[Sally Stone of Les Bons Voisins answers questions for readers of French Entree interested in relocating to France.]
"We have a dream of moving to France full time - but we need to earn a living. We realise that owning a gîte complex would be one answer, but we don't have sufficient capital to purchase a property with enough gîtes to provide us with a proper income. What advice do you have for people like us?"
Well done, on doing your research as far as the gîte market is concerned. More people go France on holiday than any other country in the world, so the idea is a sound one, but you are absolutely right that you need - as an estimate - three or four gîtes to provide a family with sufficient income to live on. This does mean you would need a considerable capital outlay. So let's consider your situation and the realistic options you have.
Employment is obviously one consideration, but unless you are completely bi-lingual and have a skill in an employment niche where a foreigner might be considered for a job, this is not a realistic option. That is not to say that French employers have a bias against foreigners, it's simply that France has a high level of unemployment and in any short-list for a permanent job the preference will always be to employ a French national. And the French job market is also more orchestrated and less flexible than that in the UK. I wish I had a Euro for every time someone seeking advice from me has said, "I don't mind what I do", in the sense of falling back on simple jobs as one might in the UK - shelf stacking in any of the major supermarkets, for example - but jobs like that don't exist in France. You need to have a plan!
In essence then, to make a living in France you really need to set up your own business, ideally providing a service or product you already know something about and have experience of. This is a new start, a new beginning, and you will have enough new challenges without re-inventing yourself totally. So it's often a case of using your existing skills, albeit in a brand new way. You need to carry out research to discover whether a market exists in France for the service or goods you might supply and, if it does, you need to establish whether the people who might want what you're offering actually have the budget to pay for it. The latter is something which is often forgotten. People might love what you are offering but they must also be able to pay for it if you intend to make a living! I met someone at 'The France Show' last January who was planning to move to France and sell carved wooden garden ornaments. The ornaments were absolutely beautiful but my issue was: 'Will the people to whom they appeal actually be able to afford to buy them?' If people can't afford your goods and services your plan will fail.
My advice to anyone in a similar position would be to enter such a business tangentially. By this I mean start off by researching and exploiting other existing business opportunities in the area - which might seem a little more mundane but would put bread on the table - and then slowly build up contacts and credibility in the local area before attempting to supply the original goods/services as an adjunct to the 'main' business. I have seen this scenario repeated successfully time and time again, and perhaps over the years the balance could change with the adjunct business eventually becoming the main business!
For the main bread and butter income, consider a franchise. It's no wonder that franchise opportunities work so well for ex-pats moving to France because franchising there is very well regulated, franchisees are regarded as having an immediate professional standing, and there is ongoing hand-holding for the new entrant. The latter is especially valuable when you are making a life changing move!
If you are intent on using some existing skills in France, please don't take it for granted that these will be transferable the moment you have them translated into their French equivalents for registration with the authorities. It may not be that simple. You need to do some local research in the area where you are intending to settle, to find out whether this type of work will be acceptable to them, and to you in any slightly modified form, and that you'll be qualified to do it under French rules and legislation.
For many people anticipating a move to France a surprising fact is how many rules and regulations are decided at a very local level. Or, to put it more precisely, the rules are interpreted at a local level. This means that you must not assume that a job, business or profession allowed for your friend in an adjoining region will work for you 100 km down the road! Quite seriously, registration for some types of work may be easier in Cotes-d'Armor than in Burgundy, for example, and you cannot rail against this fact because it's simply a matter of 'c'est la vie en France!' And there is no right of appeal. If your type of work is not possible where you live, then it's not possible. It counts for nothing to have done homework on the internet or at a distance. You must physically go to the local Chambre de Metier and talk to the clerks there at an early stage, to establish your chances of success at doing the work you want. And you must always have a 'Plan B'.
I do meet people who have moved to France without any employment plans but with the hugely optimistic attitude that 'everything will work out and they will find some way of earning a living without having a real plan in place'. Whilst I'm the world's biggest fan of the ' can-do' attitude, making a success of earning your living in a foreign country is rather like having a successful party - for it to go well, and apparently effortlessly, it has to be planned with something like military precision. And the planning is worth it because there are certainly rewards there if you find the right business niche and tackle it in the right way. Let's be honest - being your own boss while living in a wonderful environment takes some beating, especially if your working life to date has involved long commutes, wage squeezes, unrewarding employment, expensive inner-city housing or any of the other challenges that go with working in the UK.
Once you've decided on what you're going to provide, don't forget that taking it to market needs just as much planning and your location can be a huge factor in that. Many of you will already know my top-tip for buying a property in France ... make sure you can walk to the local boulangerie! That's because isolation can hugely affect your integration into a new country, and this issue is magnified many times over if you are starting a new business as well. You MUST be able to network easily and being able to stroll to the local café for coffee is a big bonus. It can give you huge satisfaction to sit in the café, sipping a large coffee and discussing the state of the nation with other local artisans, knowing all the while that this is part of the business plan you're pursuing while your former colleagues are commuting on a packed train to a busy office in the UK. It's called living the dream!
Last, but certainly not least, where are you going to advertise the business? You may (and certainly should) create a great website but unless you point people to it via other advertising it will hang in cyber-space with just your friends and family admiring it! Your advertising needs to be in the right place, and that sometimes means advertising in media you may not particularly like. With my lifelong background in marketing, it always amuses me that people think you have to like where you advertise. Wrong. You need to advertise where your prospects will see you, and if that's in a magazine or on a website you would not personally use yourself, to then so be it!
This has been a gallop through the subject of making a living in France, but I hope it has helped, and good luck with your plans.
CEO of the LBV Group