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Start company: do I need three clients?


Do I need three clients before I can start a company, is an often asked question. Of course not.

Do I need three clients to start a company?

It is of course a perfect start when you have immediately three clients, but this is not a requirement.

The origin of the three clients question

We are asked if you need three clients, because you have heard about that. Maybe you do not fully understand the origin of this question.

We have a social system in the Netherlands that is based on everybody contributing. The more that contribute, the better the system works, as there is more money to spend on social welfare. 

When you are an employee, then your employer contributes to the Dutch Government social premiums for you. That enables you to benefit from the unemployment benefit, disability benefit and other social system related aspects.

When you are not an employee, but you are self-employed, you are not insured for unemployment. Nor are you insured for disability. If you are not insured, you do not need to pay the social contribution, hence you pay less ‘tax’.

Paying less tax triggers in general human beings from becoming creative. So what do they do, they terminate their employment. The next day they return to the same office, same desk. You do the same job, but now they invoice their “employer”.

The employer is happy as the ‘employee’ is no longer protected by labour law. Not sure if the ‘employee’ understood this part as well. And the employer no longer needs to pay social contributions on top of the invoice of the ‘employee’.

The ‘employee’  sends an invoice, claims entrepreneurs deductions and pays much less income tax.

I have to place between brackets the employee and the employer, as basically nothing has changed, even though they think they are more clever than the system. But if you work full time for 1 client and you have employee look alike conditions, then you are an employee. The tax office is keen to gross up the invoice amount including VAT, and charge the employer with wage tax. Plus penalty naturally.

Therefore one client is no client.

Do I need three clients
Do I need three clients

Why is three enough?

It is not said that three is enough, because if you spend 80% of your time on one client and two times 10% on others, where one is affiliated with the 80% client, you still have not proven to be an independent entrepreneur.

Is this about being an independent entrepreneur?

Yes indeed. It is assumed that if you have a number of clients, and for practical reasons the number three is being used, you run true risks. Risks that come with being an entrepreneur. The risk of losing a project, the risk of not being paid. You make investments, you do what an entrepreneur in general is expected to do.

Do I then need three clients?

Of course not. If every starting entrepreneur immediately had three clients, we would have had nearly no entrepreneurs. Often it starts with one client or even no client. It starts with your desire to start your own company, your own business.

The tax office is sharp on the three clients issue, but also gives you a three year holiday to get to the three clients point. The tax office might ring your doorbell to ask about your activities, make sure you do your best to acquire new business and explain that to the tax office.

So you can start your own business with no or one client, but you need to make sure it develops to a business with more clients and enough to support yourself.

What if I start with only 1 client and it will only be 1 client?

Under conditions, this is not a problem. And we know one situation in which you have no issues, and one situation only. It is a common situation.

You moved to the Netherlands and you foreign employer asks you to work from your Dutch home for that company. But the company is afraid to set up a Dutch payroll for the exposure to the Dutch tax office and what that may imply.

You contacted a foreign company to work for them from your Dutch home, but again they do not want to become exposed in the Netherlands.

This fear for the Dutch tax office is strong, especially in the USA. We understand that fear, we try to explain there is no need to have this fear, but not all companies you can convince.

So here you are, you finally have a source of income, you want to pay Dutch tax over the income in line with the tax treaties, but your employer does not want to set up a payroll in the Netherlands, what do you do?

Indeed, you register a company and start invoices the foreign employer for your services. That is the best you can to be able to comply. The tax office can start asking questions, but this solutions was not related at all to reduce your social premiums payment, not at all for getting more tax benefits, it was within limitations the best you could to do comply. That the tax office cannot argue.


We think tax-is-exciting and we are very much aware of the three client rule. We always encourage entrepreneurs to get more clients, as that is also good to be more independent from that one client.

Foreign employers we try to facilitate the best to our ability with a Dutch payroll, but some foreign employers we cannot convince that they are not more exposed in the Netherlands than the payroll for their employee. In those situations we will be glad to support the ‘employee’ with the one man company with the one foreign client, to make the Dutch tax contributions.

Sorry for the dashes in the middle of the word tax-is-exciting. Apparently Google has a dirty mind and sees only a three letter word that we refer to when we practice to reproduce ourselves. Anything related to that word is spam, hence this devout solution.



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