While France is renowned for being a world leader in tourism and culture, it’s much more than just an attractive holiday destination. The country is also one of the best places in the world to do business, as exemplified by the roughly 30,000 enterprises who have foreign capital in France.
So, if you’re looking to expand your own company overseas, here’s why you should consider doing business in France, as well as how you can succeed in your French business venture.
Why is France a wise investment?
It possesses a large market
With a domestic market of around 67 million consumers—whose spending confidence is at its highest level since the global financial crisis—and access to the 500 million people in the EU single market, there is an abundance of diverse opportunities for entrepreneurs in France. This variety comes thanks to the country’s range of booming sectors, such as the manufacturing, electronics, and finance industries. What’s more, the country’s financial strength is conducive to business innovation—it is Europe’s third-largest economy and the sixth-largest worldwide. Its EU membership could prove to be a significant boon for UK-based entrepreneurs, particularly in the wake of Brexit. Employing French-speaking staff can also prove extremely beneficial for communication, with 20% of world trade deals are carried out in French.
It has a favourable business environment
Recent years have seen a marked effort from the French government to encourage business innovation, especially under current president Emmanuel Macron, who wants to rebrand France as ‘the start-up nation’. Indeed, the country is now Europe’s second largest market for tech startup funding, and saw a record number of new startups in 2018, with almost 700,000 businesses being established. Some examples of favourable business initiatives include the Responsibility and Solidarity Pact and Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit, which has reduced production costs for businesses by €40 billion, and the PACTE law, which implemented a raft of beneficial changes. These make it easier to set up a business online, and have led to the abolition of corporate contributions to employee incentive schemes.
It boasts a wealth of talent
French businesses also have a huge pool of talent from which to choose candidates. The number of students in higher education in France keeps rising every year, with the latest statistics showing there were over 2.6 million individuals studying in the country. Overall, 44.7% of those aged 25-34 and 33.5% of people aged 25-64 have a degree. The workforce’s productivity levels are also very impressive, with the country’s GDP in 2018 reaching $108.8 per hour, higher than heavyweight countries like the US ($104.7), the UK ($102.7) and South Africa ($97.9).
What are the best ways to build relationships with French businesses?
As is the case when building up your business in any country, the best way to forge relationships with other businesses in France is by networking. Fortunately, the country’s corporate culture is geared towards facilitating opportunities to make connections.
Go to networking events
Networking events give you the opportunity to speak to other entrepreneurs in the flesh, encouraging you to get out there and make real-world connections right away. You’ll find plenty of B2B networking events throughout France aimed at businesses in all manner of industries, from fashion and law, to marketing and tourism.
Join trade associations
Joining a trade association offers you instant access to potential contacts, clients, and partners who can help your French business get off the ground. These groups also provide a forum in which you can communicate with like-minded individuals, and share ideas that may improve each other’s businesses, and your sector as a whole. There will almost certainly be a French trade association representing your industry you’re in, so be sure to investigate France’s main professional associations.
Establish a social media presence
As in most other countries, social media is an invaluable networking tool for businesses in France. With a good social media presence, engaging content and willingness to engage with others, you should be able to forge connections in no time. Platforms to consider using include LinkedIn and Facebook, while the Paris-based professional social network Viadeo also has a huge presence in its home country.
The importance of great communication
French businesspeople prefer to interact face-to-face, and place a lot of value on formality, punctuality and tradition. This makes the way you communicate with prospective clients, customers, and partners extremely important, and it can make or break a deal. Here are some tips to bear in mind when dealing with French clients.
You should greet others with a handshake, though this should be brisk and light, rather than being overly firm. When it comes to addressing others, formality is key. It is common for people to introduce themselves using their surname, and you should only use somebody’s first name if invited to do so—otherwise, call them “monsieur” or “madame” followed by their surname. Introduce yourself using both your full name.
Once you’ve introduced yourself, it’s important that you at least use basic French phrases like ‘bonjour’ and ‘s’il vous plait’ when speaking to a prospective business partner, even if you’ve agreed to talk in English or via an interpreter. This shows that you take a genuine interest in their culture, language, and country, which helps make a good impression.
The French are extremely formal in their speech, so avoid using slang, swear words, and other types of casual speech during business meetings, and keep a good posture, maintain eye contact, and take your hands out of your pockets. Finally, be aware of common French gestures, and avoid doing the OK sign with your thumb and forefinger, as this means “zero” or “useless” in France—use a thumbs up instead.
Topics to raise
Before or after you talk business, it may be appropriate to engage in some small talk, but it’s important that you stay away from personal topics, as the French like to keep their personal and professional lives separate. You should also avoid discussing your political inclinations, and your earnings, as doing so is considered rude. Instead, stick to topics like art, music, and cuisine—you may also be asked about Britain and its history and culture.