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3 tips for starting an artisan small business in Switzerland

3 tips for starting an artisan small business in Switzerland

May 02 2024

I have done probably all the small business mistakes in the last 7 years... so safe to say, I have a long list I would do better / differently if I were to start new with my business endeavor :)

If you are someone who is planning (or maybe right now only dreaming :)) to start their own business without big times investment selling your own hand made artisan products in Switzerland, here are my 3 biggest tips for you to start off:

 

1. Don't establish a company (GmbH or AG) until/unless you really need it

I have got my company registered on day 1 because my first business was an import and retail business where I needed to do deals as a legal entity. But now, that I am making my own artisanal products, I would not actually establish a company immediately.

If you don't sell products that can cause harm/loss to the customers and drag you into legal cases about liability neither do you plan to ask for funding/take loans, you actually don't need a legal company to sell your products. You can very easily declare your income from your artisan sales as a side job in Switzerland (if you have a considerable net profit per month that is close or over your main income, check it with a accountant how to best do the tax declaration). 

Once you establish a company, it will bring along costs. Accounting, tax declaration, registration, etc. and it does not come cheap in Switzerland.

Also, if you want to establish a company, go for GmbH (easier, cheaper and if I am not wrong better for the tax) and you can check out ifj.ch to help you with the admin stuff.

 

2. Don't register for VAT until you hit the 100k CHF per year revenue threshold

This is usually the biggest mistake small businesses do. Especially hand made artisanal products don't necessarily sell that fast in the first year or two to hit the min. limit for VAT registration.

Once you register for VAT, you are bound to do VAT declaration to ESTV which most people cannot do on their own. Once you need an accountant, you will pay at min. 5k CHF per year just to get your declaration ready. And this only if you know someone who knows a cheap accountant. :) In most cases the cost is much higher.

In my first year I went for a startup that offered a streamlined online invoice processing and reduced accounting cost model called Run My Accounts. My monthly accounting cost was around 1000-1200 CHF (!!) when I was hardly making any revenue at the beginning. Not sure what exactly was the "reduced costs" part in this model, but I very quickly swapped accountant to a small company who is charging one third of it and doing a much better job to say the least...

 

3. Save money and do your own marketing material

Your biggest asset and in my opinion the biggest personality trait that successful small business owners have is the ability to learn new skills. I don't say to learn website coding or become a Photoshop expert :D But nowadays there are some many easy to use software and service out there that help you create really professional looking marketing material for less than 50 CHF! An online shop design - even if it is made by an outsourced Indian company - will cost you thousands and will need to be maintained, which will also cost you a lot. (Been there, done that! :( )

Spend money on actual marketing campaigns to bring people to your shop/to your market stall/to your social media! That's where you will get return on your investment! Keep your marketing toolkit simple and easy to maintain.

Here are my easy to learn and use marketing tools:

 

Online Shop - Shopify - www.shopify.com - 36 CHF/month

The basic plan is 36 CHF per month and you have in there everything you need, including payment system, email marketing, multiple language, etc. Very easy to use, you can make an online shop in a day and maintain it without any IT knowledge! 

I use Shopify for over 7 years now and I currently run 3 shops (what you are reading now runs also on Shopify) while I tried WooCommerce, Wix and Squarespace as well. I can say with confidence that nothing compares to Shopify! And yes, it is perfectly fine for the Swiss market as well, not only for US! Don't listen to the BS out there, IT companies need to make a living and try to convince everyone that without them there is no way one can make an online presence... don't believe it! 

Alternative - if you really don't want to bother, go for Etsy. You only need to upload your products there and you get everything else covered by Etsy. It costs you much more once you start selling (the fees are no joke there!) but you get an added bonus of people with purchase intent (more about Etsy vs. own online shop later).

 

Design - Canva - www.canva.com FREE or 13 CHF/month

Doing your own flyers, creating a nice banner, your logo, social media post, even small animation are super easy with canva. Again, no special knowledge required and there is a free option. If you go for the paid subscription, you get a lot of premade designs which is great for those who need some inspiration :) I use it all the time and do most of my marketing material in Canva. Even if I have Photoshop, Indesign (I work in marketing so I need them to my daily job) Canva is way easier and faster.

Also, a lot of people are creating templates, fonts, elements for canva (also customized ones) for quite a good price. You can find them on Etsy or fiverr.com.  

 

Product photos - your phone :) 

I even film with my phone nowadays! You don't need more than that. Forget about buying a camera to get good product photos! Save the money :) You can edit your photos simply in your Photos app. Focus more on getting a nice background and lighting for your photos.

 

Video editing - Capcut - www.capcut.com FREE or 8 CHF/month

You will not get away nowadays without creating content. That is something each of us has to get used to - and get good at it! There is no way around social media and there is no way around reels and tiktoks. So download capcut on your phone and start messing around :) It is for free or you can also get a subscription for some templates for trending tiktoks.

Each of these are also available as an app and you can manage 90% on your phone.

You can master any of these tools with just going to Youtube and finding tutorials. there are a lot of them out there :) Don't be afraid to learn!

Good luck with your business endeavor :) 

zsuzsa

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