Just over a year ago, I was encouraged to go freelance and start my own project. 14 months later, I don't regret that decision because 1) I make a lot more money and 2) I manage my own time, but with this year's mini-recession, my client has been emphasizing subtly that they are cutting back here and there, and you can see it when you look around my open space -- no trainees were hired, very few people on temporary contracts were renewed, and some people were let go at the end of the trial period of their permanent contract. It was a stressful time but with the beginning of 2013 it looks like budgets are being renewed and new projects are being put on the table. At the same time, I just can't help but to listen to that nagging voice that's asking me what I'm going to do "next", because this just doesn't feel like a very permanent solution to me. I absolutely love my job but in trying to make it very clear to everybody what purpose I serve, I'm running myself ragged. I never say no to a request, I put in a lot of evenings at home and the occasional weekend, and at the end of the day there is still no job security.
A few months ago I was contacted by some other companies inquiring about what I do. Apparently word got around that I'm "the" teacher for this industry, and before I knew it I had some new clients on the table. The only problem is that not all clients are created equal, and what's hiding behind a mask of smiles and optimism can often be a penny-pinching hag who accuses you of being a money-grubber and claims to know everything but not bother to tell you any information that might be useful to you.
That was my day today.
The thing about starting a company (be it a simple "entrepreneur" one-man-show or a company-company) is that there are piles and piles of documents required to get it going. These rules are hardly appropriate for the line of work I'm doing which adds a lot of unnecessary running around in circles.
As an auto-entrepreneur, if I want to accept a client who chooses to use an outside funding company for their legally-mandated training (every employee gets at least 20 hours of training a year), then you need two things: the auto-entrepreneur legal status and a number from the prefecture which proves you are a registered trainer.
Here's the problem though -- when you apply for a registered trainer number, you need a signed contract from the client. But in order for the organization that deals with distributing registered trainer numbers to give you one, your registered trainer number needs to be on the contract.. and often, without a registered trainer number, a company won't sign the contract anyway.. do you see the problem? Basically, you have to coax a company into trusting you, get them to sign the paperwork under what feels like dishonest terms, and send it all in. But that is not the end.
Three days later I received a letter from the organization that deals with all of this stuff asking me for a TON of additional documents that weren't included in the list on the website OR mentioned with I directly called the offices to inquire as to whether or not I was doing things the right way. Sheesh! Not only that, in between paperwork, my clear background check certification expired, meaning I needed to request a new background check. The irony? You only have a limited time to submit the missing paperwork before they put your whole file in the trash. So in the mean time, I'm waiting for my background check and hoping it gets here before the time limit is up!
At the same time, the client is making a request from the organization that they have contributed to who is responsible for managing the company's training fund.. let's think of it as a sort of bank for the employee's hours, and when you want to use some, you have to file a written request. Because I didn't have the registered trainer number, they need proof that I've requested one and are saying that if I don't get it within X amount of days, they will automatically reject the request.
This is where the woman accused me of being a money-grubber, saying that I was "hoping to be paid twice" -- sending them a monthly bill and then collecting their contributions from the fund upon the completion of the training. I told her that was absurd because if she pays her bills, then why would I try to be paid by the fund? There was no logic to her argument at all.
But today, she really crossed the line. She cut me off every time I opened my mouth, accused me of being unprofessional and "wasting her time". "I have a job to do," she said, gesturing towards the door while I was simply trying to explain to her WHY she needed to sign another set of paperwork. "I assume I won't get any copies?" she added, just after she had cut me off mid-sentence while I was trying to ask her if she wanted copies in the first place. When cutting me off for the tenth time, she said, "we'll stop there because clearly you will never understand," which sent me into an internal rage -- damn people in this country who think that just because I am a foreigner that I am an idiot. I felt my heart pounding out of my chest and it was literally all that I could do to leave her office, go into the trainee's office and give the lesson as promised. I was just plain and simply livid. She has been disagreeable and disrespectful since the beginning but today she really crossed a line by calling my intelligence and my ability to understand French into play. The administration in this country is never "simple" to understand, and sarcastically saying "you won't understand" rather than simply listening to my question or my answer is NOT the way to go about doing business. "I already knew that," she said before I had even finished my statement -- to which I replied, "and if you already knew, then why didn't you tell me?" Her reply was so perfectly, typically French -- "it's not my job". No, it's not "your job", but if you want your paperwork done faster and your approval to be received in a timely fashion which means you will be PAID BACK for all the money you will be spending on training, then you could at least throw me a damn bone, woman! This mentality of "it's not my job" is still something that completely drives me crazy about people here. I will never understand the lack of empathy for humanity that is so deeply, culturally ingrained in so many here.
Which leads me to my point -- suddenly, I understand why the French take no risks -- why they are happy to work a dead-end job so long as it is permanent and why they refuse to work overtime or exert themselves more on a daily basis. It's because doing anything more, you find yourself taking two steps forward and one gigantic leap backwards. Creating companies here is unnecessarily complicated because as far as I can see, they just plain and simply don't want people to do it. The office that deals with this is only open from 9 - 11 Monday to Friday and the lady on the telephone complained about her workload while we were talking. "What do you expect if you only work ten hours a week?" I quipped. She didn't appreciate that very much and transferred me over to her boss. That suited me perfectly fine.
The whole idea is that what is missing here is the spirit of entrepreneurship -- the entire idea that a company can start spontaneously, that something can be exploited from the second it appears, leading to new business and more job creation. Here, you have to think ahead and apply for a certain legal status but it loses the spontaneous edge when you have to find a client first and beg them to take a risk on you by signing a contract which is essentially fraudulent.
To finish this particular story, the woman made a comment about me being a pain for only 250€/month essentially. "That's only 1500€ by the end of the training, you can't wait until then to be paid?" -- I am the small company, just getting started, just branching out. Hers already exists and she's trying to find a way to not have to pay me but I am the opportunist in her eyes. "No, I can't wait," I said. "If it's really such a menial sum for you, then why is it a problem to pay it at the end of each month?" In the end, I won that negotiation, but for what? -- I am completely put off at the idea of truly starting my own company seeing the mass of paperwork I had to do just for a measly 1500€ total over the next six months. Can you say, not worth it at all? -- I'm trying to concentrate on the network, my reputation, the open door sitting just on the other end of the training module. I'm trying to think about what it could bring me next, rather than what it will actually bring me in measurable terms. Le sigh.
There is a lot more to this story and to my professional project woes, but I'll save it for another day. The point is that at the moment, I'm working like a mad woman, running around left and right just to make a buck because I don't know what's coming next. My goal for 2013 is to do some serious soul-searching and figure out not only what is going to make me feel comfortable professionally, but what can also pay my bills.