My French Career

The ups and downs of starting a firm in France

The ups and downs of starting a firm in France
What are the pluses and the minuses of having to set up a company in France? Photo: Screengrab Invest in France
After months of hard work, American expat Jason McDonald is poised to open his US firm's European outpost in Paris. He tells us how French school holidays and a difference in client relationships made the process a hugely challenging one.

For US-born Jason McDonald (pictured below) the move to France seemed to happen at the will of the Gods, but settling in and setting up has taken a bit more determination.

He was sent to France by US digital marketing firm StringCan Interactive to set up its European office. Not only was it a great career opportunity for him, but it proved a great chance for his wife.

However, learning how to work with French clients and navigating the arduous process of founding a company in France, has proved to be a steep learning experience for him. Here he shares all he has learned with The Local. 

(Photo: Jason McDonald)

So why did you move to France?

We had always in the back of our heads planned to come back to France, so that my wife could experience being an adult in France, as we always joke.

StringCan Interactive was looking to expand and we couldn’t find any other competitors in Paris that were doing exactly what we wanted to do. The moons just kind of aligned.

What has been the most difficult?

The business cycle is very different in France than in the US. With the "vacances scolaires" (school holidays) we’re really having to adjust how we work with clients based on when they are going on holiday. In the US we usually just have two weeks vacation.”

It was a little difficult in the beginning because we don’t have kids and I didn’t realize that there were these "vacances scolaires". I couldn’t figure out why nobody was returning my calls. Thankfully a friend of ours sent us the calendar for their kids’ school and that has just been a big help.

I feel like the French are very motivated and things move very quickly the month before vacation, so it’s matter of understanding when that time is and having things lined up before then.

How is doing business different here?

There is a longer "get to know you" process in France. What I think happens is, when you finally start to work with someone, it’s a long-term relationship typically. Whereas in the States I think the "hired-fired" game is a lot quicker.

Also in the States I might meet with a potential client ,tell them who we are and find out what they are looking for, follow up with another meeting and give them our proposal and then another follow up meeting and either we are going to sign the contract or not. In France there is probably two or three more meetings that need to be added in. They just really want to be clear about what they are getting.

What’s been the best thing about setting up here?

Invest in France. It’s an agency that is funded by the French government. They give guidance to foreign companies setting up in France. I just found them recently and they have been great. They are helping with contracts and setting things up. I can’t think of anything in the US like that.

They are going to help us with recruitment, they are going to make sure that our employment contracts are in line. And they will not necessarily do the legal work for us, but they are definitely giving us guidance.

How does it feel to be operating in France?

We don’t have French employees yet, that’s going to definitely be a dynamic that we are going to have to learn about. I think that things are much different for a French employee than for an American one.

I’m from Arizona, which is a right to work state, so basically any boss can walk in and say "you are fired" and you are gone that day. They don’t have to give a reason and there are very, very few rights for an employee."

Coming over here where employees have so many rights I think that that’s going to be a learning curve for the company, which we will overcome. We don’t know what it’s like to be a French company yet.  I think you need to do a full year, taxes and everything, before you really get a feel for it.”

And any advice for setting up a company in France?

Find somebody locally to be a guide, you don’t necessarily need to hire them, you could take them on as a consultant. Work with them in the beginning so you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. We spun our wheels a little bit at the beginning.

In the US you can set up an Limited Liability Company (LLC)  in three days, so I thought oh this will be easy. We came over and then just started bumping into walls and figuring stuff out. We have a great attorney now who has been leading us through all of this.”  

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