A few tips before you export to France

Feeling called to expand into the French market? Although it's not hard for Canadian entrepreneurs to export to France, these tips can save you time and money.

Language in general and business language aren’t the same thing. Here’s some advice before you tackle the French market.

1. Don’t go it alone

If you don’t have the time to study all the nuances of another culture, find an ally before you even step foot in France. With the help of a local organization that has French partners, you’ll save time and money and avoid a lot of frustration.

“It’s important to get support before going global, period,” says Vanessa Hancart, manager of Crédit Industriel et Commercial’s France office.* “That’s definitely true with France, where doing business takes a lot of time. We help business owners make the most of their time and the costs involved.” Hancart supports Desjardins members with their expansion into France through Desjardins International Gateway.

Better yet, “We’ll help you understand the French market and your competitors so you can position your offer effectively, and we can also help you test your products with potential users.”

2. Remember, it’s not like at home

From a cultural standpoint, French business people tend to be more reserved and formal. And if they don’t seem quite as warm as your Canadian counterparts, don’t despair—a more distant manner doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in what you have to offer.

Also, compared to us, French companies are much more hierarchical, which means your contact might not have the decision-making authority to give you an answer on the spot.

And before starting a collaboration of any kind, you’ll have multiple meetings, so be patient. “It might take a French client awhile to warm up to you, but once they’ve established a business relationship with you, they tend to be loyal,” says Hancart.

3. Be prepared to answer any questions

“95% of French companies have fewer than 10 employees. And these people are fairly well-rounded. They may ask you technical questions, they’re well educated,” says Hancart. Be prepared to give them all the answers they need. Preparation is key. You have to know your products and your business inside and out.

4. Study your market

French people are very careful consumers. There’s a major trend toward environmentalism in France. So naturally, overpackaging and waste are frowned upon, especially in the cosmetics, textile and agri-food sectors.

French businesses promote their socially and environmentally responsible activities. “There’s a strong organic, ethical and green ethos. In France, quality is often more important than price. Consumers are fairly empowered. There’s room for everyone, but you have to find what differentiates your products and services and promote that difference,” says Hancart.

Although the French market, like the Canadian market, is in a mature stage, there are still many business opportunities, but make sure you’re prepared before you go. We might be more different than we think.

* Entity of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale, a cooperative organization.