The (sometimes bumpy) road to starting your small business in Switzerland
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
7 October 2021
No one wants to hear the words "you're fired". Luckily this didn't happen to me, but what did happen was the company where I was working went bankrupt. I found myself suddenly without a job and facing the task that I really abhor - entering the job market.
For many years, I had toyed with the idea of starting my own language business. Coming from a marketing and communications background, I've had a lot of great experience working in this environment. The area that I most enjoyed was writing. It could be any sort of writing; newsletters, press releases, website text, promotional material, marketing campaigns. I simply loved writing! And I was good at it! I often received praise from my colleagues and customers which of course gave me the warm and fuzzies.
This was my chance to do something about it. This unexpected career blip forced me to take the plunge and start my own language solutions business. It was a no-brainer about what area I would target - writing. And having the bonus of years of marketing experience behind me, meant that I didn't have to start from scratch in developing a (hopefully!) effective marketing strategy to grow my business.
Now it was just down to creating a checklist to make my idea a reality.
10 October 2021
First things first - a business plan helps put things into perspective
I decided to write a business plan first. Why do this? It helps you to take an objective view of your business idea. It forces you to research your potential market, identify your key products or services, your target market, your competition, your suppliers, list your initial expenditures and investments, identify your competitive advantage, and formulate a marketing plan (the 4 Ps of marketing are place, price, product, and promotion).
I also asked myself:
how long do I project it will take before I cover the costs of my initial investment
will I be able to cover the costs of ongoing expenditures (domain name, website, software subscriptions, online course fees...) and achieve profit?
How many clients will I need to ensure that my business is profitable?
Not until you have written this plan, done the research, answered your questions and made the necessary calculations should you go ahead and embark on establishing a small business.
15 October 2021
Research your target market
I find myself to be a little too much on the "eager to get started" side. I sometimes have to remind myself to slow down and take things one step at a time. In starting up a new business, this can't be more important. You want your business to be successful and you are super enthusiastic about your business idea, but will it really work?
The only way to really find this out is to go and speak to your target clients directly - and I don't mean email them - I mean make a proper face to face meeting with them! Did I hear you say "Yikes!" Yes, you will eventually have to find the confidence and drive inside you to actually meet with potential clients and sell your idea to them, so think of the research phase as practice for when you actually start selling for real.
Ask questions like:
Do you have a need for this product/service?
Does some other company already provide it for them?
What do they find to be the best way to access information about this kind of product/service? Internet? Emails? Trade shows? Industry publications?
What price would they be willing to pay for the product/service?
Custom-make the questions so you get exactly the information you need to make an informed decision if your idea is good or not.
It's now time to check out your competitors. Go on Google and type in what you would expect someone to type if they were searching for your kind of product or service; check local businesses in the yellow pages; search in government registers for any businesses similar to yours. Go on their websites and see what they do the same what they do differently. Can you differentiate your product/service enough that you can take some of the market share? If after researching as many of your competitors as possible, reassess your chances.
Once you have enough information at hand, take a step back from your idea, take into account what your research has told you and ask yourself again, will this idea fly? If you still feel it will, ask a few trusted friends or business acquaintances what they think of your idea. Bounce some scenarios around with them and accept all positive and negative feedback - anything that gives you a more realistic approach to your idea.
If you still feel it's going to work, then go for it! I am!
18 October 2021
Making connections - are you comfortable talking face-to- face?
I feel one of my strengths is my ability to connect with people and identify what they need for their business to grow as a result of my intervention. I want to make them see that my services are indispensable to their business. I have greater success when I meet someone face-to-face.
This is where I plan to spend my next few months. I plan to personally target as many potential clients as possible. Time-consuming, yes, but I'm hoping that I will be rewarded for my efforts. Of course, I will look into email campaigns, social media connections, exposure via ad campaigns and my blog as potential ways of connecting with clients. But my number one priority is to meet with as many people I can.
Why am I placing so much importance on this? Because this is how I was to differentiate myself from my competition. I want to be personal, flexible and accessible. And by meeting personally with my potential clients, they will get a positive first impression of my professionalism, reliability and friendliness!
19th October 2021
A mantra for budding entrepreneurs
I believe the attributes most important to becoming your own boss are:
Now say these out loud a few times.
This is your new entrepreneurial "mantra".
It will remind you what it takes to dare to do this!
21st October 2021
The way to get my voice heard
What happens when you realise that you don't have many contacts that have the potential to make your business grow? Get on social media platforms and scream out your name!
I have chosen LinkedIn and Twitter to start spreading the news that I am here and I want you to know it.
Give yourself some time to become familiar with these platforms and how they work. Find contacts you already have through other platforms and connect with them. Surf around a bit and see if you can find other people or businesses that you think may help you grow and follow them. Read articles and tweets, share them, comment on them, get your name out there!
When you feel confident that you have some interesting news or content to share, post or tweet these and see if anyone is listening. It boosts your confidence when you get likes, comments or new followers.
Keep at this! You want to get noticed so use these platforms to their full advantage and profit from these wide-reaching marketing tools.
25th October 2021
A word about friends
I am so thankful for my friends. They keep you grounded, show you support and allow you to ramble on a bit about your small successes and frustrations along the way without complaining! They can also be a fantastic source of helping you to find information quickly and even get some work - yes, it's networking, but in the nicest of ways.
I hit a bit of a speed-bump that slowed down my progress in finding out how to register a sole proprietorship on the Swiss register. After spending some time surfing the Internet for information and then reading pages and pages of conflicting ways to do this, I still felt just as confused as when I had started.
Then I had a "DUH!" moment. Get in touch with friends that have done the same thing. You probably have more friends or colleagues who have been in the same boat than you realise.
I called my friend Julie. She had set up her own business 4 years ago. She was able to give me in that short call, exactly the information I needed to go forward.
Here is an overview what she told me:
You don't have to register on the Swiss Commercial Register (Handelsregister) unless you make over CHF100,000
If you make more than CHF1,200 a year, you will need to register and pay AHV (compensation fund) at the Ausgleichskasse in your Canton
When your register for AHV the first time, they will most likely request to have copies of invoices and possibly other information
You can generate your own invoices with any standard invoice template yourself
You can send invoices to your clients without having registered your business on the Swiss Commercial Register
A fantastic source of information is IFJ Start-up Support www.ifj.ch They offer free webinairs and workshops to help you set up your business in Switzerland.
It is advisable to get a separate bank account for your business transactions. You can start out with a personal account, but then change it to a business bank account later as your business grows. I went with the simplest account that Postfinance offered, but all banks provide some form of start-up bank accounts for new businesses.