Starting your own business ... getting over those admin hurdles

A joint blog by Adam and Hazel Polka

Along with the re-launch of my website, my husband Adam — who does 90% of my back office work — has put together a blog describing what we (or, to be honest, mostly he) experienced when navigating the maze of Swiss administration to set me up as an entrepreneur. I couldn't resist a bit of editing but these are mostly his words. It’s a summary of our own observations with a bit of common sense thrown in, so please don’t take it as professional advice - but if you're thinking of starting out, have a read.


A good one of these is worth his/her weight in gold. Start by finding one and asking questions. You’ll need one at some point anyway, and if you start with a visit to an accountant, they’ll be able to advise you exactly what to do to set up your business and (hopefully) confirm what we’ve set out here. They will also tell you what they’ll need from you later to prepare your business accounts and in what format they like it. Ours put it this way - “your final bill depends on how you prepare the documents you bring us”. Very convincing.


Get one. We managed without initially but it quickly became hard to see the difference between our “private” and “business” cash flow. If you’re starting small, you’ll be better off with Postfinance or a cantonal bank than with any of the big banks. They offer a good level of service, with plenty of free information available on their websites, and are geared up for looking after small businesses. For example, BCV (Banque Cantonale Vaudoise) offer “Package Basic PME” at 4 CHF / month but they waive the fees for the first 12 months for businesses that are up to 2 years old. You will need to provide some proof that you have started a business - for example, a copy of the letter granting a business identification number, as well as personal identification if you don’t already have an account with them.


This is a an official government portal, aimed at new businesses, which gives some advice on the necessary steps to take. The information is available in the official Swiss languages and in English. It could be an easy way to take the first steps, but speak to your accountant first, and beware of anyone who tells you that it is compulsory to register using EasyGov. It isn’t, and plenty of small businesses don’t, but you can use it if you find it helpful.

The portal asks questions about your new business (turnover, will you employ people, etc.) and then it tells you what you need to do in your particular case. For example, it will tell you that you need to register for AVS (social security) and give you an electronic form to do it (it will also track whether you have completed it). On the other hand, if you have already registered for AVS, there’s no box to tick, which is less helpful, as you’ll either get stuck at this point or accidentally register for AVS a second time … If you declare that you expect turnover in excess of CHF 100’000, it will tell you to register in the “Registre de commerce” and to register for VAT. Below that threshold these registrations are optional but may be beneficial - for example, if you are planning large investments, being VAT registered may be good for your tax position. This is the sort of thing to discuss with your accountant.


Lots of people issued dire warnings that being an entrepreneur is lonely (it can be), utterly unglamorous (we couldn’t agree more) and full of admin hurdles that you wouldn’t have to jump if you just stayed an employee (also true). And then there’s the effect on your bank balance … One of our nicest discoveries, though, has been the world of other entrepreneurs. There’s a community out there of people who are all in similar situations and who willingly help each other. Get to know some, ask questions, help and be helped.

All the best with your new business!