Alex O'Connor, 32, left his job working in a secondary school in northern England to head to the south of France where he works as a personal trainer based on the Côte d'Azur. He runs his own business "Azur Training", and specializes in coaching clients martial arts such as Thai boxing to help keep them trim and in good shape. His gamble to set out on a new career path in France is beginning to pay off.
How did you end up in the south of France?
Well, I used to live here about ten years ago when I worked as an English teacher and I really liked the area. It’s got a lot to offer. It’s by the sea and it’s close to the mountains. There’s a wide variety of people here and with Nice airport there are plenty of flights home.
Why did you decide to set up your business on the Côte d’Azur?
Well I just don’t think it would have gone down so well in Barnsley or Doncaster. There's demand here and it’s possible to do it. I remember training someone one day and looking around to see mountains and sea wherever I looked and I had a flashback of the pouring rain back home in Yorkshire. Sometimes when I am sitting out in the sun by the beach waiting for my next client to turn up I really have to pinch myself.
How easy was it to get established as a personal trainer in the south of France?
It was actually fairly easy in the end, considering the reputation of French bureaucracy. I needed to set up as an auto-entrepreneur so I just had to pop down to the regional sports authority body with my translated qualifications and references so they could verify I had all the equivalents of the necessary French qualifications. I was able to get my professional sports instructor card within about six weeks.
So how did you go about finding clients?
The first person I started training was my landlord but that was for free. Obviously I needed to make a living so I advertised on the AngloInfo website. I did not get many responses but as soon as I started training the four or five who were interested, then word soon spread and it opened up other doors. I also set up a website and put a few videos on there so a few people found me that way.
And how is the business doing now?
I knew it would take time to build something like this up, so I gave myself six months to get to a position where I could be self-sufficient. In the end I got there in three months. It’s growing mainly through word of mouth. It is a bit of an expat bubble down here so there is plenty of business around. It’s exciting. I just came with the idea of wanting to be able to afford to live here, but now I am seeing the potential for something big.
Like many people you came to France with a partner, was yours able to find a job?
Yes, she is translating. She was doing that before we came so it’s been pretty seamless for her. She just signed herself up to a few agencies and the work came in.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to set up a similar business in France?
I would just say 'be brave'. At the end of the day it’s a risk, but do you want to spend the rest of your life wishing you had you had tried it? You also need a well thought out business plan to follow. Many initial plans don’t actually work out so you need to keep reassessing things and changing your approach if necessary. You will find your niche. People also need to be careful too as there are a few shady people around. I have heard a few horror stories of cowboy builders etc, people who offer one thing and end up stealing from you. So you need to be a bit wary of the people they come across.
And what about being able to speak French, is it vital?
There is the question of the language. I am a fluent French speaker but I don’t think it would necessarily prevent someone from doing this. It is certainly a bonus when it comes to the business side of things, but it’s also not that hard to find people who can do those things for you.
If you are on the Cote d'Azur and need to work on those abdos you can contact Alex at www.azurtraining.com or visit his Facebook page