The thought of sitting down and preparing a business plan is enough to either fill most people with terror or make the eyes glaze over very quickly indeed.
However, for anyone thinking on setting up in business in France it’s worth taking a little time to commit a few things to paper. These ought to include an outline idea of what the business is, who the customers will be, how you will reach them and how much money is needed to cover expenses and enjoy the lifestyle. After all, for most of us enjoying the lifestyle is the reason we are in France in the first place!
This article is a step by step guide for people who have not written a business plan before and are facing the need for one for their new business idea.
It might seem obvious but it is a good idea to write down in simple English (or French!) what it is you plan to do. For example, you might need to convince a bank manager to lend you money. He or she will need to know exactly what it is that they are being asked to lend against. You’ll need to demonstrate some knowledge of your business idea and the “market” for it. I can’t stress enough the importance of research, research and research. Get out into the market and talk to people face to face. Talk to Estate Agents, other UK residents, competitors, the local tourist offices and local Chamber of Commerce in the part of France you plan to live. Also, you will need to write down your business idea in a simple form as part of your application for the carte de séjour residence permit, if you are required to have one.
Even if you are not seeking to borrow money, it is well worth writing down your business idea to get clarity around your intentions. I call this the “bar stool test”. You should be able to describe what you do in a single sentence that anyone can understand. For example at Burgundy Discovery we offer “personal, friendly and informative English-language tours for anyone with an interest in wine” That simple statement is underpinned with a lot of research that indicated the market opportunity.
We need a pretty good idea of who the customers are and how to reach them. So, for example, if you are planing to run a gîte or chambre d’hôte take a good look around the area. How many gites or Chambre d’hôte are there within, say, a 15km radius? What do they tend to offer? What is the average size? How much do they charge? And, try to go and take a look. I often get asked how do I do this? Do some research by picking up the phone and ringing people – pose as a prospective client! If you prefer not to do this, be honest! From my experience people running businesses in France are generally very open and friendly. The market is big enough for us all. Yes, the internet or guidebooks offer some information and addresses but there really is no better way than talking to people. On your research visits to France, drive around and take a look at as many as possible. This gives you a good overview of your competition and you’ll learn a lot about your prospective customers. The same principles apply whatever your business idea.
Business start-up checklist:
|Why are we doing this?||List our passions and dislikes|
|What are our strengths/weaknesses?||List what we are good at/bad at|
|Is there a market and is it sustainable?||Evidence of market and its sustainability|
|Set up costs||What are they in detail? Add 50% contingency|
|Running costs?||What are they? Add 50% contingency|
|How long will it take to get going?|
Develop a timeline.
|Develop a timeline. Double it as contingency|
|Personal expenses||List day to day/monthly living expenses.|
Add 50% contingency. Compare to timeline above.
|Resources needed||Own capital or borrowings. Determine break-even|
point and payback. Beware securitising your French home
|Who are our customers?||Identify who they are and where they are|
|What do we want to communicate?||Our messages; benefits and emotions. Key points – who we are, what we do, why we are different and how to contact us.|
|How will we communicate?||Web site, brochure, press material, advertising, social media strategy, partnerships, etc. Plan and budget.|
|Our contacts||Email, telephone, mobile. social media networks|
|Competitors||Who are they, what do they say, price comparison, how we differ|
|Start up administration||Enterprise Individuelle, SARL, autoentrepreneur? Chamber/Tribunal registration in place? Carte de sèjour applied for if applicable? TVA registration?|
|Advisors||Accountant, bank, insurance, legal, currency|
|Tax position||French resident status? UK Form P85 returned to revenue if applicable?|
|Fun and Profit?||Of course!|
To reach your customers you’ll need to try to be innovative. Whatever the product or service you offer there are likely to be some basic tools; e.g. a web site, brochure etc. Again, try to link up with the local tourist authority to see what is coming up in your area during the season ahead and try to offer a link with your business. Many French towns are twinned with UK towns and a fruitful source of business can be through the town twinning associations. Look at opportunities for editorial coverage in different publications. It is a truism that you have to create awareness of your product before you generate usage. This all takes time that will need to be built into your costs.
Finally – “how” to make the money add up. There are a number of elements but the most important is cash. First, try to develop a cash flow projection. If you are borrowing money your bank will almost certainly want to see one. Basically, cash flow projects outgoings month by month compared to income. Remember this is cash in and cash out. If you work on invoices it might take a month or so before you get the cash. Most businesses fail because they run out of cash not because the idea is bad, or they make a loss for a year or two. Every business should add up month by month what needs to be spent – on the business and personally – and what is likely to come in. If it is a negative figure at the end of each month then it will need to be funded either from savings or by an overdraft. It is amazing how many new business start up’s focus on sales and profit when in the first year it is the cash that’s important
So, to summarise. Once you’ve come up with your idea research it, research it again and once more for luck. And don’t just rely on the internet – buy your Euros, fill the car with fuel and get out to France. Next work out who your customers are and how you can reach them in an innovative way. Third, work out your cash needs. If you write down “what” “who” and “how” you’ll more likely get to “wow” it’s working!
•With thanks to David Hammond, who runs Burgundy Discovery personalised wine tasting tours.
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