be keeping track of your in-and outgoing transactions (invoices/ receipts/bank transfers/ cash/ mileage, etc.) and morph these into financial statements for your income tax return (balance sheets and profit and loss). They will usually also help you out with your BTW returns, and administration questions that you might have.
A bookkeeper can not sign off any mandatory annual reports (for larger corporations), or set up a deed of incorporation (to start a BV).
The term ‘bookkeeper’ is not protected in the Netherlands which means that it’s a jungle out there when it comes to the knowledge and price levels of bookkeepers.
It can be challenging to filter out the rotten appels since this will usually only be exposed when they – or their clients- get a tax audit (which does not happen very often). Here comes the crap part: YOU are responsible for the quality of your administration. If your bookkeeper (or any other advisor) messes up you will (in 95% of the cases) still be the one paying for any (tax) penalties.
The good news is that there are a lot of qualified bookkeepers out there as well. Look for someone who has been educated in bookkeeping/ accounting, preferably with a cross field like tax consultancy.
Your bookkeeper should also have experience in small business bookkeeping.
Someone who only has corporate experience at big internationals will know a lot about finance, but not enough to cover the whole A-Z for small businesses and free lancers as they are 2 completely different jobs. (I’ve got over 10 years of experience in both, there are so many differences)
The term accountant is, on the other hand, very much protected. You will have to have specific diploma’s in order to call yourself an Register Accountant (RA) or Accountant-Administratieconsulent (AA).
A lot of accountants can offer the same services to small businesses as a bookkeeper, but overall they are more expensive as their expertise lies in auditing and the analysation of numbers for larger businesses and corporations.
Traditionally the bookkeeper would create the administration after which the accountant would step in to crunch the numbers into the annual report and provide advice about cash flows, forecasting and so on. Often the bookkeeping work is done by an administrator at the accounting firm after which the accountant will double check and take over.
All accountants have to be registered at the professional body NBA in order to use the title RA or AA, which costs a few hundrerd Euro’s per year + many more in mandatory scholing to stay up to date.
Now. Here’s where it often goes wrong. Neither bookkeepers nor accountants are tax experts by trade, unless they have followed cross education (which they should in my opinion as the responsibilities really compliment each other). Your tax advisor will be there to prepare your tax returns (e.g. VAT, Income, Corporate, Inheritance and so on) and to guide you through all the tax rulings and regulations with having your best interest in mind.
They often work together with an accountant (or very experienced and qualified bookkeeper), a.k.a. the numbers person to transform your administration in a (financial/ business) plan for the future.
The terms ‘tax advisor’ and ‘tax consultant’ are also not protected so you may add these to the jungle of bookkeepers, rotten apples and all! Luckily there are professional bodies for tax consultants, tax advisors and tax lawyers who have completed formal education, in the form of the Register Belastingadviseurs (where I am registered) and the Nederlandse Orde van Belastingadviseurs.
Advisors who are connected to these bodies will receive support, are in closer contact with the tax office (through the body) and have mandatory education.
NOTE: Next to finding someone who is properly educated and experienced in their field, you
can should take your time to find an advisor who you really connect with as this will be the person you will have to share every birth, divorce, business fail and death with.
And trust me on this one; it will be so much easier when you feel comfortable to ask your questions and share your life events.