'Switzerland is extremely entrepreneur-friendly'
After working for a large company, Swedish-born Ann Söderblom, 31, recently took the plunge from employee to entrepreneur. Söderblom, who advises expats on how to start their own business, tells The Local why Switzerland is the perfect place to set up your own company.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m originally from Sweden, where I completed my studies in human-computer interaction and went on to do a consultancy internship in Barcelona, Spain. Five years ago, I decided to move to Switzerland to be closer to my sister who was living there and to try something new. It also helped that Switzerland has a few more months of summer than we do in Sweden. I then spent a few years working for large multinational companies, doing project management work.
What did you make of the Swiss working culture?
There is generally a good work-life balance here and people don’t tend to work crazy hours. Swiss departments also tend to be very organized with a clear hierarchical structure. However, this hierarchy is not necessarily so good for women and the distribution of management positions tends to be very male-dominated. That’s one of the reasons why I prefer to work for myself.
Although, working for a multi-national corporation also meant I was very much a part of the expat community. In the last couple of months I am trying to be more integrated into Swiss communities by learning some Swiss German words and chatting with neighbors.
Tell us about your business.
My business, Söderblom Design, helps international people in Switzerland start their own business. I help them both with corporate identity and with making the transition from employee to entrepreneur the least stressful possible. My two current clients have a copywriting business and a life-coaching business.
What made you decide to become your own boss?
I’ve wanted to have my own company since the age of 15, a dream that I kept alive while studying and working in big corporations.
When I was 15, I'd spend weekends, evenings and vacations producing and selling t-shirts, organizing and catering for events, sewing prototypes for children’s toys and later importing Japanese tableware. At first, I didn’t sell anything but it was all a good learning experience.
I learned a lot through making mistakes and hands-on experience. Finally, in 2011, I started doing corporate design work for a few clients, which inspired me to start Söderblom Design so I could pass on my knowledge with others.
Was it difficult to settle in?
When I arrived here, I had to apply for a work permit through the kreisburo, which was a very straightforward process. And when I started my own business, I got a treuhand (financial advisor) to take care of taxes for me.
I haven’t found the bureaucracy too bad here! Switzerland is really an efficient country when it comes to dealing with authorities.
So far, I’ve had no problems getting by with a basic level of German – but then most of my work is in English.
What advice would you give someone hoping to set up their own business in Switzerland?
I 'd say that starting a business is pretty much the same everywhere in terms of the fundamentals. Perhaps my best advice would be not to quit your job straight away but to start small and test your business ideas at weekends and in your evenings to see how it goes. Then start making a profit and you can scale it up over time.
One classic rookie mistake is keeping your idea secret because you think someone is going to steal it, when you really need to tell as many people about it as possible and get lots of feedback.
I'd also recommend learning just a few words in Swiss German as it gets people to open up a lot more. But you'll also find that people will be very happy to switch to high German – if you speak it.
Is Switzerland a good place to be an entrepreneur?
It's a very entrepreneur-friendly place. Not only are the taxes good, but there are lots of events where entrepreneurs can showcase and test their ideas — like the Technopark in Zurich, the Blue Lion initiative, Venture Kick and the Start-up Weekend for tech start-ups.
Would you ever go back to working as an employee?
Not very likely. Once you’ve tasted the freedom of having your own business, it’s quite hard to go back.