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STARTING A BUSINESS IN NORMANDY - WHERE TO GO FOR ADVICE

It’s a dream shared by many: an idyllic hideaway in Normandy where they and their family will enjoy a healthy, stress-free lifestyle away from the rat-race. To finance their new life they will get a job, any job that brings in a living wage; or maybe run their own modest but profitable business.

A lot of people dream the dream. Relatively few try to turn it into reality, and fewer still succeed. Finding the hideaway is easy – rural Normandy is full of chocolate-box cottages. But employment opportunities are few and far between, and native French jobseekers with the requisite qualifications in their pockets have a head start. Consequently, many incomers opt to set up their own business.

 

Why ‘Going It Alone’ Can Be A Risky Strategy

Statistics indicate that the businesses most likely to succeed are the ones that tap into a business support network early in their start-up phase. This doubtless is especially true for entrepreneurs in a country where they are not familiar with the system. Knowing the business rules in, say, the UK, counts for little in France. Social security arrangements and tax liabilities for French businesses vary according to how your business has been set up and which tax regime you operate under. But without a clear understanding of the system, how can you decide on your appropriate ‘statut juridique’ or business entity (i.e. Entreprise Individuelle, SARL etc)? or identify your most cost-effective tax regime? There is no substitute for first-hand professional business advice that takes into consideration not only the precise business model but also the entrepreneur’s personal circumstances; because what’s best for one is not necessarily best for another, even if on the face of it the two appear similar. Professional advice is widely available across Normandy and much of it is free, so why not take advantage? Trying to ‘go it alone’ and taking important legal and fiscal decisions without fully understanding the implications, could jeopardise the future of your business.

 

Registering With A ‘Chambre’

In France, every business must register and receive a SIREN number before it starts trading. Operating an unregistered business, or ‘working on the black’, is likely to result in serious penalties.

Business registration involves numerous bodies including the tax authorities, social contributions agencies, INSEE (the national statistics organisation) and the appropriate Chambre. Businesses in trade, industry and service sectors generally register with the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie (CCI); artisans with the Chambre de Métier et de l’Artisanat (CMA); certain land-based activities with the Chambre d’Agriculture; and liberal professions with URSSAF. Creative artists and authors will in most cases register with the Maison des Artistes or AGESSA.

Although business registration is a complex process, it can be done very simply via a CFE (Centre de Formalités des Entreprises), which acts as a single point of contact for all aspects of the registration process. It is also possible to register online, but it may be wiser not to do so without first seeing an advisor.

 

Where To Go For Business Advice and Support

Poles Emploi: If you are new to France and intend to work or start a business, you should register as a jobseeker with your local Pole Emploi. As well as helping jobseekers find employment, Poles Emploi can provide business advice and access to financial support to jobseekers with a business idea, or refer them to an appropriate support organisation. Find your nearest Pole at www.pole-emploi.fr (click ‘Votre pole emploi’ at bottom of screen).

Your ‘Chambre’: Governed not by civil servants but by business leaders, Chambres have a vested interest in building a strong local economy. Providing support to aspiring entrepreneurs is a major part of their work, and CCIs in particular run regular courses designed to equip those setting up in business with the knowledge and skills they need. Entrepreneurs can approach their Chambre for advice as soon as they have a rudimentary business plan. Chambres have a regional structure, so you deal with the office that covers the area where your business operates. Contact details can be found online as follows: CCIs in Normandy – www.drakkaronline.com; CMAs – www.artisanat.fr (click Liens, then Annuaires); URSSAF – www.urssaf.fr (click on map, then select town from drop-down list); and the Chambre Régionale d’Agriculture at www.cra-normandie.fr/plan_acces/CRANACCE.htm.

Boutiques de Gestion: One-stop shops for start-up advice. This is an independent, nationwide network whose raison d’être is to help entrepreneurs get their business up and running. Each Department has its team of advisors, who may hold ‘surgeries’ at various locations throughout that Department. BGs aim to provide a highly personal service, with the emphasis on one-to-one advice rather than organised courses. You will see the same advisor throughout, who will typically begin by helping you assess the feasibility of your business idea, then guide you through start-up, and if appropriate continue to provide on-going business advice for up to three years, all at no cost. To arrange a meeting, find your nearest access point at www.boutiques-de-gestion.com (click ‘Implantation’).

Pépinières d’Entreprise: Sometimes also called ‘couveuses’, these are Business Incubation Centres, designed to nurture new businesses. They provide low-cost serviced business accommodation and on-going business support. Eligibility criteria vary from one pépinière to another; some, for instance, are sector-specific. Prepare as clear a business plan as possible before approaching a pépinière. Local business advisors will know of pépinières in your vicinity.

 

If You’re Not Sure What Kind Of Business Activity To Pursue ...

All the above organisations can provide advice once you have a basic business plan. If you need help in deciding what type of business activity to pursue, or if you are unsure whether you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur in France, organisations that specialise in advising during these very early stages – termed ‘emergence’ in French – include AFIP (www.afip.asso.fr) and the Maison d’Emploi network. Regional or community initiatives are also launched from time to time, to stimulate enterprise creation locally by giving would-be entrepreneurs a clearer picture of what is involved in running a business and highlighting areas that offer greatest scope for new ventures; enquire locally, for instance at your Boutique de Gestion, for information.


Financial Support

Part of your business advisor’s function is to identify loans, grants and concessions for which you are eligible, and help you apply. Eligibility will depend on the nature of your business, your geographical location and your personal circumstances. Funding sources include banks, regional funding partnerships, national schemes, EU initiatives, and private equity. Agefiph (www.agefiph.fr) provides useful assistance to disabled entrepreneurs. Loans to women entrepreneurs are available through the organisation FGIF. Financial support packages typically consist of a combination of elements; for instance, zero interest unsecured loans from regional funding partnerships may be granted to supplement a bank loan, and in addition jobseekers could be entitled to claim a reduction in social charges.

Each region within Normandy has its own economic development agenda based on local priorities, and from time to time additional targeted support, e.g. LEADER funding, may become available at commune or departmental level; check locally, at your Mairie, Communauté de Communes or other information point.

 

Expert Advice

The more complex the business, the more input you are likely to need from banks, accountants and notaires/avocats. If you apply for a loan, your business plan will need to include financial projections prepared by an accountant. Depending on your business structure, it may be advisable to put in place formalities to protect your own and your family’s interests, for instance with regard to business debts and inheritance issues. Once you start bringing the experts on board, advice may no longer come for free – but by this time the viability of your venture will have been established, and shrewd professional guidance that will protect and strengthen your business is worth investing in. Taking the trouble to build a good relationship with your bank manager can also prove a worthwhile investment of time and effort, since bank managers tend to be very au fait not only with available funding opportunities, but also with other practical aspects of setting up and running a business, and sometimes they will share their wisdom with good customers.

 

Help Through A Difficult Patch

Help is available for established businesses experiencing financial difficulties. Most banks provide factoring services, which can ease cashflow problems. The tax and social contributions authorities will normally be sympathetic and try to offer solutions. However, if you can’t face approaching these organisations yourself, the CCIs are able to advise and help businesses that are running into trouble. One approach that frequently leads to a positive outcome is the ‘Tiers de confiance’ ('trusted third party') route, where your CCI sets up meetings between, say, business owner, bank and accountant to jointly work out the best way forward. OSEO may agree to provide finance to solve cashflow problems; again, your CCI may facilitate this. If debts are mounting up, CODEFI and CCSF can mediate on your behalf with URSSAF, RSI, ASSEDIC, the Centre d’Impots etc to agree a realistic schedule of payments; and if you are an employer struggling to pay employees’ cotisations, URSSAF has set up a dedicated phoneline (0821 0821 33) for applications to delay payments. 

 

Help In English

In parts of Normandy where there is a significant Anglophone population, it may be possible to find an English-speaking advisor. The following organisations have recently confirmed that they are able to provide advice in English: Boutique de Gestion de l’Orne, CCI Dieppe, CCI Le Havre and CCI Flers/Argentan. The latter two have in the past run courses in English and propose to repeat this when they feel there is sufficient demand to justify it; keep an eye out for information. Businesses in the Pays Du Bocage catchment area (specific communes in 61) can access advice in English from GIP-ADECO in Domfront. Online, there is a lot of useful advice in English at www.anglais.urssaf.fr

 

The Earlier You Apply, The More Help You Get

There is a good raft of help available, free of charge, for people wanting to start businesses in Normandy. Generally speaking, no matter which business support gateway you approach you should receive the same advice and access to funding. To benefit fully from the French business support framework you should apply early and be prepared to be guided step by step. If you set up a business first, and then start looking for funding, you may find you no longer qualify. The sooner you get into the system – the greater your chances of building a successful business.

 

SOME USEFUL WEBSITES:

www.entreprendre-basse-normandie.fr – information, links, contacts for business creation in Basse Normandie

www.hn-espace-entreprises.fr – business support platform for Haute Normandie (under construction)

www.boutiques-de-gestion.com – one-stop shops for business advice; click ‘Implantation des BG’ then click on the map to find your nearest point of contact

www.drakkaronline.com – explains the role and structure of CCIs; quick links to CCIs throughout Normandy (click on the icon of the Chambre nearest you)

www.initiatives27.fr – nice clear guide to support available for business creation in Eure; useful links under ‘les bonnes adresses’

www.orne-developpement.com – information about support for business creation in Orne; news about courses and events

www.pepiniere-entreprises.com – information about pépinières in Cherbourg-Cotentin

www.apce.com – national site with very comprehensive information and advice for entrepreneurs

www.oseo.fr – Oseo is a national public body that works with private funding partners to provide business finance

www.aides-entreprises.fr – click on Repertoire Des Aides, enter e.g. Creation d’entreprise in box, then select your town on map and follow links to see details of all funding schemes (beware of information overload!)

www.anglais.urssaf.fr – advice and information in English about setting up in business, including as Auto Entrepreneur

www.startbusinessinfrance.com – an independent site IN ENGLISH, aimed at new start businesses: information, advice, news, forum (pay to join), access to (paid-for) advice over the phone