Start-ups and innovation

Finally self-employed: How to start your own company in Switzerland

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Realize your dream of having your own company – it’s really not that complicated to do. What do you need to take into account when becoming self-employed? We have compiled the most important tasks and helpful tips for starting a company in Switzerland for you here.

From the business idea and selecting the right legal form, to insurance and pensions – we go through the most important steps in founding a company together with you. Let’s get started!

Becoming self-employed in eight steps: Here’s how it works

Founding a company in Switzerland is comparatively easy. Special permits are only required for industries that are regulated by the federal government (professions in healthcare, education, or the social sector) or the cantons (e.g. professions in architecture, transportation, or the law). This guide will lead you step by step through the various phases of becoming self-employed.

1. Develop your business idea

A good business idea is the basis for founding a successful company. Despite this, you don’t necessarily have to have a new business idea that is uniquely your own to start your own company. The majority of founders start with products and services that are known.

The big advantage here is that if you have worked successfully for many years in a certain field, then you know the central needs and problems of the market. Close contact with customers is a revealing source of information when it comes to improvements, product innovations, and gaps in the market. Industry insiders also have the right network and know potential customers and suppliers personally. Ideally, you also work in an ambitious team which supports you in growing your company.

Should you choose an innovative idea or not? A market analysis is a good first step to estimate the potential of your business idea. 

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2. Find a company name

Do you already have some initial ideas for a company name? Does the company name you have in mind breach any copyrights? You should also check whether the corresponding domain is available (for example, www.axa.ch). Depending on the marketing concept, you should also check whether you can create social media profiles with the name. It’s important to remember: Depending on the legal form you choose, you may have to include certain elements and observe certain requirements for the company name.

The most important rules for creating a company (name of the owner of the company) can be found in the following provisions:

If your company name violates the rules on company founding, then it cannot be entered in the commercial register. Want to check that your company’s name complies with the law before you start trading? Submit your proposal to the responsible cantonal commercial registry office for a preliminary review. An overview of all cantonal commercial registry offices in Switzerland can be found here.

3. Determine your need for capital

How is it going with the financing of your company? Have you considered money from investors or business angels? Would you like to take out a loan from a bank? Are you starting your company with equity, for example through a withdrawal of assets from your pension fund?

Start-up founders have lots of options when it comes to funding their business model. Work out how much capital you need and ask an expert for advice. You can get professional advice from business coaches, start-up platforms like startups.ch, your preferred bank, or the AXA pension experts. The Swiss government does not grant any direct financial support for the founding of new companies. The only exception is unemployment insurance. It provides support measures for unemployed persons who would like to start their own company.

Is your financial cushion sufficient if orders dry up? Since you cannot rely on any unemployment benefits, it is advisable to budget a bridging reserve for at least six months. Too scarcely planned finances can be devastating – in the case of bankruptcy, self-employed persons are liable with their total assets.

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4. Choose a suitable legal form

Here, there is a range of options to choose from – whether it be a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation. If an individual is managing a business in the commercial sense under his or her own name and on his or her own behalf, this constitutes a sole proprietorship. This legal form is popular in Switzerland and the gateway to self-employment for many start-ups. It can be changed to a corporation at any time. 

Sole proprietors and partners in a partnership are considered to be self-employed:

  • A sole proprietorship consists of a sole business owner. To have a sole proprietorship, you must be recognized as self-employed by your compensation fund. Founders of this legal form remain natural persons.
  • A partnership is a commercial association of at least two people, who are referred to as the partners. They run a business under a joint company name. It may take the form of a limited partnership or general partnership. The self-employed partners are liable with the company’s assets and their private assets. The limited partner is the only exception: In this case, liability is limited to the liability amount entered in the commercial register.

The alternative: You found a corporation and are an employee of your own company. 

  • In the case of corporations, the focus is on the capital paid in. Among corporations across Switzerland, joint-stock companies (AG) and limited liability companies (GmbH) are the most popular company forms. As a legal entity, the corporation is given its legal capacity upon entry in the commercial register. For liabilities, the AG and GmbH are liable with the company’s assets.
  • Founders can employ themselves as managing director of their own AG or GmbH, for example. As an employee of their own company, they are automatically insured in the event of unemployment or an accident. Occupational benefits insurance (BVG) must also be ensured.

The legal form of the company determines your position under social insurance law.

5. Register with the compensation fund

Have you chosen to establish a sole proprietorship or partnership? You have taken the first step! Under social insurance law, you have thus chosen the path of self-employment. This is because in Switzerland you are considered to be self-employed once the compensation fund of your place of work has reviewed your application and approved your self-employment. Various criteria apply depending on the industry. An entry in the commercial register is not enough for approval of self-employment.

Registration of your self-employment is free of charge and can be  done online. Depending on the legal form, it takes around 20-30 minutes, or a little longer if you already have employees.

To review an application, the compensation fund requires documentation of your self-employment, which is why the application is made retroactively. Include documents with your application that prove you are self-employed. These may comprise, for example, offers and invoices, advertising materials, or a description of your activity.

From the perspective of the compensation fund, self-employment has the following four features:

  • Presence under own name
  • Work for own account
  • Activity in and independent position
  • Work at own economic risk

For the self-employed, the duty to pay contributions starts in the first January following the founder’s 17th birthday. If there is gainful activity, contributions must be paid. If you work beyond retirement age, then you remain subject to contributions.

6. Anticipate your social insurance contributions

The next step – social insurance: We recommend calculating the costs as normal expenses in your budget. The self-employed pay contributions for Federal Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance (AHV), disability insurance (IV), and Loss of Earnings benefits (EO) entirely themselves. On top of this are a percentage of the family allowance amount and administrative costs.

  • Understand the statement: Your contributions for social insurance are calculated based on the amount of earned income. You will receive a provisional invoice for the past quarter on a quarterly basis from your cantonal compensation fund. The amount due is based on the information you provide or on the numbers from the previous year. The compensation fund can only issue a definitive contribution statement once the cantonal tax office has reported your income from self-employment. Report any material changes to your income of 25% or more to your compensation fund in the following year at the latest to avoid back payments with default interest.
  • Check your AHV account statement: The compensation fund recommends self-employed persons check their AHV account statement every five years. Do the amounts entered correspond to your the income subject to contributions that is indicated in your tax declaration? The AHV account statement only shows the years with a definitive contribution statement. You can order your AHV account statement free of charge from you cantonal compensation office.
  • Avoid pension and contribution gaps: Only women who have paid AHV contributions for 43 years and men who have paid for 44 years will receive a full AHV pension. The maximum pension amount of CHF 2,390 is only paid to those who earned an average annual income of CHF 86,040 for the entire contribution period. Daily sickness and accident benefits are voluntary. Contribution gaps may occur as the result of extended illnesses or accidents. We recommend closing these gaps in good time to prevent any effects on your AHV pension. Missing contributions can be paid up to five years later. To do so, contact your compensation fund.

7. Ask yourself about the right type of insurance

Once you register with the compensation fund, you have already dealt with another important matter of the founding phase – insurance. Regardless of whether it relates to work absences, technical errors, or cyber attacks: Insurance kicks in whenever something happens that could throw you and your self-employment off course.  It offers protection against risks that could endanger your dream of self-employment. For this reason, you should ask the following questions when choosing the right insurance: Which risks does my new company face? And what can I or do I want to bear on my own?

The good news is that there are few types of insurance that are mandatory for start-ups and the self-employed. Most of these relate to coverage for employees. Other types of insurance coverage can be freely chosen by the founders. Find out more about what you need to consider on our self-employment page and in the  insurance check:

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8. Plan your occupational benefits and your private pension

An important step for founders is planning occupational benefits (BVG). Occupational benefits insurance (Pillar 2) is voluntary for self-employed persons. Thanks to a large number of professional and industry associations, it shouldn’t be hard to find an occupational pension that suits your needs. As an alternative, you can also join an industry-specific pension fund or the National Substitute Pension Plan BVG.

One option that is particularly popular among the self-employed is private retirement provision with Pillar 3a. In addition to long-term security, you also benefit from attractive tax advantages. The article  “Pensions for the self-employed: What do you really need?”  will show you: Are you making the best possible provision for your retirement?

What else should you take into account when becoming self-employed?

  1. Protect your intellectual property: Clever ideas can be stolen quickly. Decide at an early stage whether and how you want to protect your innovations and creations, such as inventions, logos, or product and packaging designs. You can find further information on how to protect innovations and creations by means of patents, trademarks, and design protection on the SME Portal of the Swiss Confederation. It also provides valuable information on copyrights and industrial property rights. You can find more information in our blog on patents and copyrights.
  2. Are you subject to value-added tax? If you generate annual revenues with your company of at least CHF 100,000 for services rendered in Switzerland, then you are subject to value-added tax. Register in writing with the Federal Tax Administration in Bern within 30 days.
  3. Do you have to be entered in the commercial register? If you, as the owner of a sole proprietorship managed as a commercial enterprise, earn annual revenues of at least CHF100,000 , then you must be entered in the commercial register. An entry is also mandatory if you want to found a company with the following legal form: General partnership, limited partnership, stock corporation, limited commercial partnership, limited liability company, cooperative, association that operates as a commercial business, foundation (excluding family and church foundations), subsidiaries of foreign and Swiss companies. The cantonal commercial registry office at the company’s domicile is responsible for this. Some online providers, such as startups.ch, can help you with the entry in the commercial register. And the best part? AXA provides support with startups.ch with up to CHF 500 of the costs of founding your company.
  4. Create a clear marketing concept: How will you market your product or service? A carefully considered marketing concept puts the focus on your customers and their needs. Whether digital marketing measures or traditional advertising – there are many options for your company to reach customers in a targeted way.
  5. Accept support: Marketing isn’t your area of expertise? Don’t hesitate to look for help and outsource tasks. This allows you to focus on your core competencies. This isn’t just true for marketing, but rather also for the entire viable operations of a start-up. A quality network can also help you to develop and expand cooperations and your customer base.
  6. Take the pressure off your family: During maternity leave, self-employed women are insured against income shortfalls. The statutory maternity leave is 14 weeks. Parents can also receive family allowances. For this reason, self-employed persons also pay an obligatory amount into the family compensation fund. Report changes such as the birth of your child immediately to your compensation fund. You can also report the start, termination, or conclusion of your children’s education to the compensation fund. The last income subject to AHV contributions prior to the birth of your child is used as the basis to calculate maternity pay.
  7. Reduce your health insurance premiums: Anyone in Switzerland who lives under modest economic circumstances can receive support by means of a financial contribution to the mandatory health insurance premiums. Are you entitled to lower premiums? That depends on your tax status. If you are entitled then the compensation fund will send you the application form in the spring for the following year.
  8. Plan your retirement: Have you already had thoughts about when you want to retire? The earlier you start planning, the more relaxed you can be about it. You need to weigh up how your plans for retirement will affect your financial and insurance situation throughout your working life. You can freely choose when you start drawing your pension. You can draw on your pension one or two years early. Or postpone it by up to five years. 
  9. What will happen to your company when you retire? Succession planning can be especially complex if your company is the main component of your retirement provision. Address this issue about five years before you intend to retire so that you have enough time to put your business in good hands, or dissolve it if necessary.

Do you have any more questions on self-employment?

In the AXA blog article  “AXA answers your questions on self-employment,” we asked experts the most frequent questions about insurance, pensions, pension funds, and tax advantages.

The time after founding a company also creates questions. The AXA team will be happy to provide impartial advice and valuable tips, even after you start your company. Send us your questions, and we’ll contact you shortly.

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