How to Run a Small Business in France

A couple of years ago I started a small business in the south of France, working from my home office.

Until that point I had mainly worked for large US corporations so taking the step of setting up a small business felt quite peculiar. I would have no big expense account, no funded car, no swishy corporate marketing materials and no huge, wildly competent IT department to meet my every technical request. (Horror!) There’d be no colleagues to discuss initiatives with and no CEO to give leadership.

On the plus side, I’d worked across Europe from home since 2001 anyway so I was used to working remotely and independently. If I could make money from my own business, I’d have freedom to work as and how I chose to.

The idea was to offer services related to information and information management. I’m a qualified librarian and information manager and took a postgraduate course in information science at the Business School of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m not a techie so I wasn’t planning to set up websites myself or write other software.

The services would centre on writing and, because I live in France, a certain amount of translation from French to English. In France, it’s possible to set up in business as an autoentrepreneur and pay a low rate of tax – 20.5% – as long as your earnings stay below a threshold which is currently around 52,000 dollars.

I was able to register for this small business scheme very easily. It was just a matter of finding the relevant website, keying in my details, and listing the services I planned to provide. Professional tax which is levied on businesses was deferred for the frst two years and is in any case limited to not more than 4% of a business’s profits. I would need to declare my earnings every three months and calculate the tax owed. It would then be automatically taken from my bank account. To date, this has worked smoothly.

I already had a home office which I’d established over the years when I was working from home. All I needed was a new laptop as I returned my old one to my former company. I bought a Dell Inspiron (not the greatest laptop in the world as it turned out, but it functions.)

My first project was to edit a blog for a client who wanted to recount episodes of her life story, from her English childhood during the second world war, to life in contemporary England. That’s an ongoing project. See here.

I then started to take on translation work through an agency in London, always French into English since English is my mother tongue. Next I was contacted by the editor of a French magazine, to submit content on life in Provence. The editor had come across my writing on this Yahoo website and had also found my own blog:

I was asked by a couple selling their home to read and explain documents relating to the sale. I was also asked to help a woman buying a house to understand documents relating to the purchase. I then got roped into interpreting for her, the lawyer and the sellers during the sale itself. Subsequently I was asked to help another seller write and edit content for a site on which she was selling her home. Another client wanted a system for filing electronic documents online but couldn’t understand the internet, her laptop or her software well enough to set it up, so I did it for her. A French client wanted help with writing her CV in English and using the internet to find accommodation in New York. A client from the US contacted me to offer me some translation work. Another requested an article about a public library in Paris.

As word got around that I was offering writing and editing services, translation services and other information services, clients began to make contact. Bit by bit, work started to come in.

This week I’m in discussion with a local author to translate his book into English. And with a local newspaper to develop and maintain a new section of their publication for their website.

I’ve also written a book, now available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book. It’s called Present Tense and is a novel about a married woman struggling to come to terms with midlife during a holiday in the south of France.

The newest project is to set up a website offering local news from across the south of France and attract readers and advertisers. I’m doing this in collaboration with others and giving myself six months to start getting a reasonable readership and results.

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