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Advice: Should I go freelance in France?
Thread poster: Samuel Woodward

Samuel Woodward  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
Member (2013)
French to English
Aug 18, 2011

Hello,

I have been working as a full-time in-house translator for an agency for nearly ten years now, ever since I left university (where I obtained a BA in modern languages and an MA in translation). Now, while the pay is entirely fair, from what I can gather looking at the market, I wonder whether I couldn't do somewhat better were I to go it alone.

I live in France, work exclusively from French into English, and presently handle volumes in the region of half a million words a year. Having been doing this translating lark for all kinds of end customers for nigh on a decade now, I am pretty confident in my abilities and very rarely receive complaints about my work.

What misgivings I have are mainly concerned with the difficulties in negotiating French bureaucracy and tax rules, and of course finding regular clients who pay on time.

Have any of you started freelancing in France recently? If so, how are you finding it? Are you able to find work? How much of your turnover does the fisc take from you on average? What status have you opted for - sarl, eurl, entreprise individuelle, perhaps?

I would be most interested to hear about your experiences and any tips you might have.

Apologies if this topic already exists somewhere!

[Edited at 2011-08-18 15:43 GMT]


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:35
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
What is your motivation? Aug 18, 2011

If it's money:
HeLLz wrote:
Now, while the pay is entirely fair, from what I can gather looking at the market, I wonder whether I couldn't do somewhat better were I to go it alone.

I'd forget it!!!

What misgivings I have are mainly concerned with the difficulties in negotiating French bureaucracy and tax rules, and of course finding regular clients who pay on time.

Yes, those are all pretty well-founded misgivings! Personally, I'm only a part-timer, so I'm now an auto-entrepreneur. That's amazingly simple and relatively cheap. I suspect that sarl etc may be a different kettle of fish.

On the other hand, if you are totally fed up with commuting, office politics, having no choice over' what you do, being paid no more for working your "fesses" off, then having to sit doing nothing useful when there's no work, carrying out the orders of managers who simply have no idea, being forced to take on projects you are not qualified to do ... and you're not worried about having no paid holidays, no paid sick leave, no luncheon vouchers or whatever, or buying your own dictionaries/software/...

Please note: I have never been a salaried translator, although I did spend 10 years with Shell UK in another capacity - I may have a biased opinion of thingsicon_smile.gif


 

Samuel Woodward  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Money! Aug 19, 2011

Thanks for your reply Sheila.

I have to confess, my motivation would be entirely money. I actually work from home in exactly the same way as any freelancer.

Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from, for half a million words a year my take-home pay works out to approximately 3.5 euro cents per word. I imagine as a freelancer my rate per word would be around 0.08 or 0.09 euros, so it could be worth my while to go independent, but it would all depend on the tax and social charges.

I'm not sure I would qualify for any simplified regime, as my turnover - I hope - would be in excess of 32k a year.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:35
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Make sure you don't compare apples with pears Aug 19, 2011

HeLLz wrote:
Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from, for half a million words a year my take-home pay works out to approximately 3.5 euro cents per word. I imagine as a freelancer my rate per word would be around 0.08 or 0.09 euros, so it could be worth my while to go independent, but it would all depend on the tax and social charges.


You probably used your entire working hours in the calculation, whereas the 8-9 eurocents (which is a little low, IMO) you get freelancing doesn't come in all the time you are working. I'm not sure that makes sense, but what I'm trying to say is that you've got a lot of other things to do: all the marketing, invoicing, chasing payments(!), project and financial management, official accounts, coffee-making, coffee-drinking, ProZ participation...

I'm not sure I would qualify for any simplified regime, as my turnover - I hope - would be in excess of 32k a year.


That sounds as though you'd need something else and AE probably wouldn't suit you even if you just scraped in. This is a very interesting site that I've never really looked at:
http://www.entrepriseindividuelle.info/Calc_CharSoc.php#totalgeneral

Sheila


 

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:35
Flemish to English
+ ...
Tax-champion of the world Aug 20, 2011

HeLLz wrote:

I'm not sure I would qualify for any simplified regime, as my turnover - I hope - would be in excess of 32k a year.



With France being the tax-champion of the world, how much will be left over?
If you want to make money with translation, you have to reside in a low-taxed country.

[Edited at 2011-08-20 09:47 GMT]


 

JaneAlison  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
French to English
The cost of working in France Aug 21, 2011

Hi

I'm currently studying for a MA Translation part-time but have been running a business growing and selling plants in France for the last fifteen years. Not at all the same thing but at the end of the day whatever the business you run the French state will take a minmum of 40 % (health cover, pension and all the other little taxes they've dreamed up over the years) before you worry about income tax. If you don't have an accountant and belong to a Centre de Gestion Agrée then the income you declare will be automatically increased by 25 % for tax and social charge calculations.

One of the useful modules in the MA was titled 'The Translator Entrepreneur' which basically entailed setting up a fictitious translating business. Having gone through all the possible ways of doing this I came to the conclusion that for me it would be as an Entreprise Individuelle on the basis that at least in the early years the turnover would be under the magic 32,100 euros and could be classed as a micro-entreprise. If you're aiming at a higher turnover then a SASU may be better, cheaper to set up and administer than a SARL.

Setting up a UK limited company used to be an option but the French government have decided that social charges and tax are paid where the work is carried out and not where the company is registered, so if you're French resident there's no simple/legal way round it.

At the end of the day it depends on whether you want the freedom and worries of being independent or the (relative) financial safety of being salaried.

Good luck
Jane


 

Laurent KRAULAND (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
French to German
+ ...
Small or big nuance? Aug 21, 2011

JaneAlison wrote:

(.../...)
Setting up a UK limited company used to be an option but the French government have decided that social charges and tax are paid where the work is carried out and not where the company is registered, so if you're French resident there's no simple/legal way round it.

(.../...)


This is in fact an EU-wide regulation and not a specifically French one.

And my former boss, who happened to be German, insisted on interpreting it in the way that our European customers -actually subsidiaries of the same group scattered in many countries- had to pay French VAT (which is of course nonsense)...

He later had to justify this to the group's controlling department - they taught him better in a very unmistakeable way, a fact that certainly helped to accelerate his fall.

[Edited at 2011-08-21 15:34 GMT]


 

Terry Richards
France
Local time: 02:35
French to English
+ ...
Another option Aug 21, 2011

There is a third option you might consider - portage. That's where you are nominally an employee of an umbrella company and they pay your social charges. You still find your own customers etc. and create your own bills but they are in the name of the portage company. The customer pays the company, they subtract the social charges and send you the rest. Of course, they also charge a commision for doing this but that is offset against the costs of having an accountant and a lawyer (or the time you spend dealing with all that nonsense yourself). I've been with Mission Cadres (there are others) for 5 and a half years now and and I've been quite happy with it.

The advantages are:

You only pay charges on what you have earned, after you have earned it. There are no "surprise" bills from mysterious French acronyms.
Mission Cadres pays me on the invoice for 99% of my customers (for consistant bad payers, the payment is deferred until the customer pays but that doesn't happen often as I tend to be too busy when those companies call). I'm not sure whether all portage companies do that or not.
I have the comfort factor of knowing that all the paperwork has been done right and that I am not going to get any nasty surprises.
What I get at the end of the month is all mine.
My monthly paperwork takes me about 40 minutes. Just prepare the invoices, send them to the portage company, wait for them to come back and send them to the customer. A few days later the money arrives in my bank account.


The disadvantages are:

Well, there is that commision but it's not unreasonable and, as I said, you can offset that against the cost of an accountant and/or the time you spend dealing with it..
I could probably offset more expenses against tax if I was in some other scheme but I don't know and I don't want to spend the time finding out, thank you very much. Nor do I wish to lay awake nights worrying that it will all be challenged at some undetermined point in the future. As far as I am concerned, the less time spent dealing with functionaires, the better.


Be aware that not everybody is of the same opinion about portage - if you do a search on it I'm sure you can find some conflicting opinions.

Going back to your sums, the figures you quoted are on the high end of what you can expect to get from agencies and too low for direct customers. If we assume a mix of direct customers and agency work, we can use it as a good first estimate of the average rate. I find my social charges come to almost exactly 50% of what I bill so you can expect to get about 4 - 4.5 cents per word in your pocket.

This is a fair jump from what you are making now if you can keep yourself as busy as your employer currently does bearing in mind that the time spent on marketing, administration and quality control are now coming out of your time budget. On the downside, you are giving up the security...

All in all, it's a close call. If you consider yourself a risk taker, by all means take a shot at it - the risk isn't that high. If you are happier in your present, more comfortable, situation stay there.

T.


 

Samuel Woodward  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Aug 21, 2011

Thanks for your replies - plenty of food for thought there, especially from Terry. Portage firms seem to polarise opinions pretty strongly, in my experience. It may be an option worth considering.

I have to say, I was shocked to learn that "If you don't have an accountant and belong to a Centre de Gestion Agrée then the income you declare will be automatically increased by 25% for tax and social charge calculations.". I wasn't aware of that, but it seems rather unfair!

I think the best bet for me is stay put for now, but to start preparing immediately for a potential switch in the future! In comparison with the UK, France seems horribly unfriendly to entrepreneurs...


 

Laurent KRAULAND (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
French to German
+ ...
Well... Aug 22, 2011

HeLLz wrote:

(.../...)
I have to say, I was shocked to learn that "If you don't have an accountant and belong to a Centre de Gestion Agrée then the income you declare will be automatically increased by 25% for tax and social charge calculations.". I wasn't aware of that, but it seems rather unfair!

(.../...)


Well... in the not-so-distant past, there was an incentive for being member of a CGA or AGA, namely a 20% deduction on the turnover.

Apparently this was not enough to encourage translators or other liberal professionals to join a CGA/AGA, so the French state came up with this idea of a penalty.

HeLLz wrote:

I think the best bet for me is stay put for now, but to start preparing immediately for a potential switch in the future! In comparison with the UK, France seems horribly unfriendly to entrepreneurs...


Trouble is that anything beyond mere wage earning looks suspect in this country. The revenue services even have lists with the business owners who are "most likely to cheat and become fraudsters", which reach from taxi drivers to GPs and restaurateurs.

Nobody's really safe!

http://robertmatthieu.free.fr/

[Edited at 2011-08-22 06:39 GMT]


 

Veronica Coquard
France
Local time: 02:35
French to English
My two cent's worth Aug 22, 2011

Hello Hellz!

As a freelancer in the same country and language pair as you, I feel that I can jump into this discussion.

My experience: after translating as a freelancer part-time on the side for five years, I took the plunge and gave up my "regular" job last year to freelance full-time (AE). There were a lot of advantages to doing this - I did a "rupture conventionnelle", left with a bit of cash and applied for ARCE, then ACCRE, which meant receiving half of my would-have-been dole money in two lump sums and having lower social charges for a year or so. I also had the right not to pay towards my retirement fund this year, but I waived that right, as retirement is far enough off as it is. I used my accumulated rights to professional training (DIF): I chose to learn how to use Trados Studio on-line from home, as I had only been familiar with Wordfast in the past. All in all, I feel very well supported by the French system. Things could be a lot worse than in France, as we freelancers continue to benefit from social coverage when the going gets really tough - with the exception of the dole, of course. No regrets this year, anyway; next year, I'll really be on my own, so I am building up my funds while things are looking good, just in case.

Since entirely consecrating myself to freelancing, I have had some lucky breaks, but I have also worked my butt off to make a name for myself. Many of my friends tell me that I have a strong character and this is why I am able to work on my own, to make myself get up and get to "the office" at 9 am o'clock sharp every day and to get on-line, work or no work. Whether I've got some special force or not, I am happy with the progress that I have made this year. I have made some incredible contacts, and landed some work I'm very proud of. I'd like to add, without boasting or stretching the truth, that it is possible to make 0.09 - 0.11 euros / word, even from agencies, when you can get work with prestigious ones. However, they will test you and criticize you, and the best reaction is to learn from them and use every critique to your advantage in future work.

So when I get work, it's really exciting, interesting stuff, and I'm the happiest translator in the world. I'm even happier when it's long-term work, such as a book-long assignment (I'm preparing for my fourth month-long assignment this year coming up in September). However, especially as someone who is used to always being on-the-go and juggling several jobs at once, I must say that there are quiet periods that make me uneasy. The summertime, so far, has been the worst, for as you know, France really slows down, and there seem to be meager pickings out there. So don't underestimate that you'll have to bite the bullet sometimes, even if on good months you're turning over - like I do - from three to five times what you made as a (decently-paid) employee.

If you aren't entirely sure of yourself, by all means hang on to what you've got - as people will tell you, it's not so easy to find a decent salary these days in France or elsewhere. If you do decide to change, by all means get informed on your rights and do the paperwork necessary to get everything that's coming to you. France is absolutely wonderful for helping out those who help themselves, but you'll have to know which doors to knock on. At the very least you'll be covered for that first crucial year, while you're down in the sweatshops getting your first breaks as a freelancer. On this side of the fence is uncertainty, but also a great sense of accomplishment when the work is flowing and when recognition strikes.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2011-08-22 08:19 GMT]


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:35
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
In a word... Aug 22, 2011

HeLLz wrote:
In comparison with the UK, France seems horribly unfriendly to entrepreneurs...


You've got it!

I know several people in the UK who simply "started a business", a proper Ltd. company, with very little fuss and bother. To become "just" a freelancer in the UK, well, you just started working!

Here, everything in life is complicated so it's no surprise to find that starting a business is a whole load of hassle. I don't mind (too much) the endless forms etc, nor really the exhorbitant charges as I benefit too from the health care, pension etc; what i do really object to is when they make you jump through impossible hoops when all you want to do is earn your living. For example, as an EFL trainer, I can only work through recognised training organisations. I qualify in all ways to work directly with people needing training except in one way: the paperwork has to include a signed contract. Seeing as state-reimbursed training can only be provided by a state-registered trainer, who would sign a contract with someone who isn't state-registered? A classic Catch22!

I often get the impression that France (through its administration) does not really want to encourage entrepreneurship. Everywhere you go, there's a "them and us" attitude. To salaried employees, we're "them" and to company owners we aren't really "us". Still, I never was a sheep needing to belong to a group to have any sense of identity.icon_smile.gif

Sheila


 

Laurent KRAULAND (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
French to German
+ ...
In a word (2)... Aug 22, 2011

Sheila Wilson wrote:
(...)

I often get the impression that France (through its administration) does not really want to encourage entrepreneurship. Everywhere you go, there's a "them and us" attitude. To salaried employees, we're "them" and to company owners we aren't really "us". Still, I never was a sheep needing to belong to a group to have any sense of identity.icon_smile.gif

Sheila


and without wanting to dwell into political considerations, France is still very much Napoleonian.


 

Samuel Woodward  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:35
Member (2013)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Auto-entrepreneur? Aug 22, 2011

Thanks again for your responses.

Sheila's gave me a little giggle. French bureaucracy does seem fond of these bizarre Catch 22 situations. The inability to prove one actually exists without providing an electricity bill is a particular favourite of mine...

Just a couple of quick questions for verslanglais: you mention you opted for auto-entrepreneur status. I assume this means your turnover comes in below the magic threshold. Do you know what the implications would be for you as an AE, if you were to exceed it? And how much of what you bill your clients overall do you actually take 'home', as it were?


 

Veronica Coquard
France
Local time: 02:35
French to English
Summing up the costs Aug 22, 2011

HeLLz wrote:

Just a couple of quick questions for verslanglais: you mention you opted for auto-entrepreneur status. I assume this means your turnover comes in below the magic threshold. Do you know what the implications would be for you as an AE, if you were to exceed it? And how much of what you bill your clients overall do you actually take 'home', as it were?



Here's a link that will help answer this type of question:

http://www.apce.com/pid10602/comparaison-des-regimes.html?espace=1
(The APCE is a good source for all kinds of administrative info.)

If I remember correctly, there is something like 28% that you automatically deduct from your turnover when declaring, as you can't claim any expenses as an "auto-entrepreneur" (I'm not sure about that percentage, and anyone is welcome to correct me if I am wrong). Importantly, there is no fooling around with VAT, and you won't have to worry about "contribution économique territoriale" - what they used to call "taxe professionnelle" - for awhile if you go AE.

Based on the income that is left over, you'll pay about 11% to the CIPAV for your retirement (and more if you choose to). To the URSSAF you'll pay 5.4% for "allocations familales" (which you'll be exempt from for a year if you obtain ACCRE) and 8% for CSG/CRDS (social charges). You'll also have 0.2% to pay for professional training contribution. There is also a contribution to the RSI for medical but I'm not sure how they calculate it - mine this year isn't too bad, representing only about 1.5% of my previsional budget. I'm sure that's because I'm still covered by ACCRE, which helps you pay less on almost all counts for the first year (but it's complicated, so see the APCE site for details). Then of course, once all that's paid, you'll have income tax and various other taxes that life in France entails. I've seen colleagues on the French forums sum it up by saying that you can only really consider that you're keeping 60% of your earnings. When you look at it this way, the 32 600 euro limit does seem low. However, when you are starting your business up, it is unlikely that you will go over the limit at first.

On the APCE site, this is what they mention as "charges" for AE: "12 %, 21,3 % ou 18,3 % du chiffre d'affaires réalisé, en fonction de l'activité + contribution à la formation professionnelle en cas de revenus supérieurs à 4 670 €."

If you go over the limit, you'll have to change your "statut" the next year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the RSI and CIPAV got down your throat - in the form of surcharges - for not warning them that you were making so much. Personally, after a healthy start in the beginning of the year, I let all the administrations know in advance that I was earning way more than what was represented in the first-year previsional report, and they adjusted the fees accordingly. If you read the fine lines, they warn you that if you don't do this, you'll be charged extra later on.

It can seem complicated when you are starting out and trying to figure out which "regime" is best, but it's simpler than it was a few years back when I was translating on the side. In order to be exempt from "taxe profesionnelle" because I live in a ZRR, for example, I had to opt for the "régime réel", which is almost more paperwork than it's worth for a secondary job. But anyway... We love France, right?icon_wink.gif You have to.

[Edited at 2011-08-22 14:57 GMT]


 
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