There are disadvantages as well: as email is ‘instant’, clients expect an instant response and work turned around in next to no time; everything is urgent, which can make it difficult to organise your time and plan (e.g. holidays). If your home is also your office, it’s more difficult to separate work from leisure time; if your clients know you work from home, they will inevitably contact you at all hours.
You may be able to enjoy the lifestyle that France has to offer you and your clients, but, thanks to the internet, keep your business registered in your home country and so avoid some of the labyrinthine French bureaucracy. Or you may choose to do this as a springboard to basing yourself in France permanently. You should take expert advice before doing so, however, in order to ensure that you’re trading legally, e.g. registering your business and paying your taxes and social security contributions in the relevant country.
IT tends to be used as an umbrella term covering technical fields, such as systems management and software, and general sectors, such as internet marketing, web design and development, and web-hosting.
France was generally slow to react to the information technology (IT) revolution, largely due to the inertia of the education system, which was geared to the training of engineers and took time to adapt to the production of IT specialists. For this reason, there was of a shortage of qualified IT professionals until around 2002. Even now, there’s a variety of computing qualifications, many of which are limited to a range of software, e.g. Microsoft, or even a single package. However, in recent years, there has been a slowing both of the rate of IT staff recruitment and of the upgrading of hardware and software systems by companies, which are increasingly ‘outsourcing’ their IT work. This has created opportunities for entrepreneurs wishing to set up small computing businesses, but the increasing competition has driven down rates of pay.
There’s an almost endless demand for website design services. This is good news for those wanting to set up a design business in that there’s no shortage of potential clients, but bad news in that there’s increasing competition among those offering design services. Another negative factor is that website design software is becoming ever more sophisticated, easy to use and cheap – even free. Anyone with limited computing knowledge can design and post a simple website
The IT revolution has also enabled writers, editors, proofreaders and other publishing professionals to work from home anywhere in the world. There are numerous books, manuals, courses and websites on finding work in publishing. If you’re thinking (dreaming?) of going down this route, you must be realistic about likely earnings, especially in the early months, as it isn’t easy to find work, even if you’re qualified and experienced, and work isn’t usually well paid. Rates of pay are generally low, publishers are notoriously slow in paying (you may have to wait until several months after publication), there’s a lot of competition, and writing for publication isn’t as easy as most people imagine.
There are two ‘national’ English-language newspapers in France, both published monthly. Obviously, if you have specialist knowledge in a particular field – whether or not it’s related to France – you should explore the possibility of writing for the relevant publications. Writing for the internet is another possibility, although rates of pay are usually even lower than for newspapers and books – or even non-existent – and ‘publishers’ are harder to track down. You may be able to persuade a publisher (or he may suggest it) to pay you royalties instead of a set fee. This is obviously an advantage if the publication sells like hot cakes, but a disadvantage if it’s a lame duck.
There’s a wealth of resources available for the aspiring writer who wants to operate from his or her laptop in France. Begin your research in your home country by making sure you have up-to-date guides on all the media you might want to write for. The Writer’s Handbook (Macmillan) and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (A & C Black) are comprehensive guides to British and American publishers and literary agents, national and regional newspapers and magazines, useful websites and film and TV companies. There are also details of relevant professional associations and training courses. The Guardian newspaper publishes a Media Guide, which contains similar contact details.
Finding a publisher who’s willing to print your hard-worked copy is often more difficult than writing it in the first place. Self-publishing is, therefore, a tempting – and relatively straightforward – alternative. However, self-publishing, often known as ‘vanity publishing’, can be a costly exercise and, without the distribution network a publisher has, selling books can be extremely hard work and virtually a full-time job in itself. There are many ‘vanity publishers’, some reputable, others not, so you should check an agreement carefully before signing anything and obtain competitive printing quotes.
A cheaper alternative to ‘hard copy’ publishing is publishing on the internet, which should be considerably cheaper and may provide you with a ready-made selling medium.
If you’re thinking of taking up editing or proofreading in France as a way of making a living, you should bear in mind that it can take several years to obtain the relevant experience and qualifications and develop an adequate client base to ensure full-time work. As editing and proofreading are normally paid on a ‘piece work’ basis (e.g. by the page or the hour) and charges are more or less fixed, neither is a get-rich-quick occupation: earning more means working longer hours. Nor can ‘just anyone’ be an editor or proofreader. Picking up typos in a newspaper or book is one thing: correcting proofs under pressure using the approved symbols is another matter altogether – and editing presupposes advanced proofreading skills. Even if you’re skilled, finding work isn’t easy.
Setting up a publishing business in a foreign country takes courage, determination and a certain amount of sheer nerve. It’s unlikely to make you a living for several years (unless you stumble across the next Harry Potter) and it’s wise to start it as an adjunct to another, already successful, enterprise rather than to sink all your funds and energy into a highly risky business.
This article is an extract from Making a living in France.
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