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“Whatever your profile or background, in the UK everyone has a chance”

Published on Wednesday 19 October 2022 •

Reading time: 4 minutes

Named the best European country for business by the latest annual survey Doing business 2020 of the World Bank, the United Kingdom offers a very favorable regulatory environment for self-employed entrepreneurs around the world.

Cylia Rousset, consular delegate and independent entrepreneur in London, is the organizer of the Facebook group “The Francophone Independent Professionals of London (PIFL)”. She agreed to answer our questions about French self-employment in the UK.

Can you introduce us to the group “Francophone Independent Professionals of London”? What makes the success of PIFL which has more than 2000 members?

Above all, our group is friendly and caring. The main mission is to help each other promote our respective businesses. The meetings we have in the group, especially during our networking evenings, allow us to recommend each other to our respective networks or on social networks. The group brings together a large range of companies, which means that we are all potentially service providers or customers of other members of the group, which is a real strength. In addition, entry to the group is free and attendance at the monthly networking evenings is capped at £5. Above all, we do not “race” the number of members and make sure to filter requests to join the group (and make sure they correspond to people who live in the UK and have an entrepreneurial project) and also moderate postings in the group as best as possible to avoid spam (which is common in many other French Facebook groups in London).

Participants in a PIFL group event

The formula “independent” attracts many French across the Channel. What do you think are the reasons for this choice? How is the business climate more favorable in the UK than in France?

Obviously, the steps to start your activity as a “self-employed person” (auto-entrepreneur or freelancer) are extremely simple in the UK. You simply need a NIN (National Insurance Number) and register online with HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) to get your UTR (Unique Tax Reference Number), then submit your tax return (always online) each financial year. No obligation to open a “pro” bank account, no accounting software (as long as you are not liable for VAT), no social costs (apart from the voluntary contribution to national insurance). You can start your business very quickly and easily and focus on business rather than administrative procedures. The subsequent transition to a limited company is also simple and quick. I think this is what makes entrepreneurship more attractive than in France, there are fewer barriers to dare to start.

You have lived in the UK since 2008 and have been a PIFL group organizer for four years. What are the most common problems faced by French car entrepreneurs in the UK?

The biggest problems that French car entrepreneurs encounter in the UK are undoubtedly the language barrier, be it for administrative procedures or then for communication and promoting their business. But also building a clientele, a rather difficult task when you travel to a foreign country and you cannot necessarily rely on your existing network. Therefore, it is very useful to be able to help each other among expats, especially thanks to groups like PIFL and to be able to benefit from a network of professionals who potentially encounter the same problems as us.

Is access to independent status more complicated after Brexit for European citizens?

Brexit has not changed the procedures, which remain very simple, but on the other hand, it is now required to have the necessary permits to work in the UK (pre-settle or settle status, British Citizenship or work visa) in order to work. ‘To register.

It can be a Start-up VISA or Innovative VISA: to create and manage an innovative and totally non-existing company in the UK with strong growth potential. The application must be approved by a UK higher education institution for the start-up VISA and, in the case of the innovative VISA, by a government-approved business angel organisation.

The Global Talent Visa is also available and reserved for “leaders” and “potential leaders” in the following fields: digital technologies, arts and culture or academia and research. The application must normally be approved by a UK body with expertise in the candidate’s field.

All this at a price of £363 for VISA startup, valid for 2 years. £1,021 for Innovator VISA valid for 3 years renewable. Or £608 for the Global Talent Visa, with a renewable validity of up to 5 years.

So this greatly complicates things for European citizens who want to settle in the UK to start their activity there.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, after two decades of growth, the number of self-employed people in the UK has fallen sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic (from 15.3% of total employment in 2019 to 12.9% in 2021). How has the French community of auto entrepreneurs in the UK experienced the pandemic? Are there encouraging signs of improvement in 2022?

In fact, in our PFIL group we have seen many of us return to France, at least temporarily at first for confinement, and ultimately not return and close their business. Despite the financial support offered by the UK government, some have not been able to “survive” long enough after being forced to close their doors (hairdressing salons, beauty salons, cultural activities, group lessons, events, restaurants etc .). But many, on the contrary, have been able to adapt very quickly and intelligently to work and offer their services/products online. Despite Brexit and the pandemic, our group continues to grow. We welcome new entrepreneurs to every networking evening, and the dynamism of our community does not weaken.

Do you have anything to add?

I would like to reassure and encourage those who are still hesitant to embark on the entrepreneurial adventure by telling them that here in the UK the frame of mind is always positive whatever the project. Regardless of your profile or background, everyone has a chance and is judged on their personality and skills, not just their qualifications or experience. Those who succeed are not jealous, as can often be the case in e.g. France, but are mentors or role models for others.

Cylia Rousset, consular delegate in London and organizer of the group “The Independent Francophone Professionals of London”
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