Meet the KVK Advice Team

Your company is in financial trouble. Your turnover is declining and you are concerned about the figures. An outside perspective and expert advice can help you assess your situation with fresh eyes. The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK has its KVK Advice Team. Its advisers are there to help, provide input, help you make a plan, and to listen. What’s more, they can connect you to organisations in KVK’s extensive network. Meet 5 KVK advisers who specialise in helping entrepreneurs in financial difficulties.

Get to know the KVK Advice Team

The members of the KVK Advice Team always have time to listen and help. Gé Gijsen, Hans Litjens, Laura van Klink, Kurt-Jan Wiltenburg, and Werner Käller explain what they do.

Gé Gijsen: enlist the help of networks

Adviser Gé Gijsen has been assisting businesses in financial difficulties for more than 35 years. “The first time we talk, I can often help people figure out what to do next. But I also frequently enlist the help of my network to provide detailed advice and guidance.”

Showing entrepreneurs the way is so satisfying.

Build a network

As a KVK adviser, Gijsen draws his knowledge from his extensive network. “When the government introduced its corona measures and packages, I was constantly in touch with the institutions. They explained the measures to me and I passed on questions from entrepreneurs. This helped gradually narrow the gap between theory and practice.” Gijsen speaks to dozens of entrepreneurs daily. So he knows exactly what they are up against and what they need to know. In the process, he never stops expanding his own network and that of KVK.

Private and professional

When Gijsen gets a call from an entrepreneur, he listens to them first. “Just to create peace of mind After all, there is always a solution. I ask them about their situation. Do they have employees? What are their finances like? How are things in their private life? After all, private is just as important as professional. I often try to break the ice by finding something we have in common. If we can open up to each other, the conversation becomes valuable and meaningful.”

For years to come

It is Gijsen’s job to help entrepreneurs, but it is also one of his favourite pastimes. “I spend a lot of my spare time on online networks and stay in touch with people. I have close ties with people at KVK, in provinces, and in municipalities. This is just one of the ways in which I make sure I am always in the loop. Conversations with struggling entrepreneurs can be very emotional, “but people tend to be very grateful, even if all I do is listen. I hope to be able to keep doing this rewarding work for a long time to come.”

Hans Litjens: committed and experienced

Litjens has a law degree and is an expert in bankruptcy law. He always looks at situations from 2 perspectives: as a lawyer and as an expert by experience. “I usually get to the bottom of the situation and understand what needs to happen quite quickly. Even if the entrepreneur gets emotional and cannot quite put everything into words."

Bankruptcy is really only the last phase, there are still many steps to take first.

A bottomless bag of tricks

Often, Litjens can provide a helping hand right away. “I give them simple tools to find their way back to safety.” Litjens often speaks to desperate entrepreneurs who are on the verge of quitting. "My advice: do not give up right away. Bankruptcy should really be a last resort. You can do so many other things before it gets to that.” Armed with a bag of tricks, Litjens gives entrepreneurs tips they can use to find a solution themselves. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call. Other people may require a few calls. And some may need a referral to other organisations, such as the Entrepreneurs Sounding Board.

In good hands

When an entrepreneur calls with a question, Litjens always has an answer. "I give them a sense of security and reassure them that they are in good hands. That is what makes my work so rewarding. Every week, I speak to about 20 entrepreneurs with major difficulties. We then stay in touch on a regular basis. A week later, I will have an entirely new group on my hands. No 2 days are ever the same and the work stays challenging. I encourage people who are feeling sad and give them hope.”

Laura van Klink: listening and probing

Laura van Klink has a background in psychology, so she knows exactly what is going on in the mind of a struggling entrepreneur. She is always mindful of the fact that financial difficulties can be very stressful. “It all starts with listening and empathy. Struggling entrepreneurs can panic from the stress. That is why I always give them the chance to tell their stories first."

If I know what is keeping someone up at night, I can offer the right help

Making a difference

As an adviser, Van Klink wants to make a difference. And she knows exactly what entrepreneurs are struggling with. If I know what is keeping them up at night, I can offer them the help they need. After listening to their story, I will ask them a few questions so we can find a solution together.” There are many legal schemes for entrepreneurs. “I am familiar with a lot of relevant rules and regulations, and I can provide advice if necessary. But my real focus is on the needs of the entrepreneur. What are they struggling with? If I can figure that out, I can use my knowledge and expertise to help them.”

Staying on your toes

It is important for Van Klink to stay critical. “Whenever I come across rules and regulations, I ask myself: what is the purpose of this? And what does it mean for entrepreneurs? By asking herself these questions, she keeps herself on her toes: "I always check whether my first hunch is correct so that I can be sure that my advice will actually be valuable.”

Rewarding work

No two conversations are the same. “And that is exactly what makes my work so much fun.” For Van Klink, working for the Advice Team is a rewarding job: “I love helping people get back on track without having to resort to complicated measures.” That might also be why Van Klink is so committed to the entrepreneurs she gets to speak to. “In an ideal world, I would like to stay in touch with everyone I talk to. To hear how things are going. Even though I know that it is impossible. Still, I do sometimes share my contact details if the situation calls for it.”

Kurt-Jan Wiltenburg: versatile

Adviser Kurt-Jan Wiltenburg has already helped hundreds of entrepreneurs move forward since joining the KVK Advice Team. “Often, people are nowhere near as close to bankruptcy as they think they are. And there are usually countless ways in which they can still get help.”

I try to bring light to the horizon.

An expert generalist

In 2014, Wiltenburg moved from policy consulting to advising entrepreneurs at KVK. He specialises in financing. “Still, I see myself as a generalist. We are like doctors. Just like all our bodily systems work together, so do business processes. Finances affect marketing, and vice versa. That is why it is so important to cultivate knowledge in a wide range of different fields.”

Tricky questions

Despite all his knowledge and experience, Wiltenburg also gets questions that he cannot answer. “When that happens, I take my time, do my research, and expand and refresh my knowledge, so that I can use it another day.”

Listening is key

It all starts with listening. “When desperate entrepreneurs can tell that you are actually listening to them, they often feel a great sense of relief. I try to show them a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I offer perspective and talk them through their options.” By asking targeted questions, Wiltenburg tries to get the information he needs to show callers that the future might not be as bad as they think. Before sending an email covering everything they need to know. “I always sign off my emails by reminding people to get in touch if they have any questions.”

Werner Käller: whatever your question may be

No two conversations are the same for KVK adviser Werner Käller. “I always look at an entrepreneur’s individual needs. When they call, I focus fully on their story and give them all the time and attention they need. What exactly are they looking for? That is what I will try to find out.”

Listening means to be quiet and asking the right questions.

Long and short conversations

Käller has now worked at KVK for 15 years. In that time, he has had calls about starting and financing a business. But he has also spoken to many struggling entrepreneurs. “Sometimes, people call with a quick question, like what organisation to contact. Others, however, can be in great financial difficulties. They need advice on what to do to become financially healthy again.”

Personal and professional

When people call, they tell their story first. Only then will the adviser start asking questions. “I recap what they just told me and try to find an appropriate solution in the process.” Käller always tries to keep the calls personal. “It is quite easy to tell whether callers are comfortable with that personal angle. The personal and professional lives of entrepreneurs tend to be close together. That is something I always pay special attention to in a call.”

Listen first, advise second

As an adviser, you have to be a good listener. “That means you have to know when to be quiet and when to ask the right questions.” Sometimes the emotions are too much for entrepreneurs. “I give them the chance to tell their story. I listen to them and empathise." At the same time, Käller is careful not to see the entrepreneurs he talks to as victims. "I understand their situation and realise that it can be difficult. But I never dwell on it. After all, they are calling for a reason, and I want to work with them to find out what they can do to move forward."