Starting your own business in France ©Sveta

Just before the New Year with everyone thinking of their new resolutions and objectives for the coming year, I was invited to the Professional Women’s Network roundtable in Sophia Antipolis to give a short presentation on the subject of starting a small business in France.

This talk was not aimed necessarily at the technicalities of the setup, which is of course part of my daily work, but more about the fears that sometimes prevent us from taking that initial step into the unknown.

So just what does hold many women back and just what can we do to work through them?

But first let’s look at some facts and figures. Did you know that there are more than 22.2 million self-employed professionals in the US (Forbes) and over 1 million entrepreneurs in France (INSEE) and that these numbers are growing? Did you know that the average self-employed ‘home-worker’ is 39 years of age, but getting younger? An interesting point is that 3 out of 4 entrepreneurs in France said they would not have set up their business if the ‘Auto Entrepreneur’ simplified system didn’t exist.
It seems like a lot of people are taking the ‘plunge’… so just what does hold some people back? When I talk with new and old business customers, the same questions and hesitations come back each time. These are of course all valid, so just how should we deal with them?

Financial Instability – will I earn enough, how long will it take me to make a living?
• Ask yourself what is the biggest risk, or the worst thing that can happen, and if the consequences would be acceptable.
• Plan your financial goals, and stick to them. Get help and advice from your entourage. If you don’t know how to ‘plan’, speak with someone that does.

Investment of time: Is it the right time? Do you have the time to invest?
• Crucial to a successful small business is your investment in time and energy, as we are often multi-tasking during the first phase of the business.
• Ensure you create your business for the right reason and have the right motivation and drive at the kick off. Follow your plan and enjoy the process.
• It’s your time, so you need to do what’s right for you with it. Don’t waste it!

Fear of failure: What if it doesn’t work?
• There is no such thing as failure. We make mistakes, we learn from them and we try again and move on, so again, what do you have to lose?
• Surround yourself by positive business women and men who can give you the energy and feedback you need. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

What legal structure should the business have? Is auto-entrepreneur the right way to start, just what are my options?
• There is good and bad in this structure, but it is a good idea for service type business with limited running costs. It’s also a very good test bed for your idea before investing too much of your time. It’s easy to set up and close down, so minimal risk for a new venture.
• Take the time to look at all your options before starting your business. This is not wasted time. Get some good advice.
• Lastly of course, when you have a full time job, our corporate counterparts do wonder: Is the grass always greener on the other side?

We talk often about the positive aspects of being a business owner: the flexibility, decision making and the feel good factor of running your own ‘show’ and meeting your objectives, but what are the downsides of a small business?

• Your day never ends at 6pm
• You have to be a specialist in many domains (to start with)
• The first 3 years are often financially very difficult
• You may work flexi-time but you usually work more
• You can’t cut corners, you have to follow the growth pattern

Despite this, everyone who had a business at the table said they would ‘never’ go back to a job. Interesting!
I hope this gives you food for thought for the year ahead.


Tracy Leonetti, LBS in FranceFrenchEntrée contributor Tracy Leonetti is a French red tape expert with over 20 years of experience helping people deal with french administrative problems. Both for people moving to France or already living in France, Tracy provides invaluable help with child benefit payments, small business set up, car registrations, utilities set up, and healthcare registration, to name just a few.

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