What you need to know before setting up your business


It’s imperative to conduct exhaustive research before starting a business in France. In fact, it’s even more important, as the cost and complexity of setting up a business, particularly if you need to buy or rent premises, are usually very high.

 Research enables you to:

  • Check that the market (i.e. customers) for your product or service actually (or potentially) exists and is sufficiently numerous, accessible and willing to part with money to sustain your proposed business;
  • Define your marketing strategy – i.e. how best to promote and sell your product or service to your target market;
  • Establish a price or rate for your product(s) or service(s) in relation to what your customers are prepared to pay and/or what your competitors are charging;
  • Assess your business objectives and estimate your turnover and profit.

The information you require includes the following:

  •  Market – A definition of your customers, e.g. individuals or companies, men or women, old or young people, their location, ‘socio-economic’ status, lifestyle and habits;
  •  Competition – The extent and nature of actual, likely and potential competitors, including details of rival products or services offered or available and their market share;
  •  Influences – Information about any and all political, economic, scientific and sociological factors that could affect your business, such as developments in infrastructure, changes in legislation and social trends.

The first decision to make is whether to use the services of a professional market research company or other agency or to carry out your own research. Using a professional company ( cabinet de conseil) is usually expensive: a bespoke market study can cost at least € 8,000. A list of agencies registered with the Fédération des Syndicats de Cabinets de Conseil can be obtained from Syntec Conseil ( ). A cheaper option (usually around € 3,500) is to use what is known as a junior entreprise, which is a group of business students, whose work is supervised by a tutor. There are around 100 juniors entreprises in France; to find your nearest group, contact the Confédération Nationale des Juniors Entreprises ( ).

 Resources available to make your own research

There are various organsations that exist specifically to assist entrepreneurs to set up businesses in France. These include the following:

  • Agence pour la Création d’Entreprise – APCE operates at all levels, from European to local, and coordinates the Entreprendre en France network (see below). It doesn’t provide an individual consultation service but publishes a number of information packs ( dossiers), including  Artisanat, Commerce, Industrie and Services, costing €8 each and posts information on its website ( ).
  • Association pour le Conseil à la Création d’Entreprise et à la Coopération Internationale – An association comprising four delegations (in Ile-de-France, PACA and Rhône-Alpes) of retired business managers who offer their expertise free to those setting up small businesses in ‘sensitive’ urban.
  • Boutiques de Gestion – A network of around 100 offices providing information and advice to entrepreneurs. The first consultation is free but thereafter you must pay. For details of your nearest office contact the Comité de Liaison des Boutiques de Gestion ( ).
  • Entente des Générations pour l’Emploi et l’Entreprise – An association of retired business managers who offer advice at reasonable rates to budding entrepreneurs ( ).
  • Entreprendre en France – This is a network of information points coordinated by APCE (see above) in conjunction with chambers of commerce and industry and the association of French banks. Information points ( espaces entreprendre) are located in chambers of commerce; for details contact Entreprendre en France 45 avenue d’Iéna ( ).
  • Femmes et Entreprises – A support network for female entrepreneurs; contact Femmes et Entreprises, (01 40 97 21 92).
  • Fédération Française des Clubs de Créateurs et de Repreneurs d’Entreprise – Around 50 ‘clubs’ of new business organisers, who share ideas and information through a ‘godfathering’ system; contact the FFCCRE, CCI de Nantes (02 40 44 60 68).
  • France Initiative Réseau – FIR is a network of local ‘platforms’ providing advice and information to entrepreneurs; for details of your nearest platform contact FIR ( ).
  • Prospective, Innovation, Valorisation, Opportunité, Disponibilité – An association of retired volunteers who make their skills and experience available to entrepreneurs. PIVOD is active in Ile-de-France, Lorraine and Nord-Pas-de-Calais; contact PIVOD ( ).
  • Réseau Entreprendre – A federation of business owners (over 2,500 of them in 31 ‘regional’ groups) offering free advice to entrepreneurs; addresses of all 31 groups can be found on .
  • Service des Droits des Femmes – A branch of the Ministry of Work, offering assistance to female entrepreneurs; contact the Centre National d’Information et de Documentation des Femmes et de la Famille ( ).

 Chambers of Commerce

Among the best sources of help and information is your local chamber of commerce ( CCI), of which there are over 160 and at least one in each department ( ). The website includes a long list of schemes designed to help in the creation or development of a business activity. Most CCIs have good libraries of books, magazines and documents relevant to businesses and setting up small businesses in France, all of which can be consulted free of charge. Most publications are in French, but some CCIs have information in English. Many  CCIs organise regular conferences (e.g. once a month) and training programmes on starting a business, business practices, financing small businesses etc., free of charge or for a nominal fee (e.g. € 10). The CCI can also advise you where to find the relevant centre de formalités des entreprise. However, chambers of commerce aren’t professional associations made up of businesses and business owners in France, as chambers of commerce are in the UK and US, but departmental government offices. For further information contact the Assemblée des Chambres Françaises de Commerce et d’Industrie ( ).

 Chambres des Métiers

Another good source of information is the relevant chambre des métiers (some are called chambre de métiers). These serve a similar function to the CCI, but for occupations that are regarded as ‘trades’, e.g. butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. The chambres des métiers are, therefore, able to advise you on the specific rules and regulations covering each trade. Each department has a  chambre des métiers, and the contact details of all 96 are listed on . Further information can be obtained from the Assemblée Permanente des Chambres de Métiers ( ).

 Government Agencies

Information about industry and trade sectors can be found on the websites of the relevant government ministries: enter www.[name of ministry] The website of the Agence Pour la Création d’Entreprises ( ) contains a wealth of information (in French) about all the major business areas; click ‘ Informations Sectorielles’ for lists of relevant organisations, publications and exhibitions and links to related sites.

Specific market studies are undertaken by the Centre de Recherche pour l’Etude et l’Observation des Conditions de Vie ( ). The website lists the studies available, which can be purchased or consulted at CREDOC’s offices, although you must make an appointment, as only a few people are admitted at a time; waiting lists are long. More general economic and demographic studies are available from La Documentation Française ( ).

Statistical information is available from the The Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques ( ). The 25 Agences Régionales d’Information Scientifique et Technique (ARIST) are ‘regional’ agencies providing scientific and technical information; contact details are listed on . There’s also a network of Centres Techniques Industriels ( ).

For information about French and European standards, contact the Association Française de Normalisation ( ).

 Trade Associations

There are a number of trade associations for artisans, shopkeepers and other businesspeople, including the following:

  • Association pour la Promotion et le Développement Industrie – industrial businesses;
  • Confédération de l’Artisanat et des Petites Entreprises du Bâtiment – building trades;
  • Confédération Française du Commerce de Gros et du Commerce International ( ) – wholesale and international commerce;
  • Confédération Générale l’Artisanat, Français – general trades;
  • Confédération Nationale de l’Artisanat, des Métiers et des Services – general trades;
  • Fédération Française de la Franchise, ( ) – franchises;
  • Union Fédérale des Coopératives de Commerçants– shopkeepers and cooperatives;
  • Union Professionnelle Artisanale– general trades.

A number of major companies in France offer support to young entrepreneurs, whose business activity doesn’t necessarily need to relate to that of the supporting company. The type and extent of support offered varies considerably, e.g. from advice and technical or marketing services to loans and grants. Companies include the following:

  • Aérospatiale Déveleoppement
  • Alcatel CIT
  • Charbonnages de France
  • Danone Initiative
  • EDF
  • Geris Thomson
  • Giat-Sofred

 Magazines & Exhibitions

There are numerous business magazines in France, available from newsagents’ There are also specialist exhibitions aimed at entrepreneurs, the two largest being the Salon des Entrepreneurs in Paris (in January) and Lyon (in June). Details can be found on the exhibition website ( ). To find out about smaller shows in your area, contact the Fédération des Foires et Salons de France ( ).

 Research Grants

 Innovative new businesses (or businesses with an innovative new product) can apply for grants to cover up to 70 per cent of the cost of research, as well as zero- and low-interest loans, from the Agence Nationale pour la Valorisation de la Recherche ( ). There’s also a European initiative called Eureka, which offers research grants of up to around € 90,000 to around 50 French companies per year provided the research is carried out in more than one EU country. You should allow a year between application and receipt of funds. For details contact ANVAR.

This article is an extract from Making a living in France.
Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: