When it comes to starting a business in Sweden, a little planning goes a long way. Here are 10 tips for the budding sole trader.
Some thought before action goes a long way. Photo: Alex & Martin Photographers/Johnér
1. Do your research
In Sweden’s online society, information is easy to come by, so there’s no excuse for not doing proper research before starting your business.
Statistics Sweden is a mine of information about Sweden and its demographics, covering everything from population and age to business sentiment and industrial capacity.
You can also check with the trade organization (branschorganisation) covering the field of work you are aiming for — they can often provide information and statistics about the size and type of companies involved in that sector, as well as the regulations that apply and the general state of the market.
Here is a selection of useful organizations in some of the most popular start-up sectors:
The Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Association — resource for the Swedish hospitality industry.
The Swedish Trade Federation — covering the wholesale and retail sectors.
The Swedish Construction Federation — trade body for the construction industry in Sweden.
The Swedish IT and Telecom Industries — organization for companies in an area including some of Sweden’s largest and most well-known industries.
Lantmännen — national body covering agriculture and farmland resources.
2. Get your network going
One of the keys to success in business is in making your network work for you, regardless of what country you’re in.
Besides friends, colleagues and relatives you might have in Sweden, how and where do you find people with ideas similar to yours?
You could contact your local branch of Nyföretagarcentrum (the Swedish Jobs and Society Foundation), who provide advice to new businesses and hold regular events around the country.
Another way to find advisors and build your network is through a website called verksamt.se — set up by three Swedish authorities (the Companies Registration Office, the Tax Agency and the Agency for Economic and Regional Growth); they have a page to help you find advisors depending on which region you are living in.
Swedes are very much an online breed, so as you get to know more people, use social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook to help you keep track of your new contacts and watch your networks grow.
Nearly half of Sweden's population is on Facebook. Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se
3. Get permission
Certain types of businesses in Sweden require a permit to operate. Verksamt.se has a handy list of the various trades, professions and businesses that require permits, as well as contact details for the bodies that issue them.
4. Register your business
As a sole trader, your venture will be identified by your personal ID number (personnummer) which is allocated to you by Skatteverket, the Swedish Tax Authority.
The key step in starting as a sole trader is registering for F-skatt — “F tax” (the ‘F’ stands for företagare — entrepreneur). F-skatt basically means that you undertake work as an entrepreneur and not as an employee, so those contracting you don’t administer your tax or social security payments — that responsibility is yours.
Skatteverket has a brochure explaining how F tax works. The brochure includes the information about where to find the appropriate forms for registration. These are only in Swedish — it’s important that they are filled in correctly, so you may want to enlist the help of an accountant and/or make a personal appointment with Skatteverket for guidance.
If you are good enough in Swedish by now, Skatteverket also offers free information meetings giving step-by-step help about how to start up a business. You can find more information here.
Sweden has different rules and regulations about residence requirements for those moving to Sweden to start a company, depending on their citizenship. Nordic citizens (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland), do not need to register with the Swedish Migration Board or apply for a residence permit.
Citizens of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland are entitled to residence in Sweden but must register with the Swedish Migration Board within three months of arriving in the country. Once your right of residence has been established, you can apply for a personnummer.
If you’re from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland and intend to start a business, you’ll have to apply for a resident’s permit before coming to Sweden — you’ll find the details and requirements on the Swedish Migration Board’s website.
If you are a temporary resident in Sweden, you can apply to the Tax Authority for a co-ordination number, which replaces the personal identity number and will allow you to apply for F-tax status. You can read more about the co-ordination number in this brochure (Swedish and English).
5. Protect your business name by registering it
This is not an obligatory step but still a wise move. It will ensure that no-one else is allowed to operate under the same business name in your county.
To register your business name, visit the Companies Registration Office website. They will process your registration for a fee.
6. Make your business plan
Having decided on what goods or services you want to sell and discovered if there’s a market for it, it’s time to start getting your dream down on paper. A good business plan is essential in getting others to listen, whether they are banks, investors or potential customers.
Your business plan doesn’t have to be long and complex: it is simply a statement of what you plan to do and how you plan to do it.
As with a CV, the format of a business plan can vary from country to country; in certain countries the idea is everything, whereas in others a sound financial footing is the key. Verksamt.se offers an excellent guide to what Swedish bankers, investors and authorities look for in a business plan.
7. Hire staff, and do it legally
Fast-forward a little and you might find yourself in the happy position of being able to offer work to others —then it’s good to know the basic tenets of Swedish employment law.
Dress for success and keep it legal. Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se
Employment conditions in Sweden are regulated by the Employment Protection Act (Lagen om Anställningsskydd, often shortened to LAS). This act states that employment contracts are for an indefinite term unless otherwise explicitly stated in the employment contract.
The act also contains a description of the four types of fixed-term employment contracts that cover everything from temporary replacement work to special legislation for those over the age of 67.
Swedish employment law has wide-ranging provisions for parental leave, holiday and pension entitlements and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the legislation before making the decision to hire.
Another way to deal with your labor needs is to sub-contract to other sole traders like you — just make sure they have registered for F-tax.
Translations of the relevant labor laws and acts can be found on the Swedish government’s website.
8. Get your bookkeeping right
Unless you’re setting up an accountancy business, get an accountant. The whole point of setting up your own business is to get the most out of your talents, so if you don’t have a head for figures and tax and regulations, it’s worth paying someone else to do it.
There are plenty of qualified firms out there that specialize in helping small firms like yours who will bill you an hourly rate for their services. One of the easiest ways to find a good, trustworthy accountant is to ask other entrepreneurs in the same field who they use.
You can also contact the Association of Swedish Accounting Consultants and they can help you find a suitable firm in your area. An accounting consultant can also teach you how to write invoices properly according to Swedish regulations and laws.
Remember that hiring an accountant doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of understanding basic bookkeeping, so if you haven’t already done so, take some time to learn the basics.
Not your thing? Then hire a pro. Photo: Fang Guo (CC BY ND)
9. Finance your venture
Stating the obvious — unless assignments pour in from the beginning, you'll need to make sure you can pay your regular household bills as you get your venture off the ground. Maybe you'll use your savings to finance your first few months, or you might build up your business slowly alongside a full- or part-time job.
Of course you can also apply to your bank for a business loan, but as most businesses are not profitable in the beginning, they will require you to put up some sort of security.
An alternative for financing is Almi Företagspartner AB (ALMI), a state-owned company that helps businesses with capital and advice. Though their interest rates are often higher than the banks, they usually require less security. You can read more about what they provide here.
10. Create routines for your business
On a more general note — organize yourself. Most entrepreneurs will be eager to work as hard as possible on the sales side to begin with, but make sure you find time over for the administration side of your business too. This tip applies to any budding entrepreneur, regardless of where you are in the world.
Make sure to take some time each month to review your progress and talk to your financial advisors about what taxes or other charges need to be paid. Doing so will help you compare your progress to your business plan and allow you to make adjustments, whilst keeping you on the right side of the authorities.
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy...
- Verksamt — the Swedish Business Link to Government
- Bolagsverket — the Swedish Companies Registration Office
- Starting up a business — information and guidance from six Swedish government authorities, downloadable in PDF
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Irishman Philip O'Connor moved to Stockholm when his Swedish wife suggested they try living there "for a year or two". 12 years on, they still live in the Swedish capital. As a freelancer, O’Connor contributes to the Irish Independent and Reuters, to name just two.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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