There are a number of good websites, but bear in mind that, however good they are, the internet is but a pale impression of the real world. As soon as you’ve covered the basics in the virtual world, you must get out there and experience the real one.
One of the best websites for all kinds of information about Spain in general and specifically about doing business there is www.investinspain.org. Operated by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, it contains a wealth of information in English and Spanish. It isn’t just aimed at big business, but also at the small entrepreneur who needs simple, basic information. As well as general information about Spain, it contains links to the sites of all 17 autonomous regions and details of businesses in each region. There’s also a step-by-step guide to setting up your business, including information about financial incentives. Of course, a website can never be a substitute for professional advice but, if you’re aware of each part of the process before you consult a legal adviser, you will be far better informed and able to ask the right questions. It’s all part of being one step ahead of the game, which will be a distinct advantage when you come up against that infamous Spanish bureaucracy.
It’s worthwhile buying a large map of Spain and seeing how the area you’re interested in relates to surrounding areas. Find out about the area’s economy in general, which type of products are most in demand and whether any large companies or corporations do business there. Your plans may be affected by local big business, even if it doesn’t appear to be directly related.
If you’ve worked in a similar field in your home country, this should make your research a little easier, certainly in terms of knowing where to start. You will be familiar with business trends and possible problems, but don’t make the mistake of many expatriate businessmen, who think that because their ideas went down well in their home country, the same will happen in Spain. If it’s a completely new idea, market research into your product or service should be even more intensive. There aren’t many profitable gaps left in the market, so look at the lifestyle and spending power of your potential customer base and check any direct or indirect competition carefully.
Many expatriates try to side step the language problem by opting for businesses that offer services only to tourists or other expatriates. The expatriate market is undoubtedly growing, especially in coastal areas and now in more inland areas too. Figures in 2003 from the Spanish government’s immigration department show a dramatic rise in the last ten years. The highest concentration of resident expatriates is in the autonomous regions of Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia and Valencia, but in terms of the whole population, percentages remain relatively low at around 6 per cent.
If you’re considering this type of business, make sure you know what custom will be like out of season, when the bulk of your customers may have gone home and the sun won’t be shining. Don’t ignore the fact that you may earn little or nothing for several months of the year. This type of business is the riskiest of all and requires the most intensive research and the utmost caution. If you’re just planning to target tourists or the expatriate community, you may find that this limits your eventual expansion.
For long-term success, it may make more sense to try to appeal to the local Spanish market too. You must be able to give Spaniards the service they require in their own language, and it’s important not to underestimate cultural differences. The needs and expectations of the Spanish population are very different from those of the British or Americans. You must canvas opinion on your ideas from as many Spaniards as you can. Even if you don’t like what they say, you can be sure they will be honest with you!
When you’ve done as much ‘remote’ research as possible, it’s imperative that you spend some time (as long as possible) in the area where you want to set up your business. If you can, take a temporary job in a similar business, meet people and make contacts, look at the competition and start finding sources of reliable legal and financial advice. Good legal and financial advice is imperative BEFORE you commit yourself to anything. If you want to make a smooth transfer from your early research to realistic plans, you must get good advice from those in the know. Everything begins to look very different when you’re actually living and working in Spain, rather than just dreaming and surfing the internet. The other essential factor is to gain a realistic idea of the costs involved in setting up your proposed business.
Chambers of Commerce
An excellent source of advice about business plans is the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain (www.britishchamberspain.com), which offers considerable support and ‘networking’ opportunities. Based in Barcelona, the Chamber regularly organises lunches and networking evenings for those living locally, and provides news of similar events in Madrid. A wide variety of information is available in English on its website, especially if you become a member. The Chamber will help you to find interpreters and translators and provide information on the legal and fiscal requirements for your particular business. Employers can register job opportunities for small fee.
The Spanish Chambers of Commerce also offer extensive information and advice to the potential businessman or woman, but you must usually speak fairly fluent Spanish to take advantage of this, although some staff speak English. In theory, their services are available to all budding entrepreneurs, but in practice the service varies from area to area. However, don’t dismiss them out of hand for this reason because one of their most impressive and forward-thinking services is the network of ‘one-stop’ offices ( Ventanilla Unica Empresial/VUE), which can help you set up your business with the minimum of bureaucracy. There are more than 30 of these offices around the country and they offer advice and information and look at your business plan while you’re still at the research stage. Once you decide to go ahead, all the facilities you need to set up your business are provided by VUE staff, which saves time, money and an enormous amount of stress for those starting small or medium-size businesses. If your Spanish is minimal and there aren’t English-speaking staff, it’s well worthwhile employing a translator or Spanish friend to help you take advantage of this service. To find out whether there’s a branch in your area, go www.ventanillaempresarial.org/oficinas (in Spanish only).
In areas where there are large numbers of foreigners, you may find that the local town hall ( ayuntamiento) has a Foreigners’ Department, where staff not only speak your language but can also advise you on local business regulations. If you’re lucky enough to have a Foreigners’ Department at your town hall, make the most of it. Not surprisingly, Foreigners’ Departments are dedicated to the needs of foreigners and are an invaluable resource for any new resident, especially those starting a business. Obviously, you must still get professional legal and financial advice, but a Foreigners’ Department is an excellent starting point. If they cannot help you, they will be able to direct you to the appropriate department of the town hall, depending on the kind of advice you need, which will help with the required forms, licences and permissions. Even after you’ve started your business, it’s worth paying the Foreigners’ Department a regular visit to keep in touch with current events in your area and any changes in laws and regulations that may affect your business.
This article is an extract from Making a Living in Spain. Click here to get a copy now.